Creatively Compensating a Collaboration

Jun 8, 2012

In a recent collaboration between Louisville Public Media, public radio’s Innovation Trail and WEKU, three-fifths of the stories were done by freelancers.  The series examined the impacts of technological advances on the horse racing industry, and was shared, at no cost, with public radio stations in eight states.  Eventually, portions of the series were also picked by “Here and Now,” WNYC and NPR.  As a journalistic collaboration, it was great success, but, was it a success for our freelancers?

All three are dedicated journalists who are pleased their stories reached a wide audience.  They are also people who need to eat.  Each was paid a standard fee by WEKU and they were free to sell their content to other buyers.  However, one could argue they had undercut themselves.  Why should a news director buy a cow when she can get the milk for free?

At WEKU, we created a few incentives that helped.  We used our good offices to promote their service.  The collaboration allowed our freelancers to connect with potential buyers for other stories.  In a sense, they offered their stories as an introductory offer. 

We reminded them of the value added.  Free access to our collaboration’s editors and equipment improved the value of their stories, making them more appealing to buyers.  Plus, WEKU made their lives a bit easier.  Instead of pitching dozens of potential buyers, the freelancers turned their stories over to WEKU and we handled the marketing.  In the end, we sold versions of their stories to several networks.  Of course, our reporters kept 100% of those fees.

Most importantly, we paid an extra fee to those freelancers because they agreed to share.  In our case, it’s an annual fee.  At the end of our fiscal year, freelancers who share content with our partners throughout the year can submit a bill for collaborating.  It was fair, and, certainly simpler than tacking an extra fee onto every story submitted.  We had to sell the idea to our bookkeepers, but, eventually, we got their buy-in.

It was a bargain because it allowed WEKU to fulfill its responsibilities to the collaboration, without committing a full-time reporter to the project.  Also, in the end, thanks to the stories submitted by our partners, WEKU got five well-produced, feature-length stories, including web content, for the price of three.  For us, and our freelancers, sharing made economic sense.