Freelancing: Keys to negotiating fair contracts

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), a founding member of AHCJ, is an independent writer and editor specializing in health care and policy. Wielawski, a member of AHCJ's board of directors, is chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee and serves on the Freelance and the Finance and Development committees.

Being an independent journalist doesn’t mean you have to acquiesce to the dictates of sources – or of clients. The key to having a say, though, is negotiating contract terms that provide a framework for high quality journalism.

It took me years to figure out how to build into standard contracts the tools I needed to protect the integrity of my work. As a new freelancer, I was timid about challenging these legal documents. Today, I regard every contract as a first draft, and liberally cross out language that I don’t understand or that binds me to promises I couldn’t possibly keep. Among the latter are indemnity clauses, which saddle the freelancer with legal liability for anything that goes awry in the publication process.

But it took me seemingly forever to get to where I am now so I’ve recounted my long journey in an article on AHCJ’s website in hopes of making it a shorter one for you. I’ve also collected tips and resources from fellow AHCJ freelancers. I hope this will be the start of an ongoing conversation among AHCJ freelancers on this vitally important element of sustaining yourself financially and professionally as an independent journalist. If you have a tip to share, please leave a comment and we’ll add them to the list of tips with the article.

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