What rates do freelance journalists get paid in Australia?
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has published a schedule of freelance rates which dates back to October 2019. (No update has been made to these rates since.)
This is the latest schedule and was based on the most recent negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement for employed staff journalists at Fairfax and News Corp at the time, at July 2017.
These have been calculated based on the daily rate that an independent contractor would need to earn, to make the equivalent salary of aJ5* graded journalist on a Fairfax or News Corporation metropolitan daily newspaper. Provisions for annual and sick leave and business administration costs are built into the calculation.
(J5 journalists have five years post-cadetship experience. Many freelance journalists have much more than five years experience as a working journalist.)
GST and Super
If your business has a turnover of $75,000 or over per year, you are required to register for GST.
Many freelancers don’t know until the end of the financial year whether they will turn over that amount – if you expect to earn $50,000 or more, it is a very good idea to register for GST so that you don’t have to retrospectively pay 10% on invoices charged.
When you are offered a gig, or you quote for a job, make sure that you specify GST in your invoice. Most people will quote a rate (eg $1 per word or $100 per hour) and note that this rate excludes GST.
As a freelancer, the ATO states that you may still be entitled to super. A contractor paid wholly or principally for their labour is considered an employee for super purposes and entitled to super guarantee contributions under the same rules as employees. Rules apply – eg you must perform the contract work personally, be paid per hour, and work directly for an employer not via an agency, company, trust or partnership.
What rates do government and business pay?
The rates quoted above are often paid by not-for-profit, government and private organisations for journalism done in industry.
Copywriters will often charge a higher hourly rate ($150 to $200 per hour) particularly if they work through an agency.
What rates do publications pay?
Actual rates offered by publishers vary widely. Many publications have not lifted their wordrates in over 20 years. Rates as low as 50c per word still occur in some areas of travel journalism, and some newpapers still pay 65c per word for features.
Some large outlets rely on their high profile and the kudos that comes with having a byline in mainstream publications, to attract freelance journalists, despite their paltry rates. (I’m looking at you, Fairfax and News Corp, and to some extent, the ABC.)
A common / acceptable commercial rate for publications in 2018 is 80c to $1 per word, with specialist publications in fields such as finance, legal and medical paying $1.50 – $2 a word for experienced journalists.
Commissioning editors may offer higher or lower rates, and journalists may command higher or lower fees depending on their experience, expertise and publication budgets.
For a guide to the current rates offered by publications in the Australian market, check out the MEAA’s Rate Tracker – this contains real data updated by freelancers based on their own experience of publisher payments. (You can add your own information to Rate Tracker to help build this useful tool about current market rates.)
The MEAA encourages freelancers to prioritise publishers who pay well.