Editor’s Note: From the early days of The Intercept, freelance contributors have been a vital part of nearly every aspect of our journalism: writing high-impact investigative features and incisive opinion pieces, shooting revelatory photographs, creating spectacular illustrations, and producing award-winning multimedia from videos to podcasts. We’ve deeply appreciated their work and sought to treat them fairly as workers. So when we were approached last winter by a number of our valued freelancers with the request that we engage in a dialogue with them, facilitated by the Freelance Solidarity Project of the National Writers Union, we eagerly accepted the invitation. Together, we embarked on a monthslong process of figuring out what principles we could articulate that would help ensure that the needs and interests of freelancers continue to be met by The Intercept. We’re excited to share those principles today.
The Intercept is committed to producing journalism that exposes abuses of power and treating all who contribute to the news outlet with fairness and respect. That includes its freelance contributors, who have produced some of The Intercept’s most powerful investigative work.
In a series of meetings facilitated by the Freelance Solidarity Project of the National Writers Union, The Intercept’s leadership engaged in a dialogue with freelance contributors to strengthen what was already a positive and mutually rewarding relationship. The following principles are a result of that conversation. They are designed to cultivate an equitable professional relationship between digital media workers and the online news publication. The Intercept will share these guidelines with its freelancers and make them publicly available.
This is a living document, subject to discussion and revision when circumstances require, as we all learn more about what works best in practice. It is intended to provide guidance on issues that can arise between a freelancer and the news organization. It does not create a legal obligation. A binding commitment can only result from a contract between The Intercept and the individual freelancer that is accepted by both parties. Economic terms such as payment and intellectual property rights are negotiated individually on a case-by-case basis.
For the purpose of these principles, the word “freelancer” refers to an independent contractor providing content services to The Intercept, including but not limited to writers, researchers, transcribers, photographers, artists, video producers, and/or audio producers.
1. The Intercept will provide a clear explanation on its website for how freelancers interested in providing services to The Intercept can approach the outlet with a story pitch. While The Intercept may not be able to respond individually to every pitch from a new contributor, the editors will strive to give freelancers an answer on whether their pitch has been accepted within a reasonable time frame. If the story is breaking news and The Intercept intends to accept the piece, the freelancer should typically receive an answer within 48 hours. For less time-sensitive stories, the freelancer should typically receive an answer within two weeks.
2. The terms and conditions for any accepted submission will be set forth in a written contract, negotiated by the freelancer and The Intercept and executed by both parties. The contract will include the subject of the commissioned work, the deadline, approximate length (if applicable), the intellectual property rights granted to The Intercept, and payment terms — including but not limited to the amount of the fee, any kill-fee arrangement, and when payment can be expected. The Intercept acknowledges that the freelancer’s grant of intellectual property rights is an important element in any contract, and the breadth and scope is subject to negotiation. The Intercept also recognizes that not all assignments are the same and that timing of payment and kill fees may vary depending on the length and complexity of the assignment. If the parties have an ongoing relationship, there may be one agreement and the terms may apply to additional assignments.
3. The Intercept will not knowingly assign work based on a freelancer’s proposal to a staff journalist or another freelancer if that proposal is based on information that is not demonstrably public and involved substantial original research by the freelancer. However, if another potential contributor submits a similar proposal based on their own original research, conceived independently without prompting from the editors, The Intercept may accept it. The parties understand that the submission of a story idea does not create a confidential, fiduciary, or other relationship with The Intercept. When The Intercept asks a freelancer to do substantial exploratory research for a potential article or project, it will negotiate appropriate compensation for such newsgathering efforts.
4. The assigning editor at The Intercept and the freelancer are responsible for maintaining clear and consistent communications about the commissioned work, including but not limited to sensitive reporting issues, deadlines, publication timing, types of images and/or video, and previously negotiated reimbursable expenses. Such communication may also include discussions on physical and digital safety when the freelancer and the editor agree they are necessary.
5. Before any work is commissioned, the assigning editor and the freelancer will discuss whether the assignment involves travel to and/or reporting in a dangerous location, conflict zone, or other location where the freelancer could be exposed to the possibility of harm. Depending on the nature of the risk, the freelancer may be asked to complete a Risk Assessment Form. The Intercept may provide additional expertise in evaluating such risks for the freelancer, but it is acknowledged that the freelancer’s experience in conflict zones is a significant factor in commissioning the work.
6. Once an assignment is made, the freelancer may ask the assigning editor to arrange assistance from The Intercept’s staff researchers in the preparation of the piece, using The Intercept’s license to access databases such as LexisNexis and PACER for the benefit of the project.
7. From time to time, given The Intercept’s recognized expertise in digital security, the organization will offer freelancers opportunities to participate in educational and informational sessions, featuring topics such as:
8. The Intercept commits to providing freelancers an opportunity to ensure that their work is accurate by making available, whenever possible, an edited version of the commissioned work before it is published. The parties understand that the version provided to the freelancer may be subject to changes that do not substantively alter the meaning of the work. The parties acknowledge that there may be circumstances in which the urgency to publish news of significant importance (or other circumstances out of the control of The Intercept) may make such prepublication collaboration impossible. The Intercept will seek to ensure that freelancers are appropriately credited for their work. The Intercept will seek to ensure that contributors, including local coordinators/fixers and transcribers for podcasts, are appropriately credited for their work. The freelancer has the right to withdraw their name from a piece.
9. When appropriate and necessary, The Intercept will provide press credentials, indicating the freelancer’s contractual affiliation with the organization.
10. A credit line suitable to the design of the project will be used wherever commissioned imagery appears (including but not limited to web, print, and social media). If suitable and at the discretion of The Intercept, in addition to the freelancer’s name, the credit line will include links to either the freelancer’s website or social media page.
11. In the event that a freelancer is not able to obtain a response from the assigning editor within a reasonable time frame to a question or a problem concerning the assignment, contract, or any other issue, the freelancer should contact The Intercept’s Deputy Managing Editor or any member of The Intercept’s senior editorial staff. The Intercept will try to resolve the matter as promptly as possible and provide an initial response within five business days. All freelancers will be made aware, in writing, that this process is available to them upon acceptance of their first assignment.
12. The Intercept recognizes the importance of indemnification language in any agreement with freelancers. An example of the current language in The Intercept’s present contract is:
First Look Media (FLM) will indemnify and defend a freelancer against any third-party claim arising out of any article published or distributed and any newsgathering related thereto unless FLM forms the good-faith judgment that such claims arise out of the freelancer’s breach of representation, warranty, or obligation under their contract. Such indemnification will include all losses, costs, and expenses, including reasonable attorney’s fees, damages, and recoveries. The Intercept will do this if the freelancer agrees to fully cooperate with FLM and its parent and affiliated entities, and their members, shareholders, directors, officers, employees, representatives, and agents from and against any actions, claims, demands, liabilities, expenses, and costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees, arising out of any third-party claim related to such breach.
13. It is The Intercept’s policy to pay freelancers within 30 days after an invoice is received.
14. The Intercept agrees to negotiate with freelancers on a case-by-case basis for the advancement of expense payments for audiovisual equipment, travel and lodging, research, local coordinators/fixers, and other expenses.