How do you cost your work as a freelance multimedia/data/ community journalist? 3 questions to ask


Costing up your work as a freelance in multimedia, liveblogging, data journalism, community management or SEO isn’t straightforward. There’s no simple answer to ‘How much should I charge for this particular work?’ because the field isn’t standardised enough to have reliable rates.

But there are three questions you can ask yourself which can help you set a price or feel comfortable with the decision you make about taking or turning down work.

Question 1: What are your costs?

The basic cost is your time. How much time do you realistically think the work will take? And how much do you value that time, e.g. per hour? Journalism often takes more time than anticipated: contacts take more chasing; case studies fall through. Editors ask for new versions.

Travel is another cost, and accommodation and food for some work too. It may be worth negotiating on these costs separately, rather than including it in the fee, so the two can be distinguished.

Then there are equipment costs if you are working in multimedia. These are generally not specific to the project so shouldn’t have a big impact — but they do have an impact on question 3 below.

Question 2: What value does the work add to you?

How much value do you get from the work, for example:

  • Will it add to your CV in areas that it lacks (rather than areas you already have)?
  • Will it build your reputation?
  • Does it give you an opportunity to learn new skills that you couldn’t learn otherwise?
  • Does it give you an opportunity to meet people or gain access to places you wouldn’t otherwise — and what will add value to you in some way?

Question 3: What supply and demand exists for your skills?

Like any market, prices in journalism are significantly shaped by supply and demand.

For example, if there are very few people offering the skills that you have, and — crucially — a lot of clients demanding your skills, then you can ask for more.

Multimedia is one area where an investment in equipment can narrow the pool of those able to offer similar services — but not always.

It should be a judgement based on experience, not ego. You may think your skills are valuable, but if you’re not getting a lot of approaches for work then the demand is not there at this time. But if you’re getting more offers than you have time to do, then try increasing your price.

If the market is flooded by people with particular skills, prices drop. This is why freelance print journalism is so poorly paid: work that might take you two weeks to produce might only command £100, or £50, or zero, because there are enough people competing to do it for that price.

But it’s worth remembering that they might be competing to do it for that price because they a) think it will take them less time than you (rightly or wrongly); and/or b) get more value from the work than you. In other words, they have different answers to questions 1 and 2 above.

Upping the price: gathering an evidence base

One of the reasons why you may be offered less money than you expect is because publishers often don’t know the value of content themselves. Liveblogging, multimedia, and other new formats are still establishing their worth, while journalism as a whole continues to depreciate.

So collect evidence on effectiveness and make a case for the value your work has.

For example, liveblogging is known to drive traffic; there is evidence that data journalism tends to have much higher dwell times than other journalism. Multimedia generates higher engagement metrics. Good community management can increase conversion rates.

Showing the value of longform video — image from Ooyala 2012 end of year index report

Simple tools like bit.ly allow you to measure things like clickthrough on links; asking for analytics from employers — or even negotiating extra payments based on performance can encourage clients to look at metrics they might otherwise be ignorant of.

Do you have any other factors you consider when pricing up work?

This was first published on the Online Journalism Blog. Subscribe to get regular updates.

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