Freelancers, here’s how to nudge news outlets to actually pay you

Nichole Sobecki (pictured) reported in Somalia and Dadaab refugee camp for The GroundTruth Project.

This article originally appeared on Navigator, GroundTruth’s newsletter for early-career journalists. You can subscribe to Navigator here

You might not get rich as a journalist, but in theory, you should get paid.

It’s where theory meets practice, though, that the challenges begin. There’s no single right or wrong way to get paid, so long as you keep a positive relationship with your editors and are actually able to cash in. But in my decade-long career as a freelance photojournalist, I’ve picked up a few tips that have kept me fed and clothed, despite the best efforts of mediahouse accountants. Here are five of them:

1) Have a contract. The best guarantee that you’ll get paid in a reasonable amount of time is to have it written in your contract. Most news organizations will require a contract before you work for them, and if they don’t, you should request this. Be sure it says that you will be paid within a defined time limit after submitting your invoice. I’ve generally seen a period of 30 days.

2) Keep your receipts. Have one envelope, labeled, and in go all your receipts. For all the rumors of journalists getting reimbursed for champagne and fancy hotels, I’d wager media companies have saved far more over the years from the many, many receipts us journalists lose. Have a conversation with your editor ahead of time regarding what is fair to expense (usually hotels, transport, food, visas and media accreditation, although every organization has their own rules) – this keeps them from having any last-minute surprises. Using a template spreadsheet (Excel, or similar) and updating it regularly with your expenses throughout an assignment is also a great way to keep a record.

3) Send an invoice immediately. The sooner you invoice, the sooner you can get paid. Once all of my work is filed, and I’ve received a positive reply from my editor, I thank them for the work and send an invoice. I have a template for this, which speeds the process up and adds a professional touch. You can get one here.

4) Be a good bookie. Once you’ve invoiced, your 30 days (or whatever time limit is set in your contract) begins. Keep a running list of who owes what, when you invoiced and when the payment is due. Google Calendar and another spreadsheet can help you stay organized.

5) Follow up. If the payment comes in late, follow up politely and immediately. And again. And again (although hopefully this is not needed). Assume that your editor, like you, is overwhelmed managing many projects – or that the accountant is having a bad month. In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt and always stay respectful. But never give up.

This is undoubtedly one the more frustrating parts of being a journalist. Just stay calm.

Nichole Sobecki is a previous GroundTruth fellow and a freelance photographer and filmmaker based in Kenya. has completed assignments throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia for The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Foreign Policy, and The Financial Times Magazine, and her work has been exhibited internationally.