Rates Watch 2002

Karen Michel and Jeff Lunden 
Reviewed Spring 2009 – For a list of specific programs and their pitch/rate info, please visit our pitch page.

The contribution of independent producers to nationally aired public radio programs cannot be underestimated. According to National Public Radio’s own internal survey, at least one-fifth of the stories on the network’s news magazines represent the work of freelance reporters. Most programs and networks pay freelancers fees based on the length of a story, in minutes.

We surveyed both AIR members and content acquirers to get a sense of the current landscape. Fees for contributors to public radio programs range from a low of $60 to a high of $200 per minute, with most networks/programs paying freelancers an average of $85 – 100 per minute. A few programs offer flat fees for stories, but, again, these are based primarily on length.

But, these fees do not always represent the amount of time and effort it takes to produce the work. Some stories require a great deal of research and sound gathering, yet most current rates only take into account the final length of the piece. Often, independent producers are asked to trim their stories for time, expending more effort for less pay. And freelancers are rarely paid any additional money to mix their own stories. Finally, as NPR’s Senior Vice President for Programming, Jay Kernis, recently wrote to AIR’s membership, the network recognizes that, “NPR’s payments to independents has been historically insufficient.” Because of these inequities, we propose to change the basis of estimating freelance rates from a per-minute model to a day rate model.

There are a few nationally distributed programs now using this model; even NPR pays freelancers a day rate on occasion, and there are a few producers who regularly receive them. Rates range from $200 to $500 per day.

The day rate figures we propose are derived from NPR-provided minimums for reporters and correspondents. We added 22% for benefits to those figures — the rate NPR tells us they pay. We then took those figures and divided them by 260 (52 weeks x 5 working days) to obtain a day rate, to reflect parity with NPR employees. We realize that not all institutions pay on the same scale as NPR — some pay higher, while others pay lower — but we’ve used these figures as a starting-off point.

These figures are intended as guidelines for freelance, non-station based reporters and non-externally funded projects. In addition, these figures only reflect personnel costs; they don’t cover equipment and space. Expenses for media, materials, phone/fax and travel are in addition to the negotiated fee and should be reimbursed.

Since the Association of Independents in Radio is not empowered to collectively bargain, we offer these ideas and figures in the spirit of cooperation and the aim of all to be paid a living wage.

Proposed Freelance Rate Structure

All rates for pieces should be agreed upon, in advance, by the editor and the reporter, based on a reasonable amount of time to complete the story. The table reflects how the Day Rate would work under three different scenarios for an “average” five to eight minute story.

 Day Rate  2 Days
(quick turnaround)
3 Days
(average story)
6 Days
(research/style intensive)
 Junior*  $250  $500  $875  $1500
 Mid-Level**  $325  $650  $1,187.50  $1950
 Senior***  $400  $800  $1400 $2400

As stated above, programs/acquirers should reimburse reporter expenses for media, materials, phone/fax and travel. Fees should be paid within 14 days of the story being filed. Stories that are killed by the acquirer are paid in full, just as if they had aired.

In accordance with standard business practice, these base rates should be readjusted on an annual basis, to reflect cost-of-living increases.

A guide to the proposed levels in the remuneration chart, above:

* Junior

New to national air, limited experience and/or expertise on topic, requires multiple edits.

** Mid-Level

Regular contributor to national air, several years’ experience, requires ongoing editorial assistance.

*** Senior

Consistently outstanding reporting and production, thorough knowledge of topic, long-time contributor to national programming, requires minimal editing.

How these figures were derived:

NPR Reporter minimum salary: $70,108.00 + $15, 423.76 benefits = $85,531.76 or $329 a day.

NPR Correspondent minimum salary: $84,130 + 18,508.60 benefits = $102,628.60 or $395 a day.

The Day Rate is multiplied by the number of days projected to do a story, including research, tape gathering, logging, editing, and production of the final piece. The number of projected days — and reporter level — is negotiated individually, in an editor/reporter dialogue. It is anticipated that there will be some flux, some adjustment time in determining just how long a story takes: that’s inevitable. Nevertheless, once a time is agreed upon, it is expected that the agreement will be binding. The subsequent story negotiation may reflect an “enlightened” reality and adjusted accordingly.

Your comments are welcome. We look forward to a paradigm shift in the way content providers are remunerated by content acquirers, toward a mutual goal of excellence, and fairness.