Rate Guide: Editing and Content Strategy
Everyone needs an editor. Yes, even you. Good editors bring an experienced ear to the whole story, and that can make a world of difference.
And even if you know precisely what you’re doing, you also need someone with an experienced eye on the big picture. On some shows that’s the executive producer and it’s a full time role. Other shows bring in a consultant to lay solid groundwork and then step back after the first few episodes are out the door. Often, newcomers to the space turn to experienced editors in search of guidance that looks a lot more like content strategy or operations. We cover this group of experts under “consulting” below.
In this, the last in our 2019 rate guide series, we cover the roles of editing and consulting, and share the current market rates we found in our research.
Though these two roles are very different in practice, we’ve included them in a single guide because many of the consultants and other indies we interviewed in the course of our research on rates told AIR that they also do some story editing. Some of them mix a part time staff editing role with freelance reporting. Some freelance full time and only edit stories. We also talked to experienced professionals who tackle more strategic work helping podcasts or radio shows think through their plans, develop realistic editorial budgets, refine their voice, and maximize their reach.
In this context “editing” refers to the process of working with a producer, reporter or host to refine and finalize a story, episode or segment. Sometimes we’ll use “story editing” to distinguish this kind of editing from “audio editing,” or actually cutting the tape, which we cover in our guide to engineering and music rates.
Most editors are involved from the pre-reporting stage to help frame the goals of the story, they’re checking in along the way to help troubleshoot and prioritize, and they’re helping shape the final piece, including the script itself.
It depends on the format of a show, and on the rest of the staffing structure, but in general an editor is consulting with a reporter or producer about the content, tone and structure of a story (or an episode or series). Often that starts at the conceptual stage, talking with a reporter, producer or host about the goals and big questions for the project. In most cases an editor expects to check in along the way to help assess the projects' evolution by asking questions like: what do we have? What do we need? What is turning out to be hard? Almost every editor will want to work directly with the script. Some will also want to listen to a lot of raw tape, while others look to the reporter or producer for that. Every editor will want to listen to a live read with tape.
Obviously some projects proceed much faster than others: the conceptual stage might be a quick conversation for a news feature, while a more deeply reported segment or series could involve substantially more conversations.
Editors tend to bring experience both with reporting, ensuring that a piece is complete and accurate and narrative, ensuring that a piece tells a compelling story.
For experienced editors, we saw rates from $85 to $150 per hour, with most falling in the $100 to $125 range. We did talk to a handful of either specialized or uniquely desirable editors whose rates ranged significantly higher than $150/hour.
Newer editors who are still establishing a professional reputation cited rates closer to $75 per hour, in some cases ranging down to $50 or $65.
Editors at every level of experience cited a range and noted that rates at the lower end reflect consistent, reliable gigs that they can count on and have been doing for a few years.
Need a great editor? You can search the Talent Directory for AIRsters who are available for Story Editing. And if you’re an AIR member with editing experience, update your profile!
Consultants: Shaping the Big Picture
Most productions can benefit from the insights of an experienced leader who can help establish the show’s voice, identify opportunities to reach a larger audience, assemble a staff and realistic budget, and connect with financing. While some editors can also provide this kind of support, this is usually where consultants come in on a small production.
While titles like “Executive Producer” and “Content Strategy Consultant” are by no means interchangeable, we found that most shows need someone in one or both roles, at least during the conception and launch phase. Once a show is up and running the folks who provided initial scaffolding aren’t as necessary, but unless there’s a very experienced editor in place to keep things moving in the right direction, some level of strategic oversight is important at any stage.
As we were interviewing consultants with an eye for the big picture, we also talked to a few who specialize in operations. If running an organization is outside your expertise, operations consultants can help you get the contract templates you need, connect with attorneys when you need legal support, and make sure that your budget includes the logistical details of keeping a production running smoothly—details that are often left out of editorial budgets. An operations consultant can help a show scale or just start up in a way that makes sustainability possible.
Some consultants who do this work describe themselves simply as experts, others use the term show runner. More than one described their work as “creative-meets-editorial-meets-business.”
Our sample size for big picture consultants was both small and diverse so these rates represent snapshots rather than a complete picture. We’re still including them here because we regularly get questions about budgeting for strategic planning.
Rates for expert consulting among our respondents ranged from $1000-$1500 per day. Many consultants at this level told us that they only work by the day. Where folks take hourly rates, those range from $150-250 per hour, sometimes ranging up to $500/hour. The amount of time that any one show will need with an outside executive producer or content strategist will vary, but most consultants will be able to accurately estimate the level of engagement they foresee.
We interviewed experienced shows and production companies about what they expect to pay for editors and strategic consulting. We also interviewed experienced editors and consultants to understand how they set their rates and what they are actually paid on individual projects.
AIR’s work on rates
AIR is actively developing a series of guides designed to help independent producers, editors, and engineers set fair and reasonable rates, and to help everyone create accurate and realistic budgets. We want to hear from you. Contact [email protected] if you have feedback on our rate recommendations.
This guide was completed in December 2019 and has not been updated. Our hope as an organization is that AIR can keep these rate guides up to date but if you’re reading this and it is more than a year old, you should adjust the recommended rate to reflect changes in the cost of work and living.