Beginner’s Trap

It Exists, I Swear.

I’m going to write about something henceforth known as the beginner’s trap. It’s something quite common in the 2010 to 2015 period in NYC reporting. The courts were not hiring, and there was this perception that there were too many reporters and not enough work. This created a situation where agencies were telling people that they weren’t taking on new reporters, and making it much harder for new reporters to get into the field. Obviously, this shot morale way down with newbies, and made us more susceptible to taking lower rates.

There’s A Cure.

So then, what would happen to a new reporter who accepted a low rate because they couldn’t get work anywhere? They tended to stay with one company for a long time. In most fields, this is an admirable thing, but we are freelancers, nobody promises work for us, and so it is simply in our best interest to shop around, negotiate, and renegotiate. The beginner’s trap is to stay at the same low rate and contentedly slave away at our work. To slay the trap, we must be observant and assertive. We’ve got to ask for a better rate, and if a better rate is not forthcoming, we’ve got to search elsewhere. We’re allowed to talk to other companies about what they’ll pay us. We’re allowed to talk to other reporters about what they make. And generally, they’re not reporting back to each other, so speak freely and find somebody who’ll pay us right.

When Nothing Is Working.

Some will say, “well, Bob, I shopped around and nobody wants to pay me more than X, which I consider to be a low rate. What gives?” What can be said about that is a big part of negotiation is our presentation. In the initial parts of our careers, we can feel timid, and other reporters can even scare us into not taking certain types of work. But this serves us poorly! It’s imperative that we analyze our presentation. If we come off as someone who wants to work and can take what’s thrown at them, we can demand a better rate. It’s convenient, too, if we actually can take what’s thrown at us! Keep your presentation confident, be committed to doing a good job, show interest in the company and its employees/principals, and be willing to work, and negotiating rates will go your way that much more often.

7 thoughts on “Beginner’s Trap

  1. I like it. But I would tone down “slave.” It’s not slaving if you’re working voluntarily for an agreed-upon rate. It’s rather ignorance or fear to not ask for better pay in due time.

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    1. I would tend to agree that voluntary work is not enslavement, but I would also say that when one is working on hundreds of pages of transcript for $2.50 per page it feels very much like slaving away. It’s an idiom I feel very appropriate here.

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