This afternoon, I was informed Halifax Chronicle Herald purchased 28 publications (including one online) owned by Transcontinental. The CBC online article stated it bought all of their news outlets in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
As a genealogy columnist for The Citizen Record, Amherst, NS, I’m unsure of what the future holds for me and other freelance columnists.
During many changes years ago, Transcontinental presented columnists with a new contract that, if signed, would make their original contract with the publication null and void. I ignored the new contract, and they didn’t pester me to sign it. To this day, I work under the original contracts I signed when I began Roots to the Past in 2005. The purchase by Halifax Chronicle Herald may force me to do the unthinkable: end the column. That is, if they try to force me to sign a bad contract.
The new contract offered by Transcontinental several years ago was unkind to columnists. At the time, I was writing one column and sending it to several newspapers. I was being paid for each column in each newspaper. In other words, I wrote one column, it appeared in ten newspapers, and I got paid ten times.
The new contract stipulated I would be paid once and the column would appear in as many newspapers as they wanted. In other words, I would be given $25 to $30 a week and the column might appear in 20 to 30 newspapers. Plus, they wanted ownership of my column to use as they saw fit. They could publish it in book form if they wanted to. If I wanted to use a column for another publication, I would have to seek their permission.
Obviously, I didn’t sign this. It would have destroyed the column as I wouldn’t have written it for $30 a week. I spend about six or more hours researching for it and writing it, and $5.00 an hour wasn’t worth it. The only thing that made it doable was multiple payments.
And I wanted to retain ownership of my columns, so I could use them in any form I saw fit. Eventually I will release them in book form, something I would not have been able to do if I had signed the contract.
At one time, being a columnist was profitable. Writing one column and getting it into multiple publications was the goal. That’s because payment for one column wasn’t great. And it still isn’t. If I had started working at a fast food restaurant in 2005, I would not be making the exact same pay today. Yet, I am still paid the same $25 and $30 per column I was paid in 2005. And don’t bother to ask for a raise; you won’t get it. What you start out at is what you’ll end on. One newspaper paid only $15. And that’s exactly what they pay their columnists today.
For comparison, payment for articles I’ve had published in magazines often paid $300 or more for 800 words. My column is about 550 words. Major publications paid $1.00 per word. Yes, you read that right. For an 800-word article, you got $800. Because of this pay scale, writers dedicate more time to writing them. It might take 20 to 40 hours to research and write one article.
If you have considered being a columnist for a newspaper, all I have to say is good luck. Be strong. Stick to your guns. Do NOT sign contracts that pay you for one column while the company publishes it in multiple newspapers. And do NOT sign away your rights to the column. Resale options are the only thing that makes them worth doing. And DO barter for a higher pay than $30 per column per publication. Whatever you are paid when you start is what you’ll be paid a dozen years from now.
To learn more about the purchase of the Transcontinental newspapers, read Chronicle Herald buys all Atlantic Canadian Transcontinental papers on the CBC website.