Code of Fair Practices for Working with Freelance Radio Producers, 1999

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This code was published in June 1999 by the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) and the Producers’ Advocacy Group (PAG) to guide negotiations between freelance producers and buyers of radio production, such as NPR. Reproduced with permission of AIR.


The Association of Independents in Radio* (AIR) and the Producers Advocacy Group** (PAG) present the following code in an effort to clarify and standardize rates and practices for working with freelancers in the public radio industry. In recognition of the central role freelancers and independent radio producers play in enriching the content of almost all the important programs on public radio, AIR and PAG recommend the following guidelines when public radio networks, stations or shows use the work of freelance radio producers:


Freelance producers should be paid at a rate which allows a decent living. At minimum we urge acquirers to match the prevailing rate scale, including benefits, paid to staff reporters and producers doing comparable work in comparable markets. Prevailing rate scales for national acquirers should match those of national staff reporters/producers who are members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). We also recommend that acquirers keep in mind the additional cost of overhead borne by freelancers and set rates accordingly.

We encourage freelancers to negotiate, and regularly renegotiate, for the highest possible rate for themselves.


Whether paid by minute or by day, stories should be acquired at rates which reflect the amount of work that goes into making them, rather than simply the length of the final product. A fair and flexible fee structure should be agreed upon in advance. In cases where a very quick turn around is required a higher rate should be negotiated.


Freelance producers should receive cost of living increases. This should be reflected in the annual budgets of acquiring organizations.


Freelancers should reasonably expect to be paid at the same rate (or progressively more) for each story that they complete for an acquirer, regardless of changes of editor.


Acquiring organizations should make rate structures and practices easily understood. Guidelines covering rates and policies should be published, posted on websites, and sent to all freelancers yearly. Freelancers and editors should be kept current of all changes in policies and practices.

Public radio shows, networks and stations should have clear and consistent policies of advancement for freelancers which describe how freelancers progress within the organizations and what they must accomplish in order to receive higher rates.


All freelance work should be paid within 30 days of receipt of the finished product.


Expenses for a piece should be agreed upon before a freelance producer begins work on a story. Networks, shows or stations should cover all expenses, including long distance phone calls, accommodation, travel, meals, admission fees and other costs which may be incurred in order to produce the story. Mileage is to be reimbursed at the current rate allowed by the Internal Revenue Service for mileage deductions. Expenses are to be paid within 30 days of receipt of a documented expense invoice.


The story should be paid in full as long as the work agreed to is submitted on time, even in situations where the story is ultimately not aired. An exception to this would be if there are significant problems with tape quality which prevent the story from airing. If a story is killed mid-stream, the producer should be paid a fee which reflects the amount of work already expended on the story.


An idea or pitch refers to both a subject and an angle or approach. A producer should be considered to have a proprietary right to ideas or pitches discussed with editors, and such ideas should be held in confidence. We highly discourage poaching and reassignment of ideas.


Freelancers have the responsibility to strive at all times for fairness and accuracy, and should be prepared to back up the “facts” asserted in a story with evidence. Editors, however, must respect any and all promises of confidentiality made by the producer in obtaining information.

Before accepting any assignment, it is the responsibility of the freelancer to reveal to the editor any actual or potential conflict of interest. This includes, but is not limited to, any financial interest relating to the subject matter of the story.


It is the broadcaster’s responsibility to fact-check a story before airing. No producer or reporter should be obliged to indemnify a network or show against any claims or legal actions resulting from a radio story. Once a story is accepted and aired the broadcaster should stand by the producer if the story gives rise to legal action, except where a reporter has plagiarized or violated copyright law.


If, during the course of work, the editor and freelance producer agree that a story requires time for research or tape gathering beyond the original expectation, the initial agreement on rates should be renegotiated.


Except for an initial training period for inexperienced freelancers, we recommend that there be a maximum of three edits per story at the agreed upon rate.


After the final edit, any changes to a story that substantially alter meaning should only be made in consultation with the producer.


First broadcast rights agreements are only guaranteed for 30 days following submission unless otherwise arranged. If a story hasn’t been aired after 30 days acquirers lose the right to first broadcast, and producers become free to resell the story elsewhere.


Whenever possible, freelance producers should receive advance notice of air dates and times. Producers should receive a courtesy copy of all pieces which are mixed by the acquiring organization.


Acquirers’ listener correspondence departments should maintain a database of all correspondence concerning work produced by freelancers, and should provide producers with copies of all mail and email correspondence received in response to the airing of their pieces. Freelancers should also hear about all feedback given by phone.


We recommend that acquiring organizations keep consistent records containing work and payment history for each producer. Records should detail agreements made with each producer concerning rates, rights, and conditions. Such records should be readily available to each editor who works with the producer.


In general, rights agreements with freelance producers are for non- exclusive, one-time, United States broadcast only. All other rights, including electronic reproduction, transmission, or distribution of all, or part, of the story, are fully reserved by the producer unless negotiated separately. If re-broadcast rights are negotiated, they should be clearly stated in a contract and fees adjusted upwards.


Freelancers, typically, should retain all rights to their work, except as in rights agreements negotiated separately. However, under some circumstances, freelancers may agree to “work-for-hire,” in which case all rights are purchased by the acquirer; in these cases, fees should be negotiated upward to reflect the rights purchased.


Freelancers and acquiring institutions should sign a standard contract on a yearly basis which may be initiated either by the producer or the acquirer. The contract should specify payment schedule, expense and kill fee policies, payment for rewrites, and what rights are being purchased.

In addition, we recommend that freelancers and editors exchange a memo or confirmation letter for each assignment. This should describe the nature of the story, the rate to be paid for this story, expenses covered, due date, length of story, and any additional special circumstances which apply to that story only.
*AIR is a not-for-profit national membership organization offering information, networking, and other services to public radio producers.

**PAG is an ad-hoc collective of national producers organized to support producer’s rights.

©1999 by the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) and the Producers Advocacy Group (PAG).

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