New Story: Legal Protection

We are pleased to report the first success of an innovative new FIRE tool—a key reason to support FIRE’s work ahead.

FIRE-supported reporter Emma Penrod

“Freelancers are especially exposed.” —FIRE-supported freelancer Emma Penrod.

On December 23rd, 2020, a U.S. magazine became the first outlet to sign FIRE’s historic boilerplate freelancer’s agreement (see below), which codifies progressive solutions on copyright, revisions, proofs, severability—and indemnification.

The new legal-protection tool is just one way that FIRE’s popular services enable freelancers to confidently investigate in the public interest.

FIRE can now build this confidence, one story at a time. Please donate to strengthen public-interest reporting! 

Over the past three years, FIRE has served 79 reporters, including nearly two dozen in 2020, on a range of stories, including winners of three major awards and finalists for four more.

Now we are turning to one of the biggest vulnerabilities facing freelancers in this vulnerable time: liability for court costs, or indemnification

By default, publishers and broadcasters indemnify their own staff reporters for stories. But outlets increasingly won’t commission freelancers unless they accept the legal exposure of an investigation—sometimes even the outlet’s own court costs.

It’s one more reason why, anecdotally, freelancers are increasingly foregoing public-interest investigations for safer stories—a significant public-interest problem. 

In December, with the help of an ex-Bloomberg News general counsel, FIRE introduced a template agreement that includes several provisions for freelancers, including indemnification. As of today, FIRE will support investigative stories only for outlets that indemnify the reporter, via the new contract or the equivalent.

We are taking this stand for a number of reasons. But it means we now have to facilitate even stronger, more complete, more insurable stories for selective and busy editors. 

To succeed, we will invest in fewer stories, providing more resources to each—including editorial guidance, fact-checking, and legal review. 

FIRE is primarily a service-provider. Our customized assistance and mentoring have proved highly popular. We think this additional protective tool will strengthen freelance investigative capacity—and our successful service model for delivering it—at a critical time.

Please donate to help public-interest journalism!

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director