FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection

Assessing the liability practices of publishers and broadcasters

For reporters interested
in the FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection:

The FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection will evaluate the extent to which outlets are protecting freelance investigative reporting.

Funded by a $50,000 grant from craig newmark philanthropies, the pilot will inform three entities working together for a common goal:

  • freelance reporters
  • the grantmakers that fund their stories
  • the outlets that publish or broadcast the stories 

It’s well known that many outlets do not promise liability protections to reporters. This can have a chilling effect on public-interest investigations.

The FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection will alert freelancers to industry practices in advance, allowing more informed decision-making and reducing sunk time and costs. It will also recognize forward-looking outlets—such as Science magazine, which recently protected a reporter when a competitor said it could not.

The Guide will evaluate relevant intelligence to place publishers and broadcasters in one of three categories:

  • Green Listapproved by FIRE: known to take responsibility for stories. Sufficiently protective of freelance investigative reporting

  • Yellow Listnot yet approved by FIRE: inconsistent practices or incomplete information, with hints of progress. Getting there

  • Red Listnot approved by FIRE: consistently unprotective. Not there and no progress

The evaluation will use objective and evidence-based criteria that hold any publisher or broadcaster to the same standard as their peers, allowing them to meet the criteria if they choose to. 

The pilot Guide will rely on three main sources of evidence:  

  • documents derived from FIRE’s experience facilitating stories with particular outlets  

  • responses to a standard questionnaire that FIRE submits to outlets 

  • documentation and intelligence contributed privately and confidentially by freelance reporters.  

To vet the intelligence for fairness and accuracy, FIRE will use standard reporting methods, including rigorous sourcing and exculpatory interviews with outlets. The evaluation will also be updated frequently to reflect changes in an outlet's liability practices, particularly improvements.

Initial test-case results are expected by December, 2023—and full results of the pilot by spring, 2024.

Results will be released in the following forms: 

  • To the general public: a list of evaluated outlets on FIRE's website—and the criteria by which they are evaluated

  • To interested parties: the Red, Yellow, Green category associated with particular publishers or broadcasters, on written request 

  • To participants (evaluated outlets, relevant grantmakers, and designated freelance reporters): the full detailed version of  evaluations

The pilot project will initially rely on more than two years of accumulated data from FIRE’s Legal Consultancies, which has already documented freelance-related liability practices at more than two dozen outlets.

For the pilot, FIRE will also ask numerous freelancers to share their own experiences negotiating liability with outlets. Reporters who contribute to the evaluation effort will receive the detailed results of the evaluations, for their use. (Identities of contributors will be kept confidential.)

Freelancers interested in participating in the FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection by contributing intelligence to the project may apply below.

Any freelancer interested in participating in the
FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection may apply here.