Making Local News

FIRE freelancer piece cited by Times

FIRE-supported reporter Daryl Khan

FIRE-supported reporter Clarissa Sosin

 FIRE helped freelancers Daryl Khan and Clarissa Sosin report on the Baton Rouge Police Department for Verite News

On December 22 2023, the New York Times briefing “The Morning” highlighted the Top 25 stories of the year produced by local newsrooms. 

One of the stories it cited—a FIRE-supported investigation on the Baton Rouge Police Department, for Verite News—was not recognized as a freelancer contribution.  

But it might never have reached the public any other way—or without FIRE’s help. 

Reporters Daryl Khan and Clarissa Sosin secured extensive public records to document flaws in the internal review of brutality complaints against the Baton Rouge Police Department. 

They produced the story with the full complement of FIRE services: a grant, expenses, full Virtual Newsroom reporting services, and our Contract Template for indemnification. 

"As freelancers we were tackling a vital and sensitive story that needed the strength of a newsroom behind it. FIRE provided that life line," wrote Sosin and Khan. "It's really hard to overstate their importance to this story."

Theirs is not the only such testimonial. In just under a decade, FIRE has altered the journalism landscape with a sharp focus on freelance investigative reporters.


Signs of progress for the field 


As late as 2015, this country did not have an organization dedicated to freelance investigative journalists. 

Eight years later, FIRE has altered the landscape with your support. 

Milestones, by the numbers:   

  • More than 175 freelancers have received direct hands-on story assistance, including a select portion with grants*  

  • 75 reporters have requested Contract Templates to protect themselves  

  • 45 commissioning broadcasters or publishers have requested the same Templates, to protect their freelancers  

  • More than 300 journalists have benefited from FIRE expertise  

The outcomes have been heartening: 19 of 21 reporters protected, dozens of stories released, six awards won, and perhaps ultimately most important, newfound confidence to do freelance reporting—and to adopt new standards for the field

Freelancers are also educating and supporting themselves through the FIRE Contract Template, FIRE Consultancies, Tip Sheets on Liability, a Freelancer Guide, and indirectly, through FIRE's fellow grantmakers, with whom we have actively discussed the issues facing our mutual constituents—and ways to address them.

FIRE focuses exclusively on this one sector of journalism, freelance investigative reporting, because it has a huge potential for the public good—a potential that we look forward to realizing. 

A round of special gratitude to craig newmark philanthropies—and thank you to all! 

*Amends December 7th e-newsletter to clarify that grants have not gone to all of the reporters, only to a portion of them.

Podcast Lauded

Alison MacAdam

     FIRE-supported freelancer 
Alison MacAdam edited NHPR's  
award winning investigation and 
newly celebrated podcast. 

“13th Step” a New Yorker best,
DuPont finalist 

FIRE-supported freelancer Alison MacAdam has co-earned additional recognition for sexual-misconduct reporting that she edited under tense conditions for New Hampshire Public Radio. 

NHPR’s original investigation, which weathered lawsuit threats, suspicious vandalism, and a baseless defamation suit, won a 2023 Edward R. Murrow award in investigative reporting. 

After that investigation, MacAdam also edited the station’s associated podcast, "The 13th Step."  

In late November 2023, the podcast became one of The New Yorker's ten best of 2023 and a finalist for a DuPont Columbia award, to be decided January 25, 2024. 

At the outset, FIRE attorneys helped the station secure MacAdam's protection, covering all her work with the station.

We salute MacAdam and NHPR for their bravery!

More Stories Protected

Freelancers record successes in 19 of 21 cases

Recent liability protection at Science magazine, Politico, and two other publications have boosted FIRE's rate of successful interventions to 19 of 21 cases since 2021.

In these cases, freelance reporters have used FIRE Legal Consultancies to renegotiate liability exposure on particular commissioned stories.

The breakthroughs have come in various ways, from use of excerpts drawn from the FIRE Contract Template, to custom modifications of an outlet's existing contract. But all reflect the flexibility and wisdom of the broadcasters and publishers involved.

Of the 19 stories, 15 have already been published, some of them listed here.

In addition, an unknown number of freelancers have gained protections privately, as outlets voluntarily adjust their freelance contracts to the Template. In 2023, a publisher with 100 million monthly page-views quietly adopted FIRE's Template as a boilerplate for hundreds of freelancers.

Added Accolades

Murrow Awards

     "The 13th Step" has become a finalist for the DuPont Columbia awards.

Peabody, Murrow bring count to six awards

We are pleased to announce that recent recognition for FIRE-supported stories has rounded out a list of six awards.

The awards includes a Peabody, Spotlight award, Society of Professional Journalists' Lisagor award, Frontline Club award, Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism; and finalists for five others.

The finalists include "The 13th Step" podcast, a candidate for the DuPont Columbia award, to be decided January 25, 2024.

Congratulations to the reporters!

In the Face of Adversity

Murrow Awards

     FIRE helped NHPR protect its freelancer in difficult reporting conditions on the winning story.

Freelancer protected with aid of FIRE
legal team; embattled team earns honors

A New Hampshire Public Radio sexual-misconduct investigation, which FIRE could not previously disclose due to safety concerns, has just won the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award.

In tense conditions, FIRE's media lawyers and insurance specialists helped NHPR lock in liability protection for the story's freelance editor just before the story ran.

No longer concerned with exposure, MacAdam helped the station with confidence, embodying the objective of FIRE’s highly effective reporter-based approach.

“FIRE's access to excellent media lawyers and its doggedness in advocating for me were essential,” MacAdam wrote as the original story was released. “I'm fortunate that NHPR collaborated with FIRE.”

The collaboration was another victory for the FIRE legal team, which has now helped freelancers secure protections in 19 of 21 such cases over the past three years.

It also contributed to the body of cases that will inform FIRE’s Freelancer Protection Guide, which evaluates how well outlets protect freelancers according to a new standard for the field. Freelancers can apply for the Guide here.  

Democracy cannot thrive without strong investigative journalism, which requires properly supported freelancers—for fights like NHPR's.

Story Wins Award


     FIRE helped freelancer Alison MacAdam       on this award-winning 2022 investigation.

Fending off defamation suit, NHPR
and freelancer earn a Murrow

A story previously veiled by FIRE due to safety issues has just won the 2023 national Edward R. Murrow Award in investigative reporting

FIRE helped freelance editor Alison MacAdam secure indemnification from New Hampshire Public Radio just before it released the story in March 2022. 

But we did not disclose the details due to tense reporting conditions: Just before the story came out the subject of the story had threatened to sue. Just afterward, vandals attacked the homes of journalists involved in the story. 

Since then, the subject sued for defamation, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, the subject contested the dismissal, and federal authorities arrested four men in connection with the vandalism. 

Our full profile of the events here.

The story, an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct by the founder of a major addiction treatment company, received the Murrow award October 9. 

MacAdam also edited the station's podcast about its coverage, "The 13th Step."

For a list of FIRE-supported story releases, see our Reporter Updates.

Expanding Expertise


     FOIA litigation expert Tuan Samahon

FIRE adds experienced FOIA litigator Samahon

FIRE can now help freelancers pursue public-interest stories more effectively via a critical and elusive capacity—the ability to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests backed by a lawsuit. 

It's part of augmented reporting services at FIRE, which now also includes high-level research expertise.

For decades, journalists have struggled to act on the legally protected right to secure documents and intelligence from government. 

Increasingly, federal agencies won’t adequately respond to public-records requests unless faced with litigation.  

Such litigation is the province of Tuan Samahon, a tenured law professor at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law and a constitutional and FOIA transparency advocate for journalists, academics, and authors. 

Having successfully sued agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and the Internal Revenue Service for public records, Samahon advises FIRE-supported reporters how to file and manage FOIA requests with litigation in mind—and then coordinates any necessary lawsuits.

FIRE is honored to offer Samahon’s expertise and we are pleased that he has already begun working with FIRE-supported reporters.  

To learn more about Samahon, visit the Leadership page.

To apply for FIRE's help with FOIA requests, visit Reporting Consultancy.

For general information on FIRE services, visit Guidelines and Application

More Expertise


 Award-winning researcher
Margot Williams.
Photo by April Witt

A veteran researcher for investigations 

Any reporter benefits from a good researcher and Margot Williams is among the best.  

Her career at The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and The Intercept, is one of the most respected in the investigative reporting world. 

We are pleased to announce that Williams is now providing FIRE-supported investigative reporters with tailored research results, via the FIRE Consultancy and Virtual Newsroom—a boon to stories at any stage. 

FIRE is grateful for Williams' contribution to freelance reporting in the public interest—part of augmented reporting services that now includes FOIA litigation.

To learn more about Williams, visit the Leadership page.

To apply for FIRE's help with research needs, visit Reporting Consultancy.

For general information on FIRE services, visit Guidelines and Application

Peabody for Podcast

Divided Dial

 FIRE reporting services provided early guidance to "The Divided Dial."

Award-winning account explored
rise of conservative talk-radio company 

Belated kudos to freelance reporter Katie Thornton for winning the 2022 Peabody in Radio/Broadcast with WNYC’s On the Media, for The Divided Dial, a five-part account of the rise of Salem Media Group as a right-wing radio empire. 

The series, which also won the Bart Richard Award for Media Criticism and a nomination for a Mirror Award, evolved from a flurry of correspondence and conversations in 2021. 

“I am very grateful to FIRE for the assistance available through my Editorial Consultancy,” Thornton wrote. “It was very helpful as I conducted my prereporting and developed the outline and plan for this series.” 

Thornton continues to work as a full-time freelance reporter in both print and audio. She is currently working on a project that builds on the reporting and investigative work conducted for The Divided Dial.

For a full list of FIRE-supported story releases, see our Reporter Updates.

Successful Landing


 Science magazine took responsibility
for a freelance investigation.

FIRE-aided freelancer finds the right magazine

A major magazine had commissioned a freelance investigation about suspected scam artists in the science world. The story was time-sensitive. It had checked out and was nearing publication. 

The freelancer, Michele Catanzaro, was concerned that the story subjects might sue him over the coverage. He could not afford the exposure.  

But the magazine would not accept the risk of liability arising from the piece that it would publish. It advised Catanzaro to purchase his own media insurance.  

He could not afford such a policy.  

Working with FIRE, Catanzaro successfully negotiated the only viable solution he found left: taking the story to another publication.  

In the end that publication, Science magazine, published the piece in time and fully protected the freelancer, setting a standard for FIRE's upcoming Freelancer Protection Guide.

Full profile of the events here.

FIRE Launches Guide

Pilot tool will evaluate liability practices 

  ScienceFreelancers may now apply to participate in the FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection.

FIRE is pleased to announce an innovative program to help freelancers invest their time and resources in public-interest investigative reporting. 

The FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection, made possible this month by a generous $50,000 grant from craig newmark philanthropies, will explore the extent to which outlets take legal responsibility for the stories they contract.  

Armed with the intelligence in advance, freelancers can more confidently invest in the kind of sensitive accountability stories that keep democracy healthy. 

As we will detail here next month, even the best journalism can trigger a defamation lawsuit. That's why responsible publishers and broadcasters will explicitly promise to indemnify careful freelancers.  

Those outlets will qualify for FIRE's top "Green List" rating. (Last month Science magazine became the latest candidate, on a time-sensitive investigation.)  

To help FIRE monitor how outlets measure up in liability protection, we invite any freelancer to participate in the pilot FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection

Thanks and feel free to email us any questions!  

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director  

Solving the Right Problem


 FIRE helped Michele Catanzaro safely publish his investigation
Photo by Yorley Ruiz

The path to protection at Science magazine


For freelancers facing a troubling liability exposure, it’s one thing to sense a problem. It’s another thing to figure out what the problem is. 

Many freelancers come to FIRE seeking to buy personal insurance to cover their media-law liability. They often incorrectly assume that’s their only option.

Michele Catanzaro was such a reporter. A major magazine had commissioned his investigation of suspected scam artists, but he was concerned that the story subjects would sue him personally over the coverage. 

He was confident in his reporting, but “disoriented and worried that the story would never be published,” Catanzaro later wrote to FIRE. “In such a difficult situation, you feel vulnerable and tempted to give up.”  

Catanzaro had asked the magazine to take on the risk of liability arising out of the story. They claimed they couldn’t.  

They suggested he find personal insurance of his own.

His search took him to FIRE. While advising him on options to purchase insurance (which proved too expensive), FIRE also asked Catanzaro to consider whether the right problem to solve was not How to buy a policy for yourself, but How to achieve protection for yourself

Could the outlet promise to indemnify you after all? And if not, are you willing to find one that will?

With FIRE’s guidance (and $2,500 Indemnification Grant), Catanzaro tried one last time with the original magazine, which considered the request again—and ultimately could only repeat its advice to insure himself.

But days were passing, a court date relevant to the story was coming soon: The story was time sensitive. 

In close communication with the original publication, Catanzaro ultimately found his way to Science magazine, which to his relief promised to fully protect him—and ultimately published the investigation

“Having a counterpart providing competent and nuanced suggestions was crucial," Catanzaro later wrote. " I would have never been able to navigate this situation properly without FIRE's support." 

Catanzaro was not the only beneficiary. In the end, the original publication lost the story. But Science gained it. The magazine's exemplary contract language for freelancers made it a leading candidate for the "Green List" in FIRE’s upcoming FIRE Guide to Freelancer Protection

By policy, the Guide will name and assess the original magazine—and others like it—after a fuller evaluation of circumstances.

New Story, New Gift, New Tools


 FIRE-supported journalists
Daryl Khan and Clarissa Sosin
explored complaints about 
Baton Rouge police practices.

Latest release comes amid service
upgrades, $150,000 contribution

FIRE is pleased to announce a $150,000 gift by one of our longtime donors, which will provide a critical boost for FIRE's general operating expenses.

The gift affirms our groundbreaking success in legal protection with the support of Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

FIRE’s new legal tools include our Contract Template, Tip Sheets on liability, and Legal Consultancy, which has helped freelancers negotiate protections in 15 of 17 cases.

FIRE's template has been requested by more than 100 freelancers and outlets. This month a publisher with 100 million monthly page-views quietly adopted it as a boilerplate for its hundreds of freelancers.

Next up: a pilot tool to evaluate which publishers and broadcasters are protecting freelancers from liability—featuring nearly 20 outlets FIRE has already engaged. 

Beyond legal assistance, the $150,000 gift will also augment FIRE’s full-service Virtual Newsroom, including grants up to $12,500. We are pleased to announce that the latest Virtual Newsroom release—a multipart investigation of the Baton Rouge Police Department—is appearing this week in Verite

Lastly, a thank you to Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) for including FIRE in an informative April 11 webinar on freelance investigative reporting.

(Correction: Due to an inadvertent double-count, FIRE’s April 20 e-newsletter erroneously reported that requests for the FIRE Contract Template totaled “nearly 200.” The correct representation, as above, should have been “more than 100.” The actual number is 111—84 freelancers, 27 outlets.) 

Grant successes


Wilhen Hill Barrientos, pictured with
his aunt in In These Times' July 2022
, is among the many detainees
who sued a private prison company
on allegations of coerced labor. 
Photo courtesy of Barrientos family.

Two major investigations supported

As reported elsewhere, FIRE has begun fostering the conditions in which freelance investigative reporters can best serve the public, including stronger liability protections via a range of tools. 

But we are also pleased to report that our individual Virtual Newsroom services, including story grants and hands-on reporting services, continue to bear fruits. 

Of several grant-funded stories advancing toward release, two already appeared this year: one on the maintenance of immigrant-detention centers with detainee labor; the other on a nursing-home chain's response to neglect complaints—profiled respectively here and here.

The stories, while also benefiting from Legal Consultancies for liability protections, received thousands of dollars in precisely leveraged support from multiple types of FIRE grants, along with the Virtual Newsroom's customized reporting tools and guidance.

The stories advance acountability in the public interest. Congratulations to the reporters, Tom Ferraro and Jared Whitlock, and their respective outlets, In These Times and Boston Globe Stat News!

Investigative Breakthroughs

Progress in a pivotal year

Ample anecdotal evidence shows that freelance reporters are shunning public-interest investigations—for safer feature stories or other work entirely—in no small part because publishers and broadcasters won’t promise to accept liability for defamation lawsuits.

The attrition is understandable: No sole proprietor freelancers can afford to expose themselves to the threat of baseless litigation designed to intimidate and punish the media.

But it’s avoidable. Outlets can promise to take responsibility for the stories they commission. It’s pointless not to.

To reverse the attrition, the public needs far more of the kind of advances that FIRE accomplished this year with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies

  • The success of two major grant-funded stories, a third in pre-publication review 

  • Breakthroughs in five more Legal Consultancy cases, bringing the total of negotiated protections for freelancers to 15 of 17 cases

  • Five more published pieces, bringing the total to 11 story releases since 2021  

  • More than 70 requests for the FIRE Contract Template  

  • The release of an educational tool that could change the way freelance investigative reporting is done—the FIRE Tip Sheets on liability

With these new tools and resources, FIRE not only protects individual freelance investigations, but also promotes better conditions to produce them, fulfilling a critical potential in the public interest.

The Right Intelligence

Who’s figured out how to do good work?

The powerful new FIRE Tip Sheets on freelancer liability make a persuasive case that journalism would be better off relinquishing an outmoded contracting model for a more viable way of fulfilling the public interest.

For publishers and broadcasters, the tip sheets show in detail how treaiting freelancers well actually advances an outlet's interest—ultimately at an advantage over those that don't do so.

In concert with researching the tip sheets, FIRE has provided two years of contract-related legal assistance. The work has produced records of how more than two-dozen outlets have engaged freelance reporters. 

That brings us to the next step: In a project seeded by FIRE's grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, FIRE is launching a careful evaluation of the records, with an eye to broadening and deepening them with additional research.

If you’re an unaffiliated reporter, we invite you to contribute relevant intelligence to FIRE’s metrics. All inquiries will be kept strictly anonymous and confidential, so feel free to be in touch, with Subj line "Outlet evaluation." Thanks!

Lifting the Veil

Tip Sheets

Revealing the mystery
of an arcane world

A peak at liability

For more than a year FIRE has worked with media attorneys and insurance experts to help publishers and broadcasters protect freelance reporters.

Now we've turned their expertise into a series of educational guides, or tip sheets.

The tip sheets take a bedrock of accountability journalism—the poorly understood and often-arcane world of media law and insurance—and reveal it in plain language.

The bottom line: the liability model often used for freelance investigative journalism does not work well for the public interest.

Our tip sheets inform a viable alternative, providing immediate guidance for current stories.

Even the most seasoned journalist will find some surprises.

Thanks to Craig Newmark Philanthropies, we are pleased to announce the FIRE Tip Sheets.

Let us know your thoughts, as always.

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director

Latest Investigations

Ferraro story

Tom Ferraro reported
on private prisons and
immigrant detainees,
for In These Times.

Recent FIRE releases, contract successes

We are pleased to announce that four FIRE-supported investigative stories have appeared in the past several months:

  • By Helen Santoro: investigates the role of the pet-food industry in Food and Drug Administration research, for 100Reporters and the Associated Press 
  • By Anonymous: investigates allegations of misconduct, for an outlet unnamed for safety concerns
  • By Jared Whitlock: lifts the veil on a nursing-home chain using corporate ownership and bankruptcy to painful effect for families, for Boston Globe’s Stat News 
  • By Tom Ferraro: documents the extent to which private prison companies use taxpayer funding to extract profits from labor practices that have triggered class-action lawsuits, for In These Times

More stories are on the way, several having undergone recent contract interventions, in which FIRE attorneys help publishers protect freelance reporters from liability.

Using the FIRE Contract Template and direct legal assistance, FIRE has helped reporters and outlets arrange this kind protection in 15 of 17 contract negotiations since 2021—eleven of which have led to story releases. 

The Story Lives On


Wallace Roberts, 1941-2018

One investigation resurrected, another defended

This summer marked FIRE’s 15th anniversary and coincided with a celebration over the release of three FIRE-supported stories in two months. 

To mark the occasion, I would like to dedicate this announcement to two FIRE-assisted journalists—one who is no longer with us, another who must remain anonymous. 

The first journalist, Wallace Roberts, a veteran social-justice reporter and researcher in his 70s, was nearing completion of a data-driven investigation of nursing-home care when he became ill and died in 2018. 

Two years later, on a promise to the deceased's family, FIRE found another reporter, the talented young Jared Whitlock, to pick up the threads of Roberts' story. Whitlock reported it out with a new angle, gained FIRE's help to secure indemnification, and published the story this year in Boston Globe’s Stat News.   


The second journalist, whose identity is being protected at the request of the legal team of a sensitive investigation, came to FIRE for liability protections, which the outlet cooperatively adopted—just in time. 

The subject of the story threatened to sue even before the story appeared. After the story appeared, the subject filed a defamation suit presenting no evidence to disprove any allegations in the story. The journalist, now fully protected, is fearlessly helping the outlet fend off the lawsuit—and to continue reporting the story.  

Contractual interventions like these, made possible by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, have broadened FIRE's ability to support marginalized freelance reporters, contributing to the recent releases

We are pleased to announce that this capacity has just expanded: A series of liability Tip Sheets will now extend expert guidance to the field at large, far beyond the journalists we can serve individually. Look for an announcement next week. 

Freelance investigative reporting is unquestionably the least supported sector of public-interest journalism. But FIRE has always fought for these agents of accountability. Along with their newsrooms and editors, they are the cornerstone of democracy. 

We look forward to announcing the Tip Sheets next week. 

Thank you! 

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director 



Jared Whiltock's piece appeared
in Boston Globe's Stat News
in August, 2022

A resurrected story succeeds

FIRE's full array of services—from reporting guidance and research tools, to story grants and a Legal Consultancy—facilitated this investigation of the veiled practices of a nursing-home chain.

The story revealed evidence that the chain's use of bankruptcy, enabled by an opaque corporate structure, reduced its liability for alleged corruption and neglect, with painful results for vulnerable families.

It took five years and two reporters to publish the story. 

In 2017, FIRE awarded a Virtual Newsroom to a freelancer named Wallace Roberts, a longtime social-justice research and reporter in his 70s.

Roberts used FIRE's guidance and financial support to piece together two revealing data sets—one showing the ownership of dizzying network of nursing homes, the other showing their neglect record. 

Roberts was cleaning up the two data sets toward story release when he became ill and died, in 2018. 

FIRE promised his family that it would find a reporter to carry on the story.

Two years later, a reporter specializing in health-care coverage, Jared Whitlock, emerged to take the baton. 

With FIRE’s help, Whitlock built on Roberts’ reporting and took it in a new direction.

Roberts had identified a complicated ownership structure linking multiple chains and their facilities. On closer inspection, Whitlock discovered something interesting about the structure: It was facilitating bankruptcy by an affiliated nursing-home chain, Consulate Health Care, that stymied recourse for the chain's alleged neglect. 

Whitlock had the story, he brought it to the Miami Herald, the Herald commissioned the piece, his editor agreed on a fee and, with FIRE’s help, on an informal pledge to indemnify the reporter. Under its new owners, the McClatchy newspaper chain reversed the editor's offer and vetoed indemnification. 

“I felt betrayed, it was totally unworkable, we're talking about a litigious nursing-home chain,” Whitlock said. “It was heartbreaking to do all this reporting, and then have the rug pulled out from under it." 

With a FIRE Indemnification Grant, Whitlock searched for a new outlet; and with the help of a FIRE attorney, Boston Globe Stat News agreed to protect Whitlock. Whitlock had his story. Stat had its story—four years, two reporters, and two FIRE programs later, the public had theirs.

Risk Response


A FIRE-supported journalist has asked
for anonymity amid safety concerns

Protection secured in time for lawsuit

This story of bravery has to remain anonymous for now—because the protected journalist is not out of the woods yet. 

In the throes of closing a sensitive story on alleged misconduct earlier this year, an outlet agreed to field the request of a freelance journalist working on the story:

Can you make indemnification arrangements so that I'm firmly on the outlet’s media insurance?  

The story was scheduled to appear in a matter of days.

"FIRE jumped into action quickly to help ensure that my contract would protect me,” the journalist recalled about the waning days of story's close. “[The subject] has a history of acting litigiously. FIRE's access to excellent media lawyers and its doggedness in advocating for me were essential.”

The outlet cooperated with equivalent speed.

It acted just in time.

No sooner had it honored the journalist's request, than the subject of the story, when contacted for comment before publication, threatened to sue over the story.  

The outlet held its ground and ran the story. Soon after publication, there were physical threats against journalists working on the story, though no evidence has yet been found linking the incidents to the subject of the reporting.  

Since then, the subject did file a defamation suit, which presented no evidence to disprove the allegations in the story—and took other aggressive steps to quash additional reporting.  

On request of the journalist and the defense team involved, FIRE is withholding the identity of the outlet and the journalist. But the story has run, the word is out, and, with FIRE’s help and the outlet's full cooperation, the journalist is continuing to follow up on the story without fear.

FIRE will report more when it is safe to do so.


Helen Santoro

FIRE's legal assistance helped Helen Santoro's pet-industry investigation

AP, 100Reporters, freelancer—the mutual benefit

With new educational guides like the FIRE Tip Sheets linked below, freelancers can better educate themselves to gain liability protections from publishers or broadcasters.

The goal, as always, is to help the reporters realize their potential in the public interest—in this case by gaining full legal protection to confidently pursue investigative stories to everyone's benefit.

FIRE is also stepping up our hands-on program to help the parties accomplish that goal—the Legal Consultancy. We are pleased to announced that the program has brought on a new lawyer and has recently experience another succesful story release.

In the spring, freelancer Helen Santoro approached FIRE with concerns that a contract offered for a sensitive investigation "was not up to snuff." FIRE responded with precise suggestions to shore up her liability provisions.   

Santoro's publisher, our friends at the nonprofit 100Reporters, quickly approved the revised contract.  

As a result, Santoro avoided the anxieties of mortgaging her assets for a story—and 100Reporters was able to publish her in-depth investigation of the pet-food industry last week, and via its Associated Press co-publishing arrangement, bring it to more than 100 publications and broadcasts nationwide. 

"Having FIRE's support was a complete game-changer. It was a huge relief having [FIRE’s suggestions on] the contract,” she said. "Without that... I might not have proceeded at all. There’s a good chance story would not be published yet.” 

By doing the right thing, she said, a responsible publisher like 100Reporters “gets the story, as opposed to losing it [to a competitor]."  

The publisher also gains after the story: “The outlet also gets to keep those good freelancers around," Santoro said. "Good freelancers want good contracts.”  

For the kind of contract changes that made such a difference for Santoro, view this FIRE Tip Sheet. For a better understanding of a smart publisher’s strategy on freelancer liability, see this Tip Sheet co-authored with Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein.  

And for Santoro’s investigation, visit here.  

As always, thank you to Craig Newmark Philanthropies for supporting FIRE's legal assistance to reporters and outlets.

More next time on two other recent releases! 

New Funding for Legal Services

Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark Philanthropies renewed FIRE support.

$50,000 Newmark renewal tops $115,000 in gifts

FIRE’s popular new legal-services program received a significant boost this month in the form of a generous $50,000 grant-renewal by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and an additional $65,000 from longtime FIRE supporters.

The support, $115,000 in total, will further develop a series of tools made possible by last year's $75,000 Newmark grant.

With the tools, including the FIRE Contract Template and direct legal assistance, FIRE successfully intervened to help outlets protect reporters in 12 of 13 contract negotiations over the past year—seven of which have already resulted in story releases.

Thanks to the grant and supporters like you, the first generation of broadcasters and publishers now has the tools to systemically protect freelancers in the public interest, at just the right time—as commercial investigative newsrooms seek to compensate for layoffs, and nonprofit outlets look to expand their capacity.

“This work is important for the entire journalism field,” Newmark said in announcing the grant. "Freelancers are poised to play such a major public-interest role in the future. It’s time to advance this successful pilot and secure its long-term diversified support.”  

Newmark’s gift has been matched by more than $50,000 from an anonymous former national political reporter who helped launch FIRE; and $10,000 from the Joshua Mailman Foundation, another longtime supporter, among others.

Please consider making a donation to FIRE, on our easy-to-use new fundraising page.

And look for more stories soon.

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director

PS In the spirit of protecting public-interest reporters, FIRE also encourages any investigative freelancer to visit our friends at PEN America for their critical defenses against online harassment.

Esquire Story

Rowan Gerety

FIRE helped Rowan Moore Gerety's Esquire investigation.

Latest FIRE-supported investigation

Freelance Investigative Reporters & Editors (FIRE) is pleased to share the latest success from the legal services program supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies—an Esquire magazine investigation on police accountability 

Rowan Moore Gerety’s 18-month investigation “Who Writes the Rules for Cops?” uncovers the role of a private company, Lexipol, in outfitting hundreds of police departments with policy manuals to reduce liability for the police, including for alleged misconduct. 

Knowing that he was reporting on a litigious subject, Moore Gerety was concerned that his contract did not provide him liability protections in case the article prompted a lawsuit. 

FIRE’s attorneys helped him negotiate that legal protection—and a key intellectual property clause. With Esquire’s support, Moore Gerety was able to deliver the story in February, the fifth released under the program. 

But that’s just one story—and freelancing will never become more sustainable without industry-wide tools and standards for working with freelancers, Moore Gerety said, citing the free Contract Template and Contract Principles. “I am so glad FIRE is a part of the landscape.”   

For a profile and the Esquire story, visit here.  

More soon! 

Template Upgrade

Modification to freelancer agreement

"I would love to see a boilerplate template that a freelancer could send an outlet, rather than the other way around." —Print and radio reporter and photojournalist, former newspaper, radio and wire staffer, from FIRE's 2015 freelancer survey

After additional legal and insurance research, FIRE has modified its signature tool for freelancers and outlets negotiating a mutually acceptable story contract. 

The FIRE Contract Template, designed by former Bloomberg News Global Media Counsel Charles Glasser, now facilitates an outlet’s indemnification of reporters via more explicit reference to an outlet’s insurance, in a change marked here in bold

5. a)….shall be solely responsible for the costs of representation, filing fees, or other associated legal costs including but not limited to claimed damages, for the purpose of which Reporter would be deemed insured under Outlet’s policy;

The change, made after extensive additional research into contracts and media insurance, will be elaborated in a series of tip sheets set for release soon.  

To request a copy of the Template, visit here

To learn more about the Template, visit this summary of its features.  

Added Value

Rachel Layne

Veteran reporter Rachel Layne used FIRE's legal assistance to release her environmental story

Service upgrade for freelancers

FIRE is pleased to highlight a year of expansion and promise facilitated by a generous grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

With the Newmark support, FIRE launched a suite of legal services and tools in 2021, augmenting our traditional grants and reporting services:

*) FIRE's Legal Consultancy has helped more than a dozen freelancers like Rachel Layne (right) remove the "chilling effect" of legal exposure, as she put it.

*) the FIRE Contract Template has been requested by dozens of freelancers and outlets as a way to revise or replace untenable contracts.

*) the FIRE Contract Principlesindustry standards for fair and viable treatment of freelancers by publishers, broadcasters, and funders—is now in circulation through multiple networks. More soon!

*) a round of FIRE fact sheets, which will address the tough insurance and liability questions raised at our September roundtable on indemnification, is under vetting for release next month—with huge potential educational benefit for the field.

A Year in Stories

The latest successes

FIRE's new legal services, supported this year with a generous grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, has helped more than a dozen reporters safely advance sensitive investigations, including the four releases below. Additional updates soon.

Stories released in 2021 with the help of FIRE Legal Consultancies:

Cross-border Financial Corruption

By Jason Buch: A money-laundering investigation highlighting the role of U.S. banks, for the Texas Observer

Unearthing Water Issues

By Rachel Layne: Breaking new ground on the implications of a massive aquifer drawdown near the Great Lakes, for the trade publication Water and Wastes Digest

Sexual Misconduct Exposé

By Alexandria Bordas: A two-year exposé of alleged sexual misconduct in California's wine country, for the San Francisco Chronicle

Feeding Fish Farms

By Ian Urbina: A deep dive into the ocean-depleting consequences of Chinese-managed fish farms, for the New Yorker

New Story Release

Monika Bauerlain

FIRE’s editorial and contract assistance helped Jason Buch report on cross-border bank investigations 

FIRE’s latest investigative breakthroughs 

A November exposé of cross-border financial corruption has capped FIRE's most innovative year since our founding in 2007. 

Jason Buch's investigation for the Texas Observer, pictured here, is the latest story facilitated by FIRE's contract-related legal assistance, made possible this year by a generous grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

Buch, who with FIRE's help was able to renegotiate his contract and protect himself from liability, was one of more than a dozen reporters who safely advanced sensitive investigations via FIRE's unique Legal Consultancy. 

Three other stories have been published. Several more, including two major magazine stories, are on the way. And in an unexpected development, a number of publishers have also used the service to reform their contracts and learn more about media insurance.

The Legal Consultancy gives unprecedented pro bono access to top lawyers to facilitate secure investigations. An associated tool, a FIRE Contract Template released in late September, has also been requested by dozens of freelancers and outlets alike.

In a democracy, freelancers need the tools to confidently pursue investigations for the public.

Please consider making a year-end donation!

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director

Freelance Legal Liabilities

Monika Bauerlain

Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones, spoke at FIRE's September 28 panel.

Collective solutions on the horizon

What a panel!  

Thanks to four trenchant speakers and roughly 130 registrants for “Freelance Contracts: a Public-interest Roundtable,"  FIRE now has fresh insights and tools to solve one of the field's most important problems—legal vulnerabilities for freelance investigative reporters. 

It also has a new mandate to do so. The diverse audience for the September 28 event—editors, publishers/broadcasters, funders, and of course freelancers—identified an urgent need to solve liability and other contractual issues in the field. 

Their energy has bolstered FIRE's conviction that this work matters—and is possible.  

Please stay tuned as we sort through the torrent of questions and comments generated at the event, which will be instrumental in shaping next steps for the initiative.  

For now, here are the four top takeways of the panel:

  1. Protecting freelancers with full indemnification is not only good for journalism and the public interest, but also is smart business and legal strategy.   
  2. Freelancers are hungry for model contract language and expertise to aid their negotiations.  
  3. Outlets are often just as hungry to help—and often unaware of how much their current contracts paralyze freelancers, or how easily they can be remedied.  
  4. Freelancers want to help publishers and broadcasters elevate their standards for fair & equitable treatment of freelancers—something FIRE has already helped happen

What you can do:  

  • Watch the recording by filling out this quick form, which helps us understand more about the landscape of legal liabilities for freelancers.  
  • Share this news far & wide to advance this conversation as much as possible through the industry. 
  • Read the newly unveiled FIRE Contract Principles and let us know any candidates for signing—outlets or funders you think already practice this pledge. 
  • Check out the new FIRE Contract Template, free to download with just a quick form to request access. 
  • Be in touch, whatever your role in journalism, with any questions, ideas about how we can work together, or related resources to recommend. 

And of course, please refer any freelancers who might need contractual assistance to FIRE’s pro bono Legal Consultancy

All these initiatives and the event itself, made possible by a generous grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, serve to expand FIRE's flagship gratis services: the two-hour Reporting Consultancy, and the wrap-around Virtual Newsroom, with up to $12,500 in grant funding. 

To help support all of FIRE’s offerings, please consider making a donation

Thanks and best wishes, 

Hilary Niles 

FIRE Freelance Program Coordinator  

P.S. FIRE is now on Twitter! Give us a follow at @FIREnewsroom, and thanks :)