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.