Fixing The VICE Memo

VICE represents everything that is wrong with journalism today:  that freelance writers are completely disposable to build the bottom line.

CJR outed VICE in an incredible piece yesterday.  It detailed things many of us in the freelance world already know:  VICE will screw you over, put you in danger and then not pay you for it.

I had a story accepted at Broadly, one of VICE’s million verticals.  The editor was very nice and I was glad to have placed the story.  This is where things came off the rails.  Like, abruptly.  As a freelancer (of course) I always ask for a contract.  When I did this time, the editor sent back a note that read:  we don’t use contracts.  This is the point where I politely declined to write the story because: CONTRACT.

Message boards started lighting up about the problems people were having with VICE, not getting paid, having stories stolen, reassigned, and on and on.  Many of us in the freelance community already knew VICE was terrible; CJR just printed it.  And I am so glad they did.

I see many people, myself included, making the “I have had friends who have had great relationships with VICE in the past” and I know for me that is true.  However, I am not going to make that excuse for VICE anymore.  I am glad my friends had a great experience.  I am glad a smattering of other people have had good experiences.  The undervaluing of freelancers has got to stop.  VICE should be taken to the journalistic woodshed.

 CJR keeping up the good fight, printed a memo from VICE in the wake of the publication of its article.

So, I fixed it for them.  My comments bracketed and appropriately red.

Hi VICE editorial and freelancers,

As you may have seen, [EVERYONE HAS SEEN] yesterday the Columbia Journalism Review published a story about VICE and our freelance practices.

We’d like to use this opportunity to address questions surrounding the story, detail new steps we’re taking across editorial to improve the working relationship we have with our freelancers, and to restate best practices that need to be followed when working with freelancers [ITS ALL YOUR FAULTS WE TOLD YOU NOT TO SCREW PEOPLE OVER WINKY WINK LOL :)], who are a crucial part of what we do at VICE. [BUT NOT CRUCIAL ENOUGH TO TAKE CARE OF.]

As you all know, VICE is a rapidly expanding company, and as we grow we can—and must—improve the experience of working here, both for for full-time staff and for freelancers, which is why we’ve worked so closely with the new editorial union.  While many of the complaints highlighted in the CJR piece date back to 2014 and 2015 [SORRY NOT SORRY BECAUSE OLD NEWS WHATEVS], before we mandated best practices [THERE WAS A BEFORE BEST PRACTICES?] and overhauled our accounts payable department, they do point out weak spots that do need fixing, which we’re currently addressing.

It’s our goal to make VICE the best place in the industry for freelancers to work, here are some concrete steps we’re taking to make that the case [WHICH WE TOTES SHOULD HAVE HAD IN THE PLACE FROM THE VERY BEGINNING BECAUSE OF COURSE WE SHOULD HAVE]

Improvements we’ve made or are in the process of making:

  • In recent months we hired a payroll company for freelance producers, Cast & Crew, to ensure swift payment.­
  • We’ve simplified invoicing to make it easier for both editors and freelancers, and we’ve hired new leadership in the Accounts Payable department, which has resulted in substantial improvements in how quickly and accurately freelancers get paid.
  • We are also implementing new time-tracking and expense-reimbursement processes that will be much more user-friendly for everyone.
  • This fall we are investing in a new comprehensive HR system that is expected to be up and running in the early part of 2017, which will drastically improve our recruiting, on-boarding and feedback to all VICE employees, including freelancers 

We’d also like to restate the following best practices, which are mandatory for everyone [BECAUSE, LIKE I SAID IT IS ALL.YOUR.FAULTS]:

  • Once a project has been commissioned, editors are expected to return emails or phone calls from that freelancer within two business days even if just to acknowledge receipt. 
  • When assigning work to a freelancer, expressly state the scope of the project and maintain clear communication until the project is done. Any follow up questions from the freelancer regarding payment or anything else are your responsibility.
  • To avoid potential confusion, document everything in writing—payment terms, scope of assignment, etc.—and make sure both parties have access to the records.
  • If you are talking to multiple freelancers about a specific assignment, clearly detail for specific freelancers whether it is a formal assignment or still in review process. 
  • If for some reason a commissioned piece doesn’t work out, we will pay a reasonable kill fee.


And finally: always remember that VICE and freelancers depend on each other, so when a freelancer is working with VICE, that freelancer should be treated with the respect as if he or she is a VICE employee. [WHICH IS WHY CJR POINTED OUT HOW INCREDIBLY HORRIBLY WE TREAT EMPLOYEES AND FREELANCERS ALIKE!]

Please reach out to me with any questions and suggestions, as always [BY ALWAYS I MEAN STARTING NOW SINCE CJR OUTED US].


Ciel Hunter