Vice Media’s top content executive issued a memo Thursday outlining steps the company is taking to improve how it works with and pays freelance journalists.
The missive from Ciel Hunter, recently named Vice’s head of content, came in response to a Columbia Journalism Review story based on interviews with more than a dozen Vice freelancers who said they were not paid for their work, were paid late, or were promised assignments only to have them later cancelled.
“While many of the complaints highlighted in the CJR piece date back to 2014 and 2015, before we mandated best practices and overhauled our accounts payable department, they do point out weak spots that do need fixing, which we’re currently addressing,” Hunter wrote in the memo, which was released to CJR.
The author of the CJR article, Israel-based Yardena Schwartz, noted in the story that as a freelance journalist, “I’ve been through some of this with Vice myself.”
“In an era of journalism in which freelancers have grown accustomed to being treated like disposable cogs of news production, Vice appears to be in a league of its own,” Schwartz wrote. Her piece also noted that some Vice freelancers felt they’ve been treated fairly and paid promptly.
Vice, whose backers include Disney, A+E Networks, 21st Century Fox and WPP, has dramatically expanded its news and entertainment empire over the last few years. That has included launching cable network Viceland in the U.S. and other countries, gearing up for a daily news show for HBO, and rolling out additional vertically themed websites.
“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,” Hunter wrote in her memo. In April, Vice reached a deal with the Writers Guild of America East on a collective-bargaining agreement covering 70 employees.
Hunter said changes Vice has made or is in the process of making include the hiring of a payroll company for freelance producers, Cast & Crew, “to ensure swift payment”; simplifying the invoicing process; and hiring new managers in its accounts payable department.
Read Hunter’s entire memo on CJR.