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Freelance caught lifting copy

A story about a freelance sending a story lifted from a regional daily to the nationals, complete with the reporters byline and navigation links, on Hold the Front Page catches my eye this morning. But it is not the cock-up by the freelance that interests me so much as the insight into way regional groups utilise staff copy.

The story in question was from the Eastern Daily Press, and its owners, apparently, make around £125,000 a year from syndication of stories from its four dailies and around 90 paid for and free weeklies.

Ten percent of that (£12,500) goes back to the papers to pay for bonuses to reporters or “to pay for a staff party.” On average (I know the variations are huge and in many cases the same people work on more than one paper) that is £125 a year per paper. But it is not even going to be much of a party, however you look at the figures.

When I started work, on a tiny daily, selling stories to the bigger regionals, radio and TV was an accepted perk for reporters. A junior reporter’s wages were were only a little lower in real terms than they are today, but I managed to double mine from lineage.

After a year I could afford move to a weekly and live away from home for the first time. The rule was that you could sell anything once it had appeared in your own paper or if it was inevitable that the bigger papers would get it before you published. So a murder could be sold as soon as it happened but bizarre happenings at a village flower show had to wait a few days.

Now owners tend to ban their staff from freelancing of the side. And that annual income of £125,000 for Archant from syndication looks rather low. But hungry and ambitious reporters have always been rather better at selling copy.

According to the National Union of Journalists, junior reporters on some titles start on less than £12,000 a year.

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