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Business matters
Insurance considerations for freelance journalists

On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism

> Home

> Introduction: The freelance side of life

Freelance journalism 101

> Vocabulary lesson

> Dollars and sense

> Contracts are essential

> Copyright 101

> Dressing for success as a freelancer

> Staying productive even when you’re not working

Business matters

> Five reasons to pay attention to business

> Contracts and copyright — beyond the basics

> Getting your business organized

> Separating yourself from your business

> Keeping track of business

> Taxing matters

> Insurance considerations for freelance journalists

Making a living

> Time and money

> Budgeting without a salary

> A simple way to boost your pay: Ask

> Retirement planning: Where to stash your cash?

Finding work

> Finding your way to work

> Trolling the web for work

> Inspiration for finding the story

> Brainstorming ideas you can sell

> Pitching your way to a full story calendar

> Tips on freelancing for newspapers

Marketing yourself

> Paying attention to business

> Making a home for your business on the web

> Networking: the key to staying happy and fed

> Business cards help make the best first impression

Tools of the trade

> Why journalism ethics matter

> Four tips for better self-editing

> Selected websites for finding freelance journalism assignments

> Journalism organizations

> Journalism reading list

In a simplistic view, insurance is any system used to provide financial protection against potential risks people face in their lives and businesses. Most people have insurance of some sort, from homeowner’s or renter’s coverage to private health insurance or programs provided by the government to cover medical expenses (Medicare, Medicaid and state children’s health programs) to sophisticated, costly financial instruments designed to make sure they don’t run out of money in retirement.

From a legal and commercial perspective, a person or business obtains insurance by purchasing a policy, or contract, in which a company agrees to pay a sum of money if a particular risk occurs. The payment for the contract, or premium, is pooled with payments made by others to insure against the same or similar risks. Essentially, the company estimates it will receive more money in premiums than it pays to provide the insurance — including administrative expenses as well as payouts to the insured person, company or other people (beneficiaries) designated in the policy.

So, what happens if you have a financial setback caused by a risk you didn’t buy insurance to cover? In those situations you are “self-insured,” meaning no one compensates you when the risk occurs, and you alone bear the financial burden.

This is an important question for freelance journalists. Many of us are used to having health, life and short-term disability insurance through our employers, but going freelance means having to cover that expense ourselves, not to mention any other coverage we might need to protect our belongings and even our businesses in the event of a crisis.

It’s fine to decide you want to self-insure in some circumstances — for example, if you have no need for life insurance because your loved ones will inherit gobs of money when you die, why pay for a policy that just gives them more money? It’s not okay, however, to remain self-insured when affordable coverage is available to mitigate risks you take just by being in business.

Generally, business owners need insurance against:

Many freelance journalists remain self-insured for most if not all these risks — and that may be appropriate, in many cases. Freelancers might be self-insured because they 1) haven’t considered these risks, 2) don’t know what affordable options are available or 3) can’t afford the coverage. This chapter provides information about some insurance options available to freelance journalists in the first two categories and may help some freelancers in the third category re-evaluate their self-insurance situations.

Note: This chapter discusses insurance against risks you incur because you are in business or because of the nature of your business. It does not cover personal insurance, such as life, disability or health insurance, often provided as employment benefits.

Liability insurance for media freelancers

For most freelance journalists, general business liability insurance is overkill. These policies cover companies whenever someone sues or otherwise demands compensation related to the business, paying some or all of the company’s costs to defend against the claim as well as any claims upheld in court or another forum.

Only a few freelance journalists run business risks that warrant paying for these policies. Further, unless you have clients, sources and/or subcontractors visit your home office regularly or have an office outside your home, you probably don’t need to purchase standard “slip and fall” insurance for your business.

Freelance journalists are not off the hook when it comes to liability insurance, however. Although most publishers carry some form of insurance against the risk that they will be sued for libel, slander or defamation, these policies often don’t protect freelance journalists who sell content to them.

Whether you need to consider getting libel insurance depends on the nature of your business. If you specialize in risky niches, such as investigative reporting, or cover industries often tied to corruption or other scandals, for example, you should evaluate whether you need protection against these risks. Defending a libel or defamation lawsuit is neither fun nor cheap, and your publisher’s priorities may be different from yours when it comes to defending against claims.

Libel claims generally are covered by “media perils” policies, which insure against all kinds of defamation, invasion of privacy, plagiarism, copyright infringement and other claims that media organizations run up against. These policies tend to be expensive, however — Guild Freelancers, an offshoot of the Newspaper Guild, reported in November 2014 that it had collected quotes ranging from $500 to $1,500 a year. Even on the low end, that’s a hefty price tag many freelancers can’t afford.

Also consider this: Not all liability claims stem from charges that the content producer intended to do someone harm. Despite our best efforts, professional practices and due diligence in performing our jobs, sometimes errors slip by or we forget to include something important. E&O policies provide protection against these risks. SPJ’s insurance partner offers E&O insurance at competitive rates, with the additional benefits of contract review and educational programs. Some corporate clients require freelancers to have E&O coverage. E&O claims generally are covered by media perils policies, so, if you opt for one of those, you may not need to take out a separate policy to cover unintended harms.

Many bloggers and legal consultants believe that media perils and E&O policies are overkill for most freelance journalists — and, for many who are just getting started or freelancing by default after losing full-time jobs, the cost may not be justifiable. Forming a limited liability company may help some self-insured freelancers protect their personal assets in case of a lawsuit. (See the chapter on Getting your business organized for more information.)

The most important thing freelancers can do to protect themselves against such claims, though, is produce accurate, fair stories and respect others’ intellectual property rights. Fact-checking coupled with excellent note-taking and attribution practices are the freelance journalist’s best first line of defense against media liability claims.

Protecting your business property, income and budget

Many freelance journalists believe they don’t need any business insurance, and they may be right. Some freelancers, though, have found affordable ways to cover risks in specific circumstances.

Home-office riders. For freelancers who work at home, a home-office or “homework” rider on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy may provide some peace of mind. Generally, these policies offer a little more property and liability coverage than your basic policy for a little more money — $100 to $200 a year, for example. The rider covers business equipment that the homeowner’s insurance might not otherwise pay for in case of fire or other hazard. It also provides a little coverage for “liability arising out of your business.” A little — not a lot — so be sure to check the limits and make sure you think it’s worth the premium. If you have to replace a computer that cost you, say, $1,000, that $100 or $200 rider will look pretty good.

Also be aware: The “advertising injury liability coverage” in homework riders may not cover people whose businesses entail advertising, broadcasting, publishing or telecasting. You would need a media perils policy for that protection.

Separate business insurance. Home-based business policies offer more protection for a higher price. Freelancers with offices outside their homes also may need separate business insurance, depending on their office circumstances. If you are in an office-sharing arrangement or rent an office in a suite, make sure to clarify whether your business property and liability risks are covered by the main tenant’s policy.

Freelance journalists who meet clients and/or sources regularly at their homes, or who use employees or subcontractors who work in their offices, probably need the protection offered by separate business insurance contracts. These policies also have an advantage over home-office riders for some freelancers if they provide coverage when the business has to shut down after structural damage — if a fire, flood or other “covered loss” makes the office uninhabitable. This “business interruption” insurance, sometimes not included in a home-office rider, might be important to journalists who support themselves and/or others primarily from freelance income.

Travel and hazard insurance. Some freelancers who travel for business get trip insurance every time, regardless of whether the publisher reimburses travel costs. In most situations, reimbursement comes only on publication, along with compensation for the work. Sometimes no trip means no story, and the freelancer ends up eating the cost of canceling or changing the reservation.

Those who travel abroad also should consider the risks of not purchasing insurance for repatriation and medical costs should something go wrong. To find out how much it would cost to insure a particular trip, go to insuremytrip.com and fill in the information for an upcoming (or hoped-for) trip. This website provides quotes from about 30 companies and includes many options, such as “cancel for any reason” and medical evacuation, as well as basic and comprehensive travel policies.

Evacuation insurance is most important for freelancers who report from war zones and other high-risk environments. Reporters Without Borders offers travel insurance to members through World Escapade on two levels, a higher per-day price for high-risk countries and a lower price for the rest of the world. International SOS provides travel advice, as well as medical and “political upheaval” evacuation policies.

Contributor: Hazel Becker

Information about SPJ insurance benefits
Libel Insurance: The Freelancer’s Dilemma from Guild Freelancers
Libel Insurance for Writers on the Rights of Writers blog by media lawyer Rick Fowler
I am a freelance journalist. Do I need to buy liability insurance? from Columbia Journalism Review
What Every Blogger and Freelance Writer Should Know About Internet Copyright and Libel Laws from Odesk
Does Your Home Business Need Insurance? from Entrepreneur
Journalist Security Guide from the Committee to Protect Journalists

Last updated: January 2018

Copyright © 2012-2018 by Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved.

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