Update on freelancer issues with Buffalo News management

The Buffalo Newspaper Guild informed its membership June 8 that some digital freelancers increased how much they wrote for The Buffalo News while Guild members are furloughed, according to the Guild’s research.

Management has responded to our flier, saying that overall freelance spending for the month of April is down compared with the same period last year, and the Guild’s position is wrong.

We don’t think so. Instead, we fear management is missing the point.

Management’s response also included having a freelancer write columns on two of the biggest stories in the country: the Buffalo Bills’ first black QB discussing the George Floyd protests, and an interview with the WBFO reporter who shot the video of Martin Gugino being pushed by Buffalo police.

Guild members should find this egregious and wholly unacceptable.

As stated in our original message, an uptick in certain freelance work is occurring even though Guild leaders shared concerns with management, just prior to the scheduling of furloughs, about the increased reliance on freelancers to cover news.

It’s no surprise that freelance spending is down for April when you consider the shutdowns of topics where the News uses freelancers — high school sports, restaurant reviews, theatre reviews and bar/restaurant items. Yet despite all this, it seems The News has still found a way to give some freelancers more work than usual.

The Guild’s research has found:

  • One cityside/sports freelancer wrote an average of 2.5 columns per week over the first five weeks Guild members were on furlough. Over the first year of writing for buffalonews.com, this freelancer averaged 1.67 columns a week.
  • A second freelancer also has written more, at the same time our two full-time hockey writers began furloughs and at a time when no NHL games are being played. In February and March of this year, that freelancer wrote a total of six pieces over that two-month period. But since April 22, when two sports reporters began taking furloughs, the freelancer recently wrote four pieces in a 21-day span.
  •  As detailed in the May 27 memo to newsroom managers, these freelancers have written on everything from a local source’s perspective on the Kent State shooting anniversary to proposed NHL draft changes and Mike Robitaille’s lost championship ring. These are newsworthy subject areas that should fall within the purview of furloughed staff members and be available to both our print and online readers.

Management should not prioritize freelance work over work that is done by Guild members. And we are asking our members to spread and share the Guild message on social media and prioritize staff over freelancer work when sharing online content.