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I want to break free!

I want to break free!

Media freelancing is big business in Dubai, but working on your own terms is not easy. Here are its pros and cons.

November 9, 2008 9:27 by

Scott Macmillan

There’s something screwy with the market for freelance journalists in Dubai. Just ask Kathi Everden, a journalist who’s lived in what is now the Middle East’s media capital for 18 years – an eon and a half by the standards of the city’s transient population. Amazingly, she says freelance rates have remained more or less the same since she arrived.

As the then-editor of a travel magazine in the early 1990s, Everden paid writers about a dirham ($.27) per word, she says – perhaps 80 fils. A lot has changed since then: Bill Clinton became US president, Tupac was shot, and Dubai rents have risen a googol percent. Yet a dirham a word is still the going freelance rate at many – far too many – Dubai newspapers and magazines. “The rates for a lot of publications in Dubai haven’t changed in decades,” says Everden, who files most of her work to editors in the UK these days.

Experienced hacks, if they know what’s good for them, are able to talk it up to at least a dirham and a half, but even in the best of cases, freelance rates have fallen dramatically in inflation-adjusted terms. There appears to be little in the way of economic explanation: Demand for content has skyrocketed along with advertising revenue, and Dubai is now home to hundreds of magazines, TV stations and Web sites, published and broadcast in at least half a dozen languages. Most editors will tell you there’s still a shortage of good journalists. When The National launched in Abu Dhabi late last year, the daily had to import much of its talent from abroad.

The rates “seems to have been squeezed up to one and a half dirhams a word,” says Peter Cooper, who co-founded Middle East business news site AME Info and now freelances full-time. “To be economic, it needs to be two, with three at the upper level. There’s a tremendous shortage of freelancers. One gets offered all sorts of crap on a daily basis, and there’s only so much I can do.”

Cooper adds, “People still seem to expect an awful lot here. They want to sell real estate advertising for $5,000 a page and pay the journalist a pittance for the page opposite it.”

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  1. An Independent Photographer on November 9, 2008 9:47 pm

    This article really helped, thank you.
    After talking to several people in Dubai (over the phone) on the topic, I googled the issue, and found your website. Glad I did.
    All my best.
    – HH

  2. ZEI on November 10, 2008 10:34 am

    Someone wise once said that peanuts will get you only monkeys, But did I also hear someone say that only monkeys will be attracted to peanuts? You get paid for the real sotry, and the real stories rarely get written out here. Even if they sometimes do, they rarely get published in the local media.
    The big guys of the global media keep reporting about the Middle East as they have always done: with a myopic vision concealed behind dark glasses. So, in sum, you will keep getting what you keep getting if you keep doing what you keep doing. Simple.

  3. Tom Adler on November 12, 2008 9:33 am

    Interesting article!

    I’m a freelancer, a hardened one at that. Last year I was referred by a good friend to check out

    Obviously I was skeptical and wondering when they would ask for my credit card to sign up.

    Guess what? They don’t charge money. Its by invitation or referral basis. Its free.Their website (or online platform as they call it) does all the commissioning, payments, licensing, security etc. I post content regularly; besides get commissioned projects into my inbox.

    Because they operate on a global basis, payments are not limited to that measly ‘1 Dirham a word, circa 1994′

    Its a great service, very interesting business model, payments are a breeze, could be really big. Heard they won a lot of awards recently as well. Not surprised.

    And they’re based in Dubai! Well…thank god someone’s doing something outside real estate in that place.



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