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 kippreport
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.”