Career Crossroads: Tips for Journalists to Avoid Contract Confusion
You’ve submitted your best work samples and gone on several interviews. You might even have hired an agent to help navigate the job-finding process. Now, all you have to do is sign the dotted line.
Put your pen down and read this first.
From non-competes to owning the rights to your work, it’s necessary to understand the terms of a contract and how it impacts your career.
Before, you may not have thought twice before signing a contract. But don’t allow your inexperience or work status to pressure you into agreeing to terms you’d otherwise reject.
“Some journalists seeking employment may be willing to accept terms far different from others who have more experience or have a better financial ability to wait for the next job,” explains John F. Bradley, Esquire, a nationally recognized entertainment attorney with Bradley Legal Group, P.A.
Ownership of Your Work
After establishing an audience, popular journalists such as morning radio show hosts and TV personalities may face terms that limit their personal brands.
Montero said the limitations placed on the personality’s ability to appear as a spokesperson, in commercials, or other content outside the bounds of employment sometimes can be an issue.
Employers usually want to safeguard the intellectual property or content developed by the journalist and make sure the articles, columns, or shows remain the property of the employer, even if they were completely developed by the employee, Montero explained.
Print journalists should pay particular attention to the term “work for hire.”
“Many journalists who work for news agencies or content aggregators are working on an assignment/work for hire basis,” Bradley said. “This means that the product of the journalist’s work, i.e. blogs, articles, short stories, etc., are owned by their employers. In many circumstances, this point is not negotiable. However, depending on the leverage that the journalist may have in their relationship, sometimes this point can be negotiated to an extent.”
He goes on to explain a term that should be included in an agreement involves the content created by the journalist that isn’t published during the work relationship. He also recommends asking substantive questions regarding quoting third parties or potential issues of libel or slander, acting as a “ghost writer,” or signing a work-for-hire agreement.
Many companies also may hand you a non-compete agreement. Beware. Non-competes can silence your career anywhere from a few months to a year after leaving your employer.
“I would certainly encourage journalists not to execute non-competition agreements which seem to be overbroad in terms of their duration or geographic area,” Bradley said. “I would also like to make sure that there are reasonable terms for the termination of an agreement such that the journalist is not prohibited from moving forward with their career after a relationship with an employer is terminated.”
Montero points out that the non-compete may not even be enforceable.
“For many years, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists labor union, which merged with the Screen Actors Guild in 2012, has lobbied state by state to have non-competes as applied to broadcast personalities and staff deemed unenforceable,” he said. “Despite that, you will frequently see non-competes in contracts, even in states where they are largely unenforceable. Even if it is unenforceable, the uninformed employee may be reluctant to violate the covenant.”
A contract is required in almost every new job. But it’s important to understand exactly what you’re agreeing to. If you’re in the entertainment industry, for example, discussing the terms with an experienced entertainment lawyer will help you decide whether renegotiating is right for you.
This blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances.
Jessica Alas is the former Media Relations Director, Multicultural Markets and Hispanic PR Wire at PR Newswire. Follow her at @alasjessica.