TFS is adjusting its freelance pay rate

Revisiting the value of a dollar

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya via Pexels
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya via Pexels
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For argument’s sake, let’s say you don’t love Cool Hand Luke as much as I do. You’re probably still familiar with many of the movie’s much-quoted lines, including a few related to Luke’s second-act boast that he can eat 50 eggs.

“Why you got to go and say 50 eggs for?” asks fellow chain ganger Dragline, played by George Kennedy, who drawled his way to an Oscar. “Why not 35 or 39?”

“I thought it was a nice round number,” Paul Newman’s Luke responds.

Round numbers are the best. They’re easy to remember, and easy to compute. But Dragline was no fool: The right answer isn’t always round.

For nearly two years (see how that’s more ear-pleasing than 21 months?), I’ve offered $1000 for a freelance feature. While that figure puts a burden on The Food Section’s tiny editorial budget, I firmly believe this is a better publication when it reflects a range of voices.

Since the start of the year, those contributions have included Suneil Kamath’s exploration of what New Orleans coffee means to Indian immigrants, Kinsey Gidick’s coverage of restaurants’ efforts to accommodate diners diagnosed with dementia, Stephanie Niu’s reported essay on a Korean-owned sports bar in Chattanooga, and an obituary of barbecue legend Ella Jane Scott, authored by Amythest Ganaway.

In most of those cases, $1000 worked out to about $1 a word, which is considered a decent rate these days, since many big-name publications pay a quarter or a dime for the same. “Decent” here is relative, since $1 a word wasn’t unheard of in the 1960s, but it’s been a point of pride for The Food Section that its freelancers are compensated fairly.

But when it comes to pay, you can only brag about a sum for so long before the boast loses its oomph.

My guess is you don’t need an illustration of inflation, but on the off chance you haven’t shaken your head at a price lately, a two-piece chicken combo from Popeyes now costs $11.39. That’s the same meal I used to buy as a young reporter for roughly $3.

Reporters have to be careful with their money because they don’t make much of it, and because newspapers are notorious for abstaining from cost-of-living adjustments. The Food Section can do better.

Going forward, The Food Section will pay $1058.16 for a freelance feature, in accordance with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimation of how much a September 2022 dollar is worth today. It’s not a huge increase, and it’s such a decidedly not-round number that it might qualify as polyhedric. But the bump is good for four Popeyes chicken combos.

Popeyes fried chicken/ Deb Lindsey for the Washington Post via Getty Images

Of course, this step-up is made possible by the generous support of paying subscribers. The Food Section is wholly reliant on readers and sponsors for its revenue, since it has no outside source of funding. Event tickets and merch are part of the earnings picture, but The Food Section has netted a total of $142.50 in t-shirt sales over three years. (I’ll spare you the Popeyes combo conversion.)

In other words, if you share this publication’s commitment to fair compensation, I hope you’ll consider purchasing a paid subscription today (NB: TFS has never raised its prices.) And if you’re a writer with a story idea, please know TFS’ inbox is always open. You’ll find the submission guidelines here.

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