Worldwide worry - waiting for Walden
Freelance financial journalists scattered across the globe joined forces to confront a UK-based publisher over serial late payment.
Many found that while they waited months to be paid, their work had already been published under syndication arrangements.
An NUJ activist triggered a concerted effort to retrieve payment from Suffolk-based Walden Publishing with a circular email to the freelances.
The trouble arose over copy contributed to Walden's regional Reviews published under the World of Information label, which is syndicated to reviews published by Kogan Page for international distribution and in the Nations of the World almanac published by Grey House in the US.
Simon Pirani, a freelance and NUJ member covering the former USSR, said: "I contributed to World of Information and agreed to payment 'on publication'. I wasn't paid, and, backed by the union, I started action in the small claims court to recover the debt.
"I had an old email containing the email addresses of other contributors, only one of whom I had ever met. I wrote to them. Within two days I had 20 emails back from four continents, from people who were also owed money by Walden. And another five contributors have been in touch since.
"People found strength in numbers. Several other NUJ members are now being supported by the union, while the Kenyan NUJ has taken up the case of one contributor based there."
Alarmed by the flurry of cyber-discussion about late payment, Tony Axon of Walden wrote to many contributors blaming slow payment on a downturn in advertising sales and assuring them that payment would be forthcoming. "Whilst it is true to say that in the past we have often been slow in paying contributors, the fact is that we always have paid", he wrote.
Pirani said it was "galling" that while contributors were stonewalled by Walden, their copy had already been published under syndication - almost always without their knowledge, until the electronic information-sharing began.
"In my case, Walden contacted the NUJ claiming that the Europe Review 2003-04, to which I had contributed, had not been printed, and pleading for more time. What they didn't mention was that my copy had already appeared in the Nations of the World almanac."
Kogan Page acknowledged that it receives, and pays for, copy from Walden. A Grey House spokesman said its contract is with Kogan Page.
John Toner, NUJ freelance organiser, said: "An agreement to payment on publication usually carries a risk, because some publishers can delay publication for long, sometimes unacceptably long periods. When offered such a contract a freelance should try to have a default clause inserted, to the effect that if the work is not published by a certain date, payment should be made on that date anyway.
"This particular case is further complicated by the fact that the work has been published elsewhere, while the original intended first publication has been delayed. We argue that this constitutes publication under the contract."
The NUJ has also written to the TUC, whose Rights at Work book is published by Kogan Page, asking it to intercede with Kogan Page to put pressure on Walden to pay the freelances without further delay.