Freelance Insurance: "There are no excuses anymore"
In September, US-based Storyhunter announced that every freelancer commissioned to work in a conflict zone, through its publishing and distribution platform, will "automatically receive a top-of-the-line insurance plan, free of charge."
We sat down with Storyhunter's founder Jaron Gilinsky, himself a former freelance correspondent, to find out more.
A lot of it had to do with my own experiences working as a freelancer. In the 2000s, I worked in some of the most dangerous places in the world (Iraq, Gaza, Pakistan, North Korea etc.) with no insurance or health care. I had some close calls which must have traumatized me a bit.
As I got a bit older and wiser, I realized how foolish I was to be taking those risks. I also couldn't believe that media companies had sent me and others to these places with no protections whatsoever. Upon founding Storyhunter, I knew this was something we had to fix. When we saw freelance journalists disappearing at alarming rates in Syria, we made it a top priority.
How did you deal with the issue of insurance for freelancers before?
We let publishers commission stories and just mitigated risk as best we could. In Syria, for example, we tried to just make sure the freelancers we worked with had hostile environment training and at least five years of conflict zone experience. We walked through plans and made sure the rewards outweighed the risks. After James Foley and Ricardo Garcia Villanova went missing, we stopped accepting pitches from foreigners in Syria.
Can you explain a little about the process of setting it up?
We did a tremendous amount of research and connected with lots of different companies. We requested and received proposals from five different firms, none of which offered perfect solutions. Some of them excluded certain countries from their coverage. Others excluded certain nationalities. It was very important to us that we get a policy that covers anyone, anywhere. After a few months of vetting and due diligence we settled on the firm April International.
How do freelancers qualify for the policy - do they just have to contribute to Storyhunter or are there other considerations?
The policy goes into effect only while they're on an assignment in a conflict zone on our platform. We define conflict zones on an ongoing basis according to the data we receive from journalist advocacy organizations like the Rory Peck Trust, Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, from governmental agencies, private intelligence firms, and from our insurance company.
Are there certain things you expect from freelancers covered under the scheme (do they have to have undergone HET, or completed a risk assessment and a communications plan?)
No. However, we do enforce that publishers only commission Storyhunters with 5+ years’ war zone experience to go into hostile environments.
Is kidnapping and ransom included in the policy?
To an extent. Our policy covers the medical consequences of a detention or kidnapping, the repatriation once released, and the payment of the Principal Sum of AD&D in case of death during the kidnapping. But it doesn’t cover ransoms for reasons I explained in the piece.
The policy is free for anyone contributing to Storyhunter - what are the costs for Storyhunter itself, and how have you made it affordable for your organisation?
We absorb the costs into the service fee that we charge publishers when they commission the project. Neither the publisher nor the freelancer incur any additional costs.
Does the policy cover freelancers operating in extreme environments such as Syria, Iran and N. Korea?
Yes, it does cover freelancers working in even the most hostile environments. We just need to have a good sense of how risks are being prevented before we allow a publisher to commission a story from there. While our insurance policy covers all of Syria, for example, we would not let a Western reporter go to Raqqa right now. Some places are just not worth the risk.
What response have you had from the media and freelance communities since you launched?
It's been extremely positive.
What could other media companies be doing to help freelancers?
There’s a lot that can be done. Regarding insurance, editors at media companies should offer insurance in conflict zones as a rule. If they don’t have an easy way to go about it, they can use our platform and we will make sure that their freelancer is covered. There are no excuses anymore.