AIR/PRNDI Guide for Station Freelance Acquisitions

In December 2013, AIR and the Public Radio News Directors (PRNDI) partnered on an initiative to create a framework to guide freelance producer - public radio station relationships.  We conducted a survey of stations to establish some benchmarks and enlisted journalist Susanna Capelouto to help interpret the results and, ultimately, develop the rate grid you’ll find below.  She formed an advisory group, including independent producers Karen Michel and Katie Davis, consultant Michael Marcotte, and station advisors Tanya Ott (VP of Radio, GPB), Sally Eisele (Managing Editor/WBEZ), and Jim Gates (Senior Editor/KUOW). PRPD president Arthur Cohen supported our efforts, and AIR Executive Director Sue Schardt and PRNDI President George Bodarky (WFUV) consulted on the final framework.

AIR contracted attorney Spencer Weisbroth to develop a contract template designed expressly for stations and freelancers and designed to accompany this framework. You’ll find it here.

If you have questions, please contact us at


AIR first developed a new rate system for national distributors acquiring freelance work in 2002. This system has been widely adopted by the major acquiring outlets. It moved away from rates paid per on-air minute and advanced a model based on two criteria – the complexity of production and the producer’s level of experience.  

The guide that follows is based on this same model, and is designed to help local public radio stations and freelance producers work together to bring more voices into public media and grow the range of community content.


Our survey of public media newsrooms revealed that a majority of stations believe freelance producers can help stations strengthen programming and serve local communities, and that most would like to engage more with freelance talent.

There is an abundance of available talent in public media. AIR’s network alone is comprised of 1000 producers working across almost every state, and it continues to grow. Freelancers are eager for new opportunities to contribute.  


The guide uses a sliding scale model under the assumption that producers and stations will work in good faith to negotiate a fee that is commensurate with the experience (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced), and efforts (Basic, Moderate, Advanced) of the producer. See below for more detail on these categories.

The scale also recognizes that there is a wide variation in stations' acquisition budgets, which is an important consideration for producers and stations agreeing on a fee.

For example:

A rural station commissioning a level 1 (advanced) feature from an experienced producer would pay at the lower end of the sliding scale, or $550.

A top tier producing station with strong resources assigning a beginning producer a level 3 (basic) feature would pay at the top end of that sliding scale, or $350.

A mid-size station or a station operating in a top 10 market but not the primary NPR news outlet might have resources more in line with the mid-range of the scale.  If they wanted to commission a level 2 (moderate) feature, for example, a negotiation with an intermediate level producer would focus in at about $375.

These recommended rates do not include travel expenses and apply to acquisitions by one station/licensee. Any sharing of the acquisition with regional partners/networks as well as travel expenses should be negotiated separately.  


This rate guide is meant for local public radio stations, NOT national content producing stations or networks. We encourage those stations to use AIR’s NPR or Marketplace rate guides instead. This guide does not apply to purchases made by stations via the PRX marketplace. The PRX guides for producers and stations are available on their site


   Producer/Reporter Experience
 Story Type Beginner
Advanced Feature
(Level 1)

 $350 - $500 $450 - $600 $550 - $900
Moderate Feature
(Level 2)
$250 - $400
$300 - $450
 $450 - $800
Basic Feature
(Level 3)
 $200 - $350 $250 - $400 $350 - $600
Superspot  $100 - $150$125 - $175
 $150 - $250
$25 - $50
$35 - $65
 $45 - $80
 Tape Sync $55/hr
$30 additional hour
2hr base rate,
$30 additional hour
2 hr base rate
$30 additional hour


Advanced Feature (NPR Level 1)

These pieces typically:

  • require the reporter to have substantial subject matter expertise.
  • involve research and original reporting.
  • have a sophisticated narrative.
  • have sound that does not involve phone tape.
  • are rich in a variety of sounds demonstrative or supportive of the story.
  • include a digital presentation of the story that could include, extensive web write, video, photo gallery, animation, etc., if negotiated as part of the fee.
  • may get funding through grants or other third party sources.


Moderate Feature (NPR Level 2)

These pieces typically:

  • involve multiple interviews
  • involve sound, scenes, and advanced radio storytelling techniques
  • include new information and a variety of perspectives
  • include a web write (600-900 words) and at least 2 photos, if negotiated as part of the fee.

Basic Feature (NPR Level 3):

These pieces typically:

  • contain interviews conducted in one place
  • present information found through other reports/news conferences
  • involve less extensive use of sound and scenes
  • include a short web write (300 words) and up to 2 photos, if negotiated as part of the fee.


These pieces typically:

  • but not exclusively be one-day turnaround stories.
  • be two minutes or less in length.
  • include a short web write (< 300 words) and one picture, if negotiated as part of the fee.




A journalist with limited reporting experience, but enough heart to work hard and learn.

This reporter usually needs considerable guidance from an editor/news director.


A journalist with reporting experience, who may have filed stories for national programs and/or has won regional or local awards.

This may also be an appropriate level for an experienced/advanced level print reporter who is still cultivating their audio reporting skills and requires guidance.

This reporter usually needs some guidance from an editor/news director.


A journalist with extensive reporting experience, may have cultivated a specific beat, who has experience filing for national programs and/or has won national awards.

This reporter usually needs limited guidance from an editor/news director.



AIR’s station-freelance contract template

NPR freelance contract

NPR rates

NPR freelance contributor site (the Bill Siemering Portal)

Marketplace rates 

AIR’s Code of Fair Practices





Download the Freelancer-Station Production Agreement.



Listing of all Public Radio Stations' Total Station Revenue (TSR).