Origin of the word:

In medieval times, when warlords needed extra power for their armies, special mercenaries could be called upon. These mercenaries - called free lance warriors - would receive payment in gold, or in ground property rights when a certain area was conquered.

Freelancers today:

The more common (at least nowadays) definition of freelance is in the use of “freelancer”, referring to a temporary worker – temporary in the sense of ad hoc: When the job is over, the freelancer is again free.

The word freelancer, despite not being limited to media business, is often used in this context – freelance journalists, photographers, writers, editors, subeditors, technical crew etc. Freelancers are also used in many other writing-based businesses: Programmers, coders, perl-ninjas, SQL gurus, etc. Although I have never heard of a freelance lumberjack or traffic warden, I suppose most jobs could function using altered freelancing models. Usually, however, these will be called "temps" or "reserves".

Types of freelance

Traditional freelancing: (1a) This type of freelance work is the classical freelance model: The journalist writes a piece, submits it to a newspaper, and gets published (or not), and the journalist gets a nice fat pay check. These types of freelance stories are usually very well paid, but working as a freelancer fulltime, following the traditional freelance model, can be very insecure. (1b) Variations of this include calling up the newspaper, asking if they would be interested in the piece before actually writing it. This usually only happens if the newspaper knows the freelancer already, and a certain trust has been developed between the parties. Worst case scenario: that the newspaper will take the story and run with it, leaving the freelancer with nothing.

Outsourcing: (2) This type of freelance work occurs when a newspaper (or any other business) decides they need something specific. The newspaper calls up a contact they have, and will instruct this contact (a journalist or photographer, for example) about what they need. The contact decides if they have time and resources to do the job, and deliver the material to the newspaper. Similar to the 1b variation above, but the newspaper takes initiative to the story

Permanent freelancers: (3) This is a bit of an oxymoron, but this type of freelancers are being used more and more in the newspaper industry, in particular for photographers. The permanent freelancers will work for a business full-time, just like a regular employee, but at a higher pay. The advantages for the newspaper include that they have a lot less responsibility for the employee: They can decide on a Monday to not use the freelancer anymore, and on a Tuesday, the freelancer is without a job. The employer also has less social responsibility (think dental plans etc) for an employee. The specifics of this vary from country to country, depending on the country’s laws.

Advantages of freelancing

For the employer: Freelancers are always available, and add valuable expertise into certain fields. A newspaper might for example hardly ever do stories on cars, but when they do, it makes sense to hire an expert to write up the story, rather than to set one of their own staff on the case.

For the employee: It is hard work marketing your articles, maintaining contact with the newspapers and writing the articles at the same time, but it can be very rewarding – both as a work challenge and economically.

Disadvantages of freelancing:

For the employer: None, really – if the employers don’t want to use freelancers, they don’t. The main disadvantage is freelancers who don’t hold their promises, but the solution is fairly simple: Don’t use them again.

For the employee: Significantly worse socially (no permanent co-workers etc), fewer bonuses and benefits, and definitely a whole lot less predictable, stable and secure than a regular full time job. (but that can be a good thing, too)

In model railroading, the term freelance is used to mean something that is not a model of a specific prototype, but rather something that never existed in reality - something fictional. The term is generally not used when referring to something that attempts to be a model of some real-world prototype - regardless of the accuracy or the compromises that had to be made. Antagonism between prototype modellers and freelancers is a long-standing part of the hobby.

There are many types of freelancing and many reasons for doing so. One important reason is that by freelancing, one avoids compromise. Railroads are fundamentally hard to model - it's an attempt to fit a huge, linearly based thing into a much smaller, even in scale distances, area, and one quite differently shaped. Prototype trains are often way too long to accurately model. Real railroads have hundreds, even thousands, of locomotives, and maybe tens of thousands of cars. Accurate prototype information, especially for earlier historical periods, is hard to obtain, incomplete, and conflicting.

By freelancing, the model railroader avoids having to compromise nearly as much, by the simple fact that 'the way it is' can be laid down by modeler's decree. The shape of one's modelling space becomes the shape of the landscape of one's invented railroad. If only one locomotive is all that the money can stretch to, well, then this railroad only had one locomotive. Want to run 1880s locomotives next to 1950s vintage? Then that's the way it is on this railroad. The modeler is freed from the work of having to find a prototype that matches up to their restraints, or the frustrating challenge of having to compromise to fit within space and budget.

This becomes especially tempting when modeling what interests you would just be too hard - when accurate models of specific prototypes are hard to get. An example would be modeling nineteenth century railroads, for which few models are available.

All freelancing, of course, has to be an acceptable suspension of disbelief for the individual sculpting it. There's always an implied 'Could it have happened this way?' test, in the modeler's mind. If one didn't know better, would one accept that this fictional railroad really exists, having just lurked out of sight and mind? That's why freelancing is more popular in the United States, with its myriad railroads, than in Europe, where most countries have national rail systems and it's not credible for there to be another railroad. The possibility, though, of there being a narrow gauge line in Wales that one never heard of, or a secondary carrier in the American Midwest, or a streetcar line in some unheard of city in eastern Europe - those don't fail the credibility test.

Freelance model railroads can be just as serious as one fully modeled on a real prototype - and can be just as hard, if not harder, work. Some modelers go to the extent of creating whole books of rules and regulations for their railroads, operating practices, timetables, and the like -- things the prototype modeler can just find pre-made with a little research. These modelers tend to be ones more interested in railroad practice and operation than the specific details of a real-life railroad - the challenge of planning their own, realistic as possible, railroad empire is what appeals. Such people sometimes call their creations protofreelance to emphasize that while the railroad itself is fictional, it's firmly grounded in real prototype practice.

Some modelers choose to freelance elements of their model railroad, but not all of it. One common way to do this is to model a real railroad, with its real locomotives and cars, but to invent a fictional location - either completely out of thin air, or modelling a proposed but never built line, or one that in real life was closed down before the era in question. This allows the freelancer's latitude of shaping the model railroad within the confines of a space, while still modeling a railroad and equipment that interests one.

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