In the wake of David Topping's unofficial tally of what OpenFile contributors are owed, Wilf Dinnick says the freelancers' wait should be in its final few weeks, Belinda Alzner reports. 

There may finally be an end in sight for OpenFile contributors who are still waiting to be paid. 

OpenFile’s founder and CEO Wilf Dinnick told J-Source that an audit of the company’s books that began in the fall was completed a few weeks ago. Although there are still a few small things that need to be done, such as specific paperwork from OpenFile's tax representatives, Dinnick says "the heavy lifting has been done." 

While Dinnick is staying quiet on the number of people owed money or the total owed ("we are a private company and that is private information," he said), David Topping has been adding up the numbers. In a post on his blog Tuesday night, Topping published the total that freelancers he spoke to say they're owed by OpenFile. In the initial post that number was $12,530; at time of publication of this article, the number had increased to $18,864. Topping doesn't identify how many owed contributors this number entails, or the identities of those who he has spoke with, with the exception of former OpenFile Halifax news curator Bethany Horne.

Dinnick's response to queries about the payment status of OpenFile contributors came the day after Topping's post was published. The contributors’ invoices have been outstanding since the online news start-up went "on pause" on Sept. 28. OpenFile’s accounts were frozen when the audit began and Dinnick has been waiting for the money’s release to pay the contributors.

"Checks with notes have already started going out. The rest are being sent out over the next weeks," Dinnick told J-Source in an email.  "Those with outstanding invoices will have checks in hand, ready to cash when the money is released to us, avoiding any further delays."

"We expect this to be the final stretch."

Dinnick said in a follow-up email that his tax representative has told him the entire process will be wrapped up in “a matter of weeks.”

Though OpenFile initially suspended publication at the end of September, it wasn't until an interview with Kelly Toughill published on J-Source on Nov. 12 that Dinnick revealed OpenFile's accounts had been frozen by an audit and that these outstanding invoices had not been paid to contributors.

The following day, a number of OpenFile contributors put their name to an open letter, asking to be paid and for greater communication with Dinnick. Dinnick contacted the freelancers shortly after the letter’s publication, and a follow-up was posted, saying regular updates were promised to them.

The follow-up continued:

Once again, we would like to emphasise that the letter was not meant as an attack on either OpenFile as an outlet or Wilf Dinnick as a person. 

OpenFile helped many of us get started in this business, and gave an opportunity for a close community of young journalists to emerge.

This statement from the freelancers’ letter mirrors a common sentiment of many conversations J-Source had for background with those in the journalism community about OpenFile. Generally speaking, while nobody is happy to see an outlet in the midst of a challenge like this (perhaps especially one that so many in the industry have lauded as innovative—J-Source included), everybody agrees the contributors need to be paid for their work. Dinnick stressed this in his interview with Toughill as well.

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Topping’s post describes a back-and-forth between Dinnick and the freelancers who spoke to Topping over the last few months that is marred by unspecific timelines, confusion and frustration. (Topping's post is worth reading in its entirety and can be found here.)

And you can count Dinnick among the frustrated.

"My big frustration is that OpenFile was built to create opportunities for freelancers (which we have done really well, we think, for some time) to do great journalism," he wrote. "Despite these last few frustrating months, we successfully set out to try new ways to tell stories, engage audience and get new and younger voices in the news business, while other news organizations were laying off." 

"So I do get frustrated when this situation overshadows all the amazing work so many people have put in and continue to put into this venture."

As for the future of OpenFile? It's not immediately clear, though at a talk hosted by The Canadian Journalism Foundation on Jan. 30, Dinnick reiterated the site's "on pause" status in a question to panelists about funding media innovation. 

 

Related stories:

OpenFile suspends publication to prepare for upcoming changes

OpenFile accounts frozen, freelancers still unpaid

OpenFile freelancers still not paid, but public letter prompts “open channel” of communication

 

Full disclosure: Belinda Alzner completed a for-school-credit internship at OpenFile Toronto in April 2011 and contributed to the site until beginning full-time at J-Source. She is not owed any money by OpenFile.