The cost of the phone interview for freelance journalsits: how do you charge, what do you use?

Updated: 3/9/09 at 8:56 p.m.

Newspapers and many magazines don’t cover freelance expenses, like telephone calls.

What gives? Doing some quick math – and the 15 cents per minute phone call I use from my cell-phone plan to charge those publications that do accept my charges – I expect to spend at the very least more than one hour on the phone per story. Yeah, that’s about $10.

Ten bucks isn’t a chunk of change in the eyes of even the most crippled newspaper, but that does mean I spent more than $100 in additional phone charges last month.

This skimping on freelance costs is, I suspect, a new reality.

And, of course, my math cut out taxes and other costs from my plan, which might actually be hurting me. While there are a host of reasons why most cell companies don’t offer pay-by-minute plans, ones that I have seen are never less than a quarter a minute and often much more. I’m researching a new game altogether.

I could make my business phone my computer; Skype offers unlimited calls throughout the U.S. and Canada for $3 per month. It’s depending a lot on a computer, but with a new headset I hear it almost always works just fine. …Almost.

I’ve also been told that lesser known Boost Mobile has recent unveiled a host of cheap contracts that use Sprint technology – consider it buying cereal in a bag, instead of a box, I was told. I’m fine with that.

But what do I charge for my minutes? If there’s a going rate, I don’t know it. What I do know is 15 cents is likely too cheap for my current contract, which is with Verizon, and may remain so with my new contract, but perhaps there’s a standard that I don’t know that would make more sense. Update: Indeed, a recent study suggested the average cell phone user might be paying more than $3 per minute, once all the fees are tacked on.

What is for sure is I’m not focused on what cell phone I get, though other journalists have sworn by their mobile technology as an extension of their work. I believe it, but I can’t afford it and it’s not a priority right now. I need the cheapest, most dependable way to conduct phone interviews at home and, I suppose I should accept I’ll also need a cell phone, whether they’re the same or not.

Any tips or experiences? How do other freelancers charge for phone expenses? What programs, technologies or other choices have freelancers made?

Photo from Baltimore Sun.