Monday, May 13, 2013

Pay Writers and You'll Likely Get Better Media

The Wall Street Journal's Media Watch (here) has an interesting piece today on why media is in such trouble with the public. One of the reasons, it finds, among the "5 corrupting influences," is pay. Here's what the piece says:

A media outlet recently advertised a job for “an experienced writer” with a “solid” record of publishing articles in outlets such as the New York Times, National Geographic and so on. Salary? The job was unpaid. The posting was reported by Jim Romenesko, the media writer. It was not an isolated incident. A major non-profit media outlet known to me is looking for columns from top-quality writers. The pay? Fifty bucks an item. Good luck with that. 

A liberal media doyenne praised President Obama for demanding an increase of the minimum wage, but doesn’t pay her bloggers anything at all. The Atlantic magazine recently came under fire for asking a freelancer to write something for free. The writer, instead, published the email exchange. The Atlantic’s readers were up in arms against the magazine, but they missed the point. If those readers won’t pay the magazine for the news, how do they expect the magazine to pay the writers? 

 My friend Darrell Laurent, who is a newspaper columnist in Lynchburg and runs Writers Bridge, a writers consortium, runs "opportunities" for writers in a daily newsletter. Most of the positions are either unpaid or pay absurd sums ($5 a column/post or $10 for each 1,000-word story).

The problem with that is that those offering slave wages find people to do the work. I read some years ago that of all the people in the U.S. who call themselves "professional writers," just two percent actually make a living writing and most of those are journalists.

As writers, we are our own worst enemies, very often. I write for Public Radio for free and have for 20 years or so, justifying that as "doing something I love to help a valuable resource I respect that is a non-profit." When I was with FRONT, I asked writers to contribute book reviews for no pay. Some columns--those written by professionals like CPAs--weren't paid, partly because their associations would not let them accept pay. A lot of writers would verbally shoot me for that attitude and I understand their point. We won't get paid if we work for nothing. People who don't pay, get what they're not paying for.

It is a very difficult dilemma and my guess it's not going to be solved any time soon. So get used to news you can't trust very often.

(Photo: woman.thenext.com)

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