There’s A Spectre Haunting The Blogosfera

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

My friend Claudia, who is a wonderful writer, has a piece up at her blog and at Huffpuff, in which she asks the eternal, dreaded question for writers, “Am I getting paid for my work?”  The answer, as you probably expect, isn’t good:

Twice in the past week, I’ve heard the same bad news: two media outlets for whom I’d written articles informed me that they would not be paying me for the writing I had submitted.

Please join me below.

One outlet is a very large and prominent city newspaper. The other is a regional magazine where I used to be paid rather handsomely, as far as freelance assignments go. Neither editor I spoke to was apologetic. Indeed, they both seemed a little surprised when I registered my objection. Somehow, they seemed to imply that I shouldn’t need to be paid.

Apparently, the answer to the getting paid question is, “No, you’re not.  And don’t ask again.”  If you argue, well, maybe nobody will read your work, pay or not, because it won’t be put up or published.  And so the Crash of 2009 has arrived like an unwanted Kashruth inspector in what Isaac Bashevis Singer called, “The Literary Factory.”  It’s 2009.  Now you produce “content,” and in return you receive bupkis.  OK.  Maybe you get some comments.  Maybe you receive a few recommends.  Maybe you receive the personal warmth of a job well done.  None of these is redeemable for goods at the convenience mart.

This is a serious problem.  Oddly, as a writer, you own and control some of the means of your production, but, alas, you’re probably producing something that can only be given away.  That would mean that as far as economics is concerned it has no monetary value.  It’s simple.  If real professionals like Claudia aren’t getting checks in the mail for their work, you know that the army of volunteer scribblers and weekend web warriors aren’t getting checks either.  We’re a large, vocal, literate mob of people who are getting nothing for their work.  Nothing.

Right after I respond to this situation by writing, “Writers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains,” I’m fresh out of material, I don’t have the next sentence, the sentence about what we’re going to do about this.  I could even write, “There’s a spectre haunting the blogosfera,” but again, I don’t have the next sentence, which should contain an answer.  Oddly, I’m not sure where the machine is into which I could insert my shoe, or the machine I could throw my body in front of, or the factory I could occupy, or the plant I could strike.  Put another way, nobody cares if you withhold from them a service that is worthless.  

Nobody, as far as I know, at dd or Huffpuff or a dozen other medium and large size blogs gets paid anything to write.  I know I sure don’t.  I know that I put up pieces just because I can and because I want to.  I create “content” and I put it up.  And if there are enough hits, maybe there’s some money somewhere not to me, but to the blog owners to offset the costs of running the circus.  And if there aren’t enough hits, well, then maybe somebody will click the “donate” icon (mine at The Dream Antilles has never been clicked I’m sad to report, ever, not even for a single $1.00). And in the worst case, and here the worst case is the most probable, the blog owners might have to write some checks from their own, formerly obtained stash of money, to keep the blog they own from expiring.  I doubt they have the moolah to write checks from the income their blogs have generated.

This state of affairs just isn’t sustainable, which is a nice way of saying to writers and to blog owners alike, “Don’t quit your day job(s).”  If you want to write, unless things change, you’re stuck.  You’re going to do it for free.

Claudia writes:

Which brings me back to the point of this poor-me –or better, poor us– tale. If The New York Times is giving its news product away, doesn’t that send a very important message ricocheting through our society: that news has no value? We live in a society that places a very clear value on things: we pay our baseball and movie star celebrities astronomically high salaries. We pay our day care providers and our teachers next to nothing.

Ironically, I am writing this for The Huffington Post, which makes no apologies about the fact that it doesn’t pay its bloggers. When I –very politely– asked an editor about this issue last year, he very nicely explained to me that the many hundred bloggers at the Huff Po are willing to write for free because they know their work is being seen by many millions of eyes.

That’s true of course. And yes, I do see the value of having my work appear in the Huff Po. But I guess I am also old-fashioned. I was trained in an era when my work, appearing in The Wall Street Journal, earned me more than just readership. It earned me a salary. Writing, and reporting, took time. And time as we all know, is money.

To which I can add, standing on one leg like Hillel, that the rest is commentary.  If news is worthless in the present system, opinion, its poor stepchild, no matter how clever or correct, is worth even less.

25 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. you have nothing to lose but your chains typewriters keyboards.

    Thanks for reading.

  2. scientists, engineers, medical doctors, and other researchers publish difficult, intricate works without direct compensation.  Universities, colleges, and research labs pay salaries often with an expectation of publication.  And quite frankly, the audience for papers such as Curse of Dimensionality Free Methods for Nonlinear Control is pretty dadgum small.   Mathematical Analysis and Applications is not exactly The New Yorker.

    I’ve often thought about content producer compensation.  Music downloading was a big hit to the record companies, but it’s also a hit on the artists.  The delivery mechanism folks, middlemen in a sense, always seem to get the bigger share of revenue.

  3. I don’t believe it.  I just got a $1 donation via paypal.  You guys are too much.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. We can bring tyrants like Kos, Arianna and Buhdy to their knees!

    STRIKE!

    And if there aren’t enough hits, well, then maybe somebody will click the “donate” icon (mine at The Dream Antilles has never been clicked I’m sad to report, ever, not even for a single $1.00)

    I just sent you a dollar.

  5. Excuse me now for a moment while I go put my foot on the neck of the peasant rebellion above and shackle their creative spirit with blind unfeeling oppression…

  6. …but frankly, it isn’t the “system” which is making what passes for news these days worthless.  The news being produced has almost no value; no one is willing to pay money to read Huffington Post because it is an experience which is almost certainly not going to be worth spending money on.  What happened when the New York Times put supposedly the best opinion columnists in America behind their TimesSelect wall?  Everyone realized that paying good money to read David Brooks and Maureen Dowd and even Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was a waste of money.

    The Wall Street Journal may be having trouble paying for content, but subscription-only business reporting, like Bert Dohman’s Wellington Note, aren’t struggling to get paid subscribers.  The Washington Post may be eliminating its book review, but the New York Review of Books isn’t in danger of going under due to lack of subscribers.  I may not be willing to buy a paper every day just to read the box scores, but I’ll send Nate Silver my money so I can read the PECOTA predictions, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that 538 can easily move to a subscription model when the next election cycle comes around.

    Quality is the problem.  All the present system does is increase competition – if what you provide isn’t worth more than the glut of other people competing for a paid job in journalism are providing, then no one is going to pay a premium for your work.  Tell me, when was the last time you remember Newsweek or Time being consistently worth even reading, much less paying for?  

    • robodd on March 4, 2009 at 1:03 am

    I pay for the NYT, for instance.

    But Huffpo is different.  There, you mostly get opinions from people who make livings that allow them to come to them (except for posts from various actors/actresses or other celebrities).

    So, its all about exposure for the latter folks and most bloggers.  

    I tend to think blogs are best used to germinate and exchange ideas, not to provide finished work product.

  7. Can’t support the prospect of lamestream/propaganda media to spill into and take over the internet.  I don’t care if it’s Rush Limbaugh or Keith Colbert both are morons in my book as I am a confirmed card carrying member of the anti-New World Order party.  Hattery you say?  Fine but watch, really watch as global interests erode this country all the way down to to nature preserve status.

    Not getting paid to support the feel good matrix, I almost like it.  Hard to explain in this venue, should be a book.

  8. … that is, the price of a newspaper was the price of the paper, the content was paid for by advertisements.

    But now, with the low cost of electronic paper, how do they maintain the “cover price” illusion which fed the “its something I pay for” feeling that makes it something of value?

    Dammedeffeyeno.

  9. With no contract, they can back out of any verbal offers to pay.

    I don’t get paid for what I write, that’s for sure. And I’ve been unemployed since August 2006.

Comments have been disabled.