I’ve been casting around to see if any national outlets want to pick up my story on Ron Wyden and the President, fighting over healthcare. I think it’s a great story that if anything would play better on the national stage than just right here in Oregon. During my pitch process I got a “yes” this morning from the editor of a prominent national politics blog. He wrote:
I can’t pay you anything, but I can give you front page access to push the story. This is exactly the sort of content we are looking for right now–pushing back against Democrats reluctant for reform.
I responded saying I was very interested in the byline but that lack of payment was surprising for such a prestigious website. I’d be willing to go ahead on a “test my work” basis if there’s the prospect of payment for further freelance work at some point, I wrote. He responded:
The likelihood to be paid for occasional writing is zero.
While you may find this surprising, neither The Huffington Post nor Daily Kos pay a single dime for occasional work, either.
There is no business model for occasional freelance writing on blogs. I wish it were otherwise, but it is not.
Consider my perspective: You, the editor of a nationally influential website, have told me my story is exactly the sort of content you’re looking for. I couldn’t be more flattered. Sincerely. Yet I’ve invested five years of hard work in getting to the point where I’m capable of pitching you such a story, and you now tell me that not only will I go uncompensated for that effort, but that there is no prospect of ever being paid for it, in the future.
Why would any writer ever accept the terms of such a bargain? Isn’t it bound to slowly kill good journalism?
Graciously, he responded, telling me “we can have a larger discussion about the state of journalism, which I think would be very interesting,” but said his specific website, while influential, national, prominent, yadda yadda, well: “those adjectives do not cause our bank account to magically increase in size.” He continued:
“We just had a fundraiser two weeks ago the prevented us from going under. As I said, I hadn’t paid myself for five months. We now have enough operating capital to last another four months. During this time, for the first time, we will finally be able to start paying all of our full-time writers, including myself, about $40 per article. I am hoping to secure other deals that will keep us going through November, at which time we will probably need another fundraiser. However, none of the four deals I am looking into have been secured at this time.”
For about half a minute I felt guilty even asking for money in the first place. Then I thought, maybe I should ask for $40 like the big boys. After a further 30 seconds I just took my pitch elsewhere.
It’s disheartening to realize that not only am I going to have to sell national editors on my stories themselves but also, on whether or not they should actually pay me for them. On one level I feel like a complete asshole for saying no to this fella. But I’m not buying the “front page access” line. He may be broke but I don’t see that exploiting occasional writers is going to earn him any money in the long run. I think his business model needs to change. And I think mine may need to, too.
It’s enough to make me want to move to Hollywood and cover celebrity gossip for TMZ: “Your work is meaningless, it’s bullshit! Total bullshit! Here’s $3,000!”