Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

martes, marzo 03, 2009

There's A Spectre Haunting The Blogosfera

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.

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.

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