How Bloggers and Freelancers Can Maintain Integrity

This article is an excerpt originally featured on HerAfter.com

"As an editor, I feel that the title... did the piece justice."

I disagreed. In a debate as heated as two people can have via email, I'm arguing with an editor who has changed my article's title. She wants me to showcase my being a cancer survivor in the headline to draw readers in, despite that the article isn't really about being a survivor. She also wants me to sensationalize my own experience in a way that I find offensive, a way that minimizes every cancer survivor's experiences as always being the same.

It ends with my revoking the article. If I have to cheapen my work to be more clickable at the cost of offending the cancer survivor community, it's not worth it, I tell myself.

It's hundreds of readers I'm sacrificing in the name of quality. For bloggers, it's a minor act of popularity suicide in that I have now pissed off the editor, too. But my decision is an easy one to make: it's quantity of likes or quality of content. This time, ne'er the two shall meet.

In this digital age, quality is now quantified by popularity. The more clicks, the more likes, the more views, the more important it is. When an Instagram post of a two-tone dress is headline news on CNN, freelance and media workers are all but asked to provide cheap thrills instead of quality content. So for the type of bloggers who write words rather than post images, today provides a tough professional landscape.

2015-07-13-1436753125-2437651-koragleasonphotography.jpg
photo by designer Kora Gleason with permission from the artist (source)

Regardless, what I believe matters most is integrity. The Oxford Dictionary defines integrity as having 'moral uprightness'. Integrity means standing upright, standing tall in your principles. Having integrity means honoring your beingness. Having integrity means knowing what you're doing and why. It means acting in a way that is true to your vision, that is in line with the difference you want to make in the world in absolutely everything you do. For me, in this debate with the editor, it means honoring my own work enough not to change it for someone else. It means not letting my survivorship be a sale for their website. It means honoring my journey as one of a woman, a whole human, not a victim of cancer.

If writers are to weaken the quality of our work in order to be more shocking for shock's sake, then there is no point in writing at all. Robots can do that. Marketers can do that. There was a time when writers worked their lifetimes for no money or recognition or fame at all, maybe with hopes a post-humus recognition. They did it for the love of the work; they did it because they saw something new possible, something worth striving for. Sure, it drove them mad, but so does fame. Popular opinion rarely coincides with lasting worth. Case in point: the faux-hawk, stuffed animal shaped backpacks, every boy-band aside from the Beatles - who, by the way, risked everything in order to maintain the integrity of their vision.
No Ringo, no Beatles they said.

So how are we freelance bloggers to stay true to our word - literally and metaphorically - when issues like mine arise?

Maintaining Integrity In A Digital World

1. Put the needs of your audience above the needs of your editor
Your editor will do what's best for the site, because he/she is in charge of the brand's coherence. Your work should be focused on the reader; specifically, offering content that enriches their lives while educates them. If you feel that any changes are made that diminishes the value of the work in a way that will harm readers, offend your core and target audience, or simply makes it feel more like click-bait than content, make your concerns known and be part of the solution in terms of finding a compromise.

2. Know what you're doing and why
Freelancing is a scary world because the paycheck is rarely steady. But what are you writing about, who for, and why? Remember your principle objective. Acquiescing to changes in your work can be dangerous if you don't have a clear objective in your writing and/or voice as a writer; allow it once and it will be harder to defend against it later. But you can't stand your ground unless you know what your mission is. Define it, stay true to it, regardless of the money.

3. Keep quality in the forefront
That includes while you're writing and editing, and while your working with editors to make necessary changes. Sure, there might be ways in which your article can branch out to be more relevent to more people with a few word swaps. But if you feel it cheapens the quality of the writing just to score a few popularity points, ask yourself how important clicks are to you, over your reputation as a writer.

4. Go with your gut
Sometimes a big site with big readers (and big writer paychecks!) will want you to change an article to fit their format. But if these changes go against your personal brand, then maybe posting with them at all isn't your best option. You want publications that are congruent with your message and style. If their aesthetic is drastically different from your own blogs, that might be a sign it isn't a great match. Ultimately, though, trust your gut. Never make changes or write content that you are uncomfortable with. What gets posted on the internet has a nasty habit of haunting you forever...

As a freelancer, you have to be your own advocate. That means knowing when to demand compensation, knowing when to work for free to further your cause, and knowing when to stand by your original words. It's a tough world out there, but keep your heart and action toward why you started writing in the first place, and you'll be able to find a balance.

Rachael Yahne (@RachaelYahne) is a writer, blogger, and 10 year cancer survivor. You can read more of her articles about healing from life's big struggles on her website, HerAfter.com. Articles cover topics like beauty, well-being, purpose, and pretending to be 'normal' after treatment and recovery.

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