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.
In the end, I let the pieces run. Sure, I could have told them both, "no thanks." But the truth of the matter is, there weren't any other outlets for those particular pieces. And so, I let them take my work. For free.
Every time I think about it, I get angry. Worse, I get this sinking feeling in my stomach because I can see quite clearly that this bad news is part of a much bigger journalism picture: the news industry is crumbling around me. '
The big news this past week: the Rocky Mountain News went down the tubes on Friday. And the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seatle Post-Intelligencer may be next. Every major newspaper, The New York Times included, is in very, very bad shape.
We've all read the articles detailing the reasons for the newspaper industry's demise. The rise of the internet. Craigslist cannibalizing the classified ad business. The loss of public trust in the media. The mismanagement at newspapers, and the arrogance of editors and publishers who failed to adapt, who refused to recognize that with the arrival of the World Wide Web, the world of information delivery really was changing, and changing radically.
When the editors and publishers finally did catch on, they made a rather desperate effort to attract readers to their on-line product Part of their strategy -- give the on-line content away for free. Looking at that decision now, some media observers are saying it was a mistake.
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.
There are those of course who have figured out the new economics of the Internet. A small but growing number of entrepreneurial bloggers publish product on-line that gets them a gazillion hits, or at least, enough to attract advertisers.
I suppose it's time. I did the same.