Well, well, well. First, let us all take a step back and appreciate exactly where we are right now: we are in a place wherein paying people for their work has become a topic worthy of debate and discussion. Let’s just let that soak in for a second: paying people for their work has become a topic worthy of debate and discussion. See, for example, Alexis C. Madrigal’s frantic tweets wherein he tries to defend the system at the Atlantic and explain to us what it is like to work for a digital newspaper. Thanks Alexis C. Madrigal, it is duly noted!
Shall we examine this long post wherein Alexis C. Madrigal talks about why it is OK for other people (not him) to not get paid for their work? Sure, let’s do that!
When Nate Thayer published emails with our newest editor (second week on the job), I can see how that might happen. How you might finish writing your last email, “No offense taken,” and then staring at your blog’s CMS that night, decide, you know, what? I’m tired of writing for peanuts, because fuck that. And if a young journalist in her first week on the job was part of the collateral damage, hey, the world just isn’t fair, kid. Pay it forward.
I get it, but it was still a nasty thing to do.
To be sure, this is not Olga Khazan’s fault; it is the fault of the Atlantic for putting her in the crappy position of having to ask people to work for free.
Still, what NATE THAYER did was a “nasty thing to do”? It isn’t “nasty” to imply that Nate Thayer’s work has no value? And then defend that position on Twitter and on the Atlantic website?
Whatever, anyway, moving on (and we are going to skip a lot because Alexis C. Madrigal’s post is really a whole lot of nothing. Maybe someone — another editor, perhaps, if he can find the budget? — should have taken a look-see before he posted it, but that’s another story). Did you know that it’s ok to defend not paying people for work because Alexis C. Madrigal got paid NOTHING or NEXT TO NOTHING when he first started writing? But man, he did his best and he worked really hard and wrote for free here and there and now, well, look where he is! See? Maybe if YOU write for free and suck it up, YOU can be an editor at a major publication too!
Man, I feel everyone on how scary it is to be in journalism. When I made the transition from a would-be fiction career paired with writing research reports into full-time journalism, I nearly drowned in a sea of debt and self-doubt. I was writing posts on my own blog, which almost nobody read, but it did, with an assist from my now-wife, get me a couple gigs writing for some known websites. I got paid $12 a post by one. The other was generous, and I got $50. I was grateful as hell to have this toehold in the world. I remember walking down Bartlett Street in the Mission and saying to myself, out loud, “I’m a writer. I’m a writer! I’M A WRITER!” It was all I’d wanted to be since I was 16 years old. And I was making it.
Except I was not making it. Every day that went by, I was draining the little bit of money I had. I started selling anything I’d acquired to that point in my life that had any value. After the last Craigslist purchaser having walked away with my stuff, I stood there in the living room of our apartment staring at the books and crying.
Now, he gets to make OTHER PEOPLE CRY by first asking them to work for free and then taking to Twitter and to his blog to defend this horrible, horrible system. JOKE IS ON THEM, LOSERS!
Seriously though, SOMEONE IS MAKING MONEY. We will say it again: SOMEONE IS MAKING MONEY. Does the Atlantic, with its “record year” and “sizable revenue” and 13,000,000 unique readers per month NOT make money from its website? Is the website a form of charity? Maybe it is! Here is what Alexis C. Madrigal has to say about it:
The main way to sell ads is to go “cross-platform” pairing digital with print and whatever else (events or video, say). This is what “the marketplace” is asking for. So you need ad inventory online. In some cases, like ours or Wired‘s, you need a lot of ad inventory online. It is a little more complicated than this, but that means you need page views, and if you want page views, you need people coming to your site. You need unique visitors.
If you can show me a way that this can be reversed for a large general-interest magazine, I would love to hear about it. So far, there isn’t a single model for our kind of magazine that appears to work.
So the website makes NO money? Not even enough to pay for itself? If the website makes no money, then why do you have it? If it can’t support its own freelance budget, then WHY IS IT THERE?
Alternatively, if it DOES make money, where is the money going? Your Wonkette even gets paid some money — not a lot*, frankly, but Wonkette does not get 13,000,000 uniques per month, so it’s all relative! Are these ads on the Atlantic site just…not paying? Is this a form of charity? No. It is not.
We’ll say it again: SOMEONE IS MAKING MONEY. SOMEONE IS MAKING MONEY.
And yet, here we are! Debating about whether or not it is appropriate to PAY PEOPLE FOR WORK. So far, the debate is restricted to paying journalists, writers, artists and musicians, but it will not stop there. For example, your Wonkette is a graduate student at a huge famous prestigious university that you have surely heard of, and to save money these days, they are hiring lecturers to WORK FOR FREE. To save $30,000 per year while the football coach is paid over a million.
The Atlantic has the website BECAUSE IT MAKES MONEY. Alexis Madrigal doesn’t see that, and yet he calls himself a fucking journalist. This is where we are! Welcome to 2013.
*Editrix here. Since we are calling out another media empire for not paying journalists, we thought it only fair to transparencize the pittance we pay our writers. That pittance is $10 per blog post, which is disgraceful. (Except for Snipy, who gets paid in Joe Biden mugs and booze.) Our revenues are looking up — and we too may have a “record year,” just like the Atlantic, minus however many millions in profit their “record year” comprises. And we plan to very soon pay our writers the stunningly high and unheard of amount of, oh, probably like $25. So are we ashamed? Yes. And this is also why the page now looks like a hoarder’s house of ads and nonsense, and we may even start annoying you with a pop-up donation ask instead of the demure one over there in the sidebar; when that ask pops up, you can feel free to tell us to shut the fuck up. (You also can earmark your donations for any blogger of your choosing; otherwise, we’re just misering it for our Wonket Midwest World Tour in June.) The fact is we want to pay people more, not less, and not zero. Except Snipy. She can pry the ducats from our cold dead hands.