January 6th, 2010
Please don’t write for free
By Amy Green
Before Christmas I received an e-mail from the founder of an upstart Web site inviting me to write for the site. The site will feature user-generated content, the message said, but unlike other sites it will compensate journalists.
I could see right through this. Initially I ignored the e-mail, but in the end my frustration got the better of me. My response was sincere and blunt.
“I receive messages such as this quite a bit, and they are both dispiriting and insulting,” I wrote. “I wish you all would stop sending them. I am a seasoned journalist who does not work for little or nothing. You should target the hobbyist citizen journalists you are seeking.”
Today’s Los Angeles Times article on freelance writing reminded me of the episode.
If you write as a hobby then perhaps the pleasure of seeing your work in print is payment enough, and I understand that. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from the fundamental activity of writing, which of course bears significant value by itself. But if you are a seasoned journalist, then please do not write for free.
I understand the temptation. Times are tough, and you’d rather do something than nothing. You feel you shouldn’t turn down any work, no matter the fee. You want to build a platform toward landing another job, book deal, etc.
You are worth more than that. Take another look at your resume and clips. You will see.
The pleasure unique to freelancing is our complete freedom to choose how we make our living. We can do anything we want. We are our own bosses. We don’t have to do anything, and work is out there that pays appropriately. It’s true we now must work harder at finding it. But it is out there. Perhaps you supplement lower-paying journalism assignments with some sort of nonjournalism enterprise. Think creatively. Look for the money!
Journalists who accept work for low rates only drive down rates for everyone. Editors pay these rates because they can. The marketplace supports it. People do it.
So don’t do it. What would happen if we all demanded 50 cents to $1 a word for every assignment we encounter, if all of us refused to write for anything less? After all, even that is not a huge amount but actually quite reasonable.
- Amy Green, SPJ’s freelance committee chairwoman