Respect the content; respect the writer

An interesting conversation was brought up from blogger Alan Mutter, who recently issued a battle cry for journalists being paid nothing — or next to nothing — for their work in traditional and non-traditional news sites. His call: Journalists should just say no to working  for nothing, and start demanding they be paid like the professionals they are.

Numerous readers … many of the part of the ‘exploited’ group Mutter was talking to … responded that while the idea was well-received, the reality is that news organizations traditionally paid next-to-nothing for content. Coupled with the increased pool of unemployed and underemployed journalists seeking work, any efforts to demand a reasonable compensation will be undercut by those who are willing to work for nothing.

Mutter’s well-positioned response to that argument can be read here.

While the nay-sayers are steeped in the fact of the present, I’m amazed that so many freelance and unemployed journalist are willing to accept their fate. Granted, being in the midst of a serious economic downturn isn’t helping the industry any, but those who chose to make journalism their livelihood should be willing to fight to support the credibility and respect it deserves.

Successful online sites like Huffington Post, examiner.com, etc., are surviving and thriving on the ‘low overhead’ of not paying — or paying at minimal levels — for its content. In many ways,writers are making less now than they did at that first job they held while going to j-school. That is just not right

You would think that journalists — who work hard to right the wrongs of others — seem to accept this fate for themselves.  Journalists must come to the realize that they are college-educated professionals, trained in a craft that has value to its customers. Businesses that rely on content produced by journalists  need to respect that and pay a reasonable compensation.

Ironically, it seems that employers outside the news industry recognize that. My wife and I both have done contract work writing and editing for other businesses. We have submitted invoices that would make Arianna Huffington laugh so hard she’d spit milk through her nose — but we are paid without question. I’m sure a lot of freelance writers have noticed the same thing.

 I can understand that start-ups companies may have a problem paying a stable of writers a decent living wage. But if a start-up is truly committed to success, it may want to consider hiring a select group of writers and offering an incentive package that would give writers a share of the company’s success once it becomes successful. Start-ups in the Silicone Valley in the 1980s used stock options to entice new talent to help build the company with the reward of sharing in its success later. Probably not a good option today, but creative compensation could help a new content provider entice and keep writers by giving them a stake in the company’s success.

Allowing the Huffington Post content model to continue in the industry lessens the value of content and the respect of those who create it. It’s time for employers to respect the writer and compensate them as professionals. It’s time for writers to respect themselves as the professionals they are and demand reasonable compensation for their work.

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