It’s Friday afternoon, I’m tired, and I want to relax on the couch. But Ben Pollock of the National Society for Newspaper Columnists just made me leap up and race to my computer.
It seems the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger is looking for some new columnists. The hitch? They’re not willing to pay you for it. Here’s the invitation from their website:
ClarionLedger.com is looking for Mississippi’s next great columnist. Those with an interest should know from the start, however, that the position is a labor of love – the perfect hobby for someone who cares deeply about the state and its people and who also has a passion for writing.
In return for your hard work we will deliver a one-of-a-kind platform – a seat on the front row of the biggest news forum celebrating the great state that we call home. As a ClarionLedger.com columnist, you can write about whatever comes to your mind. Some areas we hope that hold your interest include: politics, family, leadership, community care and involvement, and education.
Anyone who is dumb enough to fall for this one is exceeded in their idiocy only by the person who thought asking writers to write for free was a good idea.
Good writers do not write for free. And good newspapers wouldn’t expect their writers to work for free either, would they?
I guess I just answered my own question, because, you see, the Clarion-Ledger is a Gannett owned newspaper. Gannett, owners of USA Today, the Indianapolis Star, and many other newspapers, is known for cutting staff positions around the country so their CEO can earn the slashed salaries as a “performance bonus.”
But I’m angered by the hypocrisy of this request, and I think it mocks the very tenets of journalism that publications like the Clarion-Ledger (hopefully) cling to, even if their parent organization does not. Here’s what I mean:
- Real journalists do not write for free. This is their job. They get paid to do it. They get cranky when you no longer pay them to do it. And they go on and on about how they’re highly trained professionals who deserve the money they get. And yet these journalists are asking other people to do their job for them in exchange for no money. If I were a paid staff writer for the Clarion-Ledger, I’d be offended.
- They’re asking for bloggers and citizen journalists. Most journalists I know hate bloggers and citizen journalists. Bobby King, president of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, once referred to us as “the animals in the blogosphere.” King’s attitude is not uncommon in the professional journalism world. But this means that the Clarion-Ledger is now consorting with animals and non-professionals. Does this mean their standards are slipping, or are we better than the journalists want to give us credit for?
- Good writers get paid. We produce things that many people are willing to pay for. Good writers don’t do this for free, because they recognize the value of their skill. This means that the Clarion-Ledger will most likely get shitty writers. Shitty writers = fewer readers = more cost-cutting = more good citizen journalists = fewer readers.
- Gannett already makes plenty of stupid money decisions. The last round of major layoffs that hit the Indianapolis Star, Clarion-Ledger, and other newspapers lead to a $1.25 million bonus for CEO Gracia Martore, as part of her $8.1 million salary in 2010. If they want to really bring out the good writers, Martore would a) quit taking bonuses made from blood money, and b) the other executives would take a pay cut to keep professionally trained writers on staff so they wouldn’t have to make such an insensitive, distasteful request like asking unpaid writers to replace the paid writers they fired.
The Clarion-Ledger has acted in bad taste and bad faith. Any writer who is worth his or her salt needs to refuse to write for them. All you get for writing for the Clarion-Ledger is the “exposure” of putting your name on your own work on their website. But make no mistake, they will own the work you create for them, and you will not be allowed to benefit from it any further.
If you want to write for free, put your time and energy into your own blog. At least with that, you have the possibility of turning it into something profitable down the road, like a speaking career, a book or two, or even a sought-after information channel that people will pay to advertise on. But don’t fall victim to the Clarion-Ledger’s scam.