Here’s the other thing about how writers are paid.

Typewriter keyboardThe current discussion/mudslinging about how writers/journalists/reporters (etc) are or are not paid is, I think, important, enlightening, and long overdue. I made my own wee contribution here; here’s National Treasure Charlie Pierce saying it better. I agree with every single thing Mr. Pierce wrote, up until his last six words — I can’t tell The Atlantic to “go fk itself,” because I don’t think The Atlantic is the problem, and as one of the few magazines out there with a working business model and growing staff, it may well be part of the solution.

Having said that, whenever we have this discussion, there’s this one wee thing that no one ever seems to mention, and it’s something that actually has an enormous impact on any writer’s bank balance: With every passing year, the writer is expected to do more.

Not more writing (eta: actually, in the era of ever-updating blogs, we’re also expected to write more, now that I think of it), and God knows not more reporting (“reporting” might require plane tickets or recording equipment, and those, God knows, cost money), but more of all the work surrounding the final product.

In the course of slashing budgets and caring more for corporate bottom lines than for content produced and/or what the advent of the Internet might mean for same, news and opinion outlets have hacked away at their editorial and graphics departments, their marketing and their fact-checking — virtually everything and anything that supports a writer/reporter in his or her work and produces a highly-polished and attractive final product.

Writers have always had to market ourselves, of course, particularly when starting out, but nothing like today, when it’s often considered part and parcel of the gig to not only produce copy, but also to blog about producing copy, tweet/FB/tumbl about the copy you produced, and engage with commenters over their opinions of the copy you produced, all while working on your next piece.

Writers have also always been asked to turn in clean copy — the cleaner, the better — but we used to write safe in the knowledge that copy editors would catch the typos, and editors would catch the sentences that went nowhere. These days, far too many Serious Outlets are content to let writers fend for themselves, typos and unintelligible run-on sentences be damned.

Writers have also always been expected to actually do their work and be as rigorously truthful as humanly possible — but again, no one is perfect, and some writers are lying assclowns. So, you know: Fact-checking, the process by which a Serious Outlet would make at least a minimal effort to determine that the writer had not Gotten It All Wrong was a pretty important task. In the current environment, far too many Serious Outlets expect writers to fact-check on their own (and, one presumes, to give the managing editor a head’s up if they’re going to lie).

Finally, in addition to reporting, writing, promoting ourselves day-in/day-out, and typing and fact-checking without a net, there are also a long list of outlets (less Serious than some, but still Kinda Serious) that expect their writers to find illustration for their work, as well. AND MAKE SURE IT ISN’T COPYRIGHTED.

And, of course, the many, many of us who aren’t on staff are also doing all of our own bookkeeping and if we are lucky enough to be paid? It’s on us to remind the Serious Outlet to fork over our dough. Often over and over and over again. Because accounting departments were slashed, too.

All of these things take a tremendous amount of time and energy, and sometimes financial resources. All of it comes from my bottom line.

And all of it is part and parcel of the modern day write-for-free model everywhere present in the publishing world.

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5 Comments

  1. Tenar Darell

     /  March 12, 2013

    There was on other thing that I thought was interesting about that whole discussion. No one really focused on the fact that publishing anything has never really had high profit margins. The consolidation that supposedly was going to create economies of scale, eroded the qualitative benefits that people gained from being publishers, and the quantitative gains never materialized because the business changed so much.

    (I wish I could have come up with that yesterday).

  2. CitizenE

     /  March 13, 2013

    Hero of the Internets, Emily L. Houser.

  3. wearyvoter

     /  March 13, 2013

    Copy editors are not happy about these developments, either. Publishers across the board think of them as meatspace versions of the spelling/grammar checkers in the damn word processing software. A good copy editor is so much more than that.

    • As a full time freelance writer I can say with confidence that the death of the copy editor is biggest challenge many of us face and one of the biggest impediments to quality writing .. I’ll be blogging about this soon, including a compilation of copy editing mistakes (grammar, spelling, you name it ) that I find in the MSM here, at http://www.thehamsterwheel.org

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