Monday, October 28, 2013

The end of a career in journalism

Shortly after I wrote a jersey/slant column last July titled, "Nascar, Kyle Petty and the future of sports coverage," I received an email from an editor of a major metropolitan newspaper's editorial board. He wanted permission to reprint the column for the op-ed page. I responded, in part, with a request for information on the newspaper's compensation rate.

He quickly wrote back that they had chosen a different column instead. I've always wondered if it was because I dared to ask for money.

Not that I would be shocked if that was the reason. I've been asked too many times in my career to provide my work or expertise for free. And I'm hardly alone. Here's Tim Kreider's piece in The New York Times about the absurdity of this surprisingly commonplace practice. It's called "Slaves of the Internet, Unite!"

It would almost be funny if the truth wasn't killing my career.

Not long before the newspaper came calling, a motorsports website had made a similar request. An editor contacted me to ask if I would write regular columns. Pay? Nada. Would he at least consider just running a portion of a column and then linking to my blog so that I would get some hits as well and generate income from my ads? Sorry, no.

I gave them one column that I had already published just to see what would happen. It received more hits than any other Nascar story posted at the time. A lot more. I thought that would make an impression. Silly me.

The editor tried to convince me that being published by his site would help my exposure. Folks in Nascar would get to know my name. How nice. I said I didn't really need the added exposure because I already write for the Times (which does pay, thankfully). I needed to be paid for my efforts.

I never heard back from him again.

But hey, I've been stiffed by better than that over the years. A leader in sports that shall remain nameless once asked me to spend some time tracking a tennis match because there was the possibility of an upset. When it didn't play out and the site opted against a story, the editor refused to pay me for my time, which included research, writing in advance, the start of a running story and match notes. Why? I was told there was no money in the budget. This is a media company worth billions.

In the meantime, the same company asked more than once for me to appear on one of its cable news shows to provide my expertise on a subject. When I asked for compensation, I was told they didn't pay for appearances. I was expected to offer my time for free -- for the exposure.

That was a few years ago. The business of sports journalism has only gotten worse since then. Now there are content farms that pay pennies per article. You think that's a metaphor? It's reality. And too many people are willing to take nothing just to be published, which is why there is no incentive for media outlets to offer anything more.

It's the reason my career as a freelance journalist is going to end -- sooner rather than later, I suspect.


  1. So they won't pay...I understand, as a payee, why you'd be upset, but try looking at it from their POV. The simple fact of the matter is that your content isn't worth anything to them. They can get it for free from someone else. The public at large gets sports stories, the publisher gets content, and you're the odd man out. No one loses but you. Sure, it stinks when technology/culture rubs our job out, but don't pretend as though your NASCAR coverage was anything more special than the free stuff. If it had been, you'd be getting paid.

    1. The content had value to them William or they wouldn't have come looking for it. The fact that they can get it for free doesn't mean it doesn't have value.

      Value is driven by the content originators not the content buyers. When journalist and photojournalists place no value on their work that's what they get, nothing. Unfortunately technology has made it so easy to generate content that people who don't understand their work has value have flooded the marketplace making it almost impossible for the professional to compete in what's become an "its good enough" world.

  2. The issues are not quite that simple -- if my work really had no value, why would the Times pay for it? -- but hey, it does make for an easy cheap shot.

  3. I'm always amazed by the contempt some people have for professional journalists.

    Here's hoping you'll be able to keep making a go of it.

  4. I can top that, sadly. I did a story for a Big Women's Magazine a few months ago and when I called the editor to check on the status of my payment, she sighed, irritably: "Well, if you really need the money."

    I guess all my NYT bylines mark me as some sort of prolific....hobbyist?

  5. Apparently, that's what we all are, Caitlin.

  6. It's also the time these companies take to pay. Twice this year I have waited five months to be paid. At one stage I had 9k outstanding and a few dollars in my account. Something has got to be done, these people are killing the industry.

  7. As a friend of mine once noted about the state of affairs in the media industry: "At least the Titanic had music.."