What I’m listening to: One Time Thing by The Airborne Toxic Event
Sometimes these posts write themselves.
That’s how I felt when writer Mika Doyle shared the news with me that LA Weekly terminated their editors (all but one staff writer) and turned to unpaid contributors to provide the publication’s content.
Thankfully, they didn’t escape the backlash. Advertisers are holding back advertising as it’s revealed that the buyers’ own financial backers are known to have funded a number of Republican political campaigns. Journalists and the freelance community are also outraged.
And yet they aren’t the only organization to think that free writing is a sound business model.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Free writing sounds like a great idea if you have writers who are desperate enough to want the byline. Yet what kind of writing are you getting? Who’s vetting sources? Who’s fact-checking? Who’s making sure articles are factual and not just supposition?
That one staff writer?
As most of us know, LA Weekly is not the first news outlet to go for the freebie. It all started with Huffington Post, where too many writers were far too eager to write for a byline while making Arianna Huffington ridiculously wealthy (her estimated net worth is $35 million). She got the revenue, the writers got zip. Even the byline was kind of worthless, wasn’t it?
A short list of publications that don’t pay their writers:
- Huffington Post
- LA Weekly
- Atlantic.com (at this writing, they do still pay for print articles)
These aren’t small potatoes, like Grass Cutting Monthly or Upholstery Times. These are Big Names.
Most of you know this already, but for those who don’t…
Freelancers who write for free are wasting their time and advancing the cause of a lousy client.
But what about the Big Name? Won’t that help my portfolio shine?
No. It won’t. Editors who would hire you might not because they know who pays and who doesn’t. The stain of the non-paying work will stick to you like varnish.
But I’m a good writer! you say. Doesn’t matter. Editors aren’t inclined to respect a writer who doesn’t respect the job enough to get money for it. There’s something about you accepting substandard conditions that suggests it’s the only work you can get. It also suggests you may not be up for a real job.
Instead of raising doubts, how about raising your own expectations? Try a job like this:
As of 2015, we are now assigning web-only content to freelancers. We’ve got a theme every month for this online exclusive stuff (see below), and a few general categories of content we’re looking for:
- Best Lists (think BuzzFeed; example: 11 Things Every Hiker Should Know About Fitness)
- Videos (probably least likely to pay freelancers here, but just so you know)
- Slideshows (make sure you have a plan for photos we have rights to! examples: 8 fantastic foods for backpackers; the 10 most useful backpacking knots)
- Ask an Expert (example: How do I train for a thru-hike?)
- Whatever else you can think of; it’s the internet, and it’s infinite!
Our main goals here are to create awesome content our readers will love, and drive traffic to the site (so viral = great).
All BACKPACKER assignments are made in writing, and require a signed contract with you, the freelance author, in order to be valid. The contract will specify payment amount, payment terms, and rights purchased. In general, we pay on acceptance and buy all rights. We pay $.40 to more than $1.00 per word, depending upon the complexity and demands of the article, as well as the proven experience of the writer.
Writers, what are some of the worst freelance gigs you’ve seen lately?