I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
I have never had the luxury of being able to work for free. (Working for family is a different story, and it can be argued here that I was helping to pay my own expenses, finally.) In college, even as people warned me that I’d have to take unpaid internships to break into journalism, this was not an option. Instead of the more prestigious unpaid internships (that would have also required me to move away from home, effectively requiring me to actually pay to work at these more prestigious internships), I felt as if I were clawing my way up with minimum wage, part-time freelance reporter jobs/internships at weeklies owned by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Orange County Register and working holiday overnight shifts at a local news wire called City News Service, all while doing part-time jobs at Coffee Bean, an art gallery and, of course, working with my mom (who was at this point at least giving me gas money).
There has been a lot of discussion this past week about writing for free after journalist Nate Thayer posted his email exchange with an editor from The Atlantic, who requested he condense a gigantic piece on North Korean basketball diplomacy to 1,200 words for free. Ann Friedman, on the Columbia Journalism Review, says she occasionally will write for free, for a few reasons, like raising her profile and establishing herself as an expert. (Although, reading through her piece, she doesn’t really work for free — she has accepted very low rates, but I didn’t see much about actually writing for free.) In The Atlantic — heheh — Stephanie Lucianovic writes that she writes for free, but not perpetually. And in reading her piece, the work she says is free appears to be more like marketing and promotion for her book, which, in my opinion, doesn’t count.
It so happens that last week, I participated in a MuckRack Twitter conversation about writing for free.
— Sara Morrison (@SaraMorrison) February 27, 2013
I don’t care what you do or what the glass ceiling is. If you’re good at your craft, you deserve to be paid well for it. Period.#muckedup
— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu) March 6, 2013
These are two of the tweets I liked most out of that conversation.
I am now in an unusual position — for me, anyway — on this issue. In November, I became the interim features editor at cbsla.com, and over the past two months, I’ve been recruiting writers. CBSLA does pay — its a small amount per article, but we’re not asking anyone to write for free, and whether or not we pay is the first thing I’m asked when I discuss freelance work with a new writer. (Coincidentally, if you’re interested in being a CBSLA writer, contact me via Twitter or LinkedIn, not this blog.) Its understandable — I don’t want to write for free, so I wouldn’t ask anyone else to. It’s shocking to me the number of people willing to write for free, just to get into, say, The Huffington Post. Maybe there’s value to you, but not to me or my kids, who still need to be fed and clothed even if I get exposure with 30,000 readers.
All this said, I have a good chunk of writing online that I’ve never been paid for. Does online advertising count? I don’t make much off darleeneisms, and this is my oldest site with entries that go back to 2003. And if I were to put all my archives on this blog, it’d go back to 1998. I have made a healthy chunk of change off Wedding Decorator, but its not enough to pay the rent, especially now as I struggle to adapt my site in the wake of Panda and Penguin algorithm changes from Google — thanks for that, by the way. I don’t consider blogging to be “writing for free.”
I’ve been blogging since 1998, generally in obscurity and for little compensation. But that’s OK, because all this content has value to me.
That’s all I’m saying. Make sure your content, your work, your writing has value. If you are writing it for yourself, then it has value. But if someone else wants to publish it on their site or in their newspaper or magazine — then you make them pay for it, because it apparently has value to them, too. Maybe they’re not offering much for it — I’ve seen freelance rates as low as $15 per piece, which is simply awful to me. But at least that’s some value, and you’re not giving it away for free.
*This Poynter Institute piece weighing in on the issue reminded me of the conversation I had with a friend who has been a freelancer and says I can feel this way because of the security I have with my staff CBS job. I pointed out, it doesn’t matter what work it is — writing, editing, wedding decorations, flowers, website production, graphic design (all the work I have personal insight into) — people are always going to try to get you to work for free. It’s really your job not to let them get your work for free.
I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve managed to last 10 years in news.
Check it out. That story in the left hand bottom corner? That’s the first story I remember writing for the Glendale News-Press. Of course, it turns out that a friend found an earlier byline that published on Feb. 20, 2003, about how Head Start was going to take a hit, but I honestly don’t remember writing that story. (I also tried to use my middle name in my first byline, but with the sheer number of stories I pushed out during my tenure at the GNP, that fell by the wayside fast.) I suppose this was the first of many front page GNP stories.
In the grand scheme of things, front page of the Glendale News-Press doesn’t mean much — it’s a small community newspaper folded into the LA Times, only available in Glendale, after all. But to a fresh journalism graduate who had spent the previous four months taking every job possible to keep writing news, along with paying my car payments and cell phone bill with part-time jobs at Coffee Bean and an art gallery, where my sister worked, as their webmaster — it was a big freakin deal.
Being sent to cover a big trial on my second day at work was terrifying. I remember my editor, Amber Willard, instructing me on where to park (at the LA Times parking garage, where my security badge worked). I remember coming back to the newsroom, not having a clue how to write this story. But somehow, probably by the grace of God and Amber’s guidance, the story got onto the screen and into the system and into the paper. Amazing.
Journalism doesn’t teach you how to make contacts and develop sources at a department you’re also covering as the subject of a sexual harassment trial. But somehow, it worked out, and I was on the police, fire and courts beat for a good year. I don’t even know how I accomplished that, but I can sympathize with people who get burned out by the beat. I don’t know how Edna Buchanan managed to do it for 18 years. But I’m glad I did it, and that I’ll never have to wonder whether I would be able to or not.
Before being hired at the GNP to work the police beat, I’d been working holiday, overnight hours at City News Service. I just want to include an excerpt from my archives about that time. This was written on Jan. 27, 2003:
My schedule last week:
Monday: I go into the gallery for the majority of the day (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) Then I work at City News from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. till Tuesday.
Tuesday: I get home from City News by 7. Sleep till about noon, go to Coffee Bean at 5 p.m., close the store.
Wednesday: I have an interview with the Glendale News-Press (everyone cross your fingers and toes and pray for me). Then I have lunch with (Trinity). It was a good day. Before going into City News, my sister tells me the gallery needs me to come in tomorrow. I say, fine, but at least let me sleep till noon. Go into City News at 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. Thursday.
Thursday: Get home at 7 a.m. on Friday, sleep till noon and then go into the gallery. Go back to sleep after the gallery, but not very well. Go into work at City News again at 10 p.m.
Friday: Get home at 7 a.m., but the gallery needs me to come in, and I want to sleep in the afternoon so I can at least have dinner with the (Trinity). I sleep for an hour and a half, go in, go home, go to sleep. Get a phone call from my editor who says the weekend overnight guy is sick, can I fill in? *sigh* I say yes. Get dinner with (Trinity) and go to work at City news again at 10 p.m.
Saturday: I thought this day would be my day off. Veg around most of Saturday after waking up at noon (I think). Have dinner with (Trinity) again. Go in at 10 p.m.
Sunday: I wake up at 2 p.m. and have to be at Coffee Bean to close by 3:30. It was actually supposed to be 3:15.
Monday: I’m in the gallery now, have to work at Coffee Bean at noon till 4 or 5 p.m. Will have to go into City News tonight. But tomorrow, after waking up, is my day off – sort of. It’s my day to get my car straightened out. Hopefully.
I look back and read this and I can only smile and shake my head. I’m glad I’m not here anymore, but man, those were the days.
Last week, I was lucky enough to be selected to participate in a McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute at Cal State Fullerton. The topic on hand was “Covering Social Protest Movements in an Age of Social Media.” It was an interesting seminar, bringing together content creators of all types — newspaper reporters, both local and non-local, social media managers, photographers, web producers like myself — to discuss journalism, protest movements and social media.
This is silly. You’d think I’d have something prepared for whenever I need a bio, but I swear, I do not. I mean, I have different “me summaries” on every site. In a way, you kind of format your bio for the occasion, right? So, for example, for the journalism conference I was a part of last weekend, I had no idea what to write. And in fact, I wanted to crowdsource the bad boy. Here’s what some friends on Facebook came up with: