Out of the blue, a producer at a major international media company asked me if I’d be interested in writing an article for their website. He described the assignment in detail: the subject, the tone, specifics about the kind of content, the length… He stated that the deadline would be “about a week.” He said he thought I’d be “perfect” for the project. I was flattered and interested. It sounded fun.
This was not blogging. It was journalism.
Then, at the bottom of his e-mail came the kicker: “Unfortunately we do not have a budget for the project at this time so I doubt we will be able to pay you.” But, he added, they get a billion hits a month and could link to one of my sites if I wanted…
That torqued me off. I went looking for info on that company’s profits for 2011 (turned out to be 7B+ in one quarter alone). And I started writing a response. And then I sent it. OK, so it wasn’t terribly professional. In fact, it was not at all professional. It was also very unladylike. The first paragraph contained rather indelicate references to group sex and prostitution.
I guess I went a little over the top because, despite the fact that I sometimes choose to write for free, I’m a professional writer and writing is skilled work that should be paid for.
In the next paragraph, after my outburst, I (level-headedly) explained why I thought I’d be the right person for the job and said if they could find a budget, we could talk.
On the bright side, this episode gave me a good reason to translate and recreate the table below, which I included in my response. I initially saw it in a French article, Faut-il payer les blogueurs ? Du “Huffington Post” au “Plus” (Should bloggers be paid?), by Aude Baron, Editor-in-Chief of Le Plus, the blogging platform of Le Nouvel Observateur, a highly respected left-leaning French magazine.
I (calmly and rationally) told the producer that the table illustrated the best formula I’d seen yet for when bloggers should and shouldn’t be paid. I pointed out that, from what he described, it looked like this was a four-X situation. I then added that for HuffPo, I have one X.
OK, so the lady didn’t say “you’re being screwed.” She said, “you’ve been had.” Maybe I overtranslated a little. Or I localized it. For my reality. Regional differences, you know… (And that’s not how I translated it in the version I sent to the producer. I had calmed down by then.)
I guess this incident pushed me over the edge. Or else the producer just got in the path of some hormonal fluctuation shrapnel. Poor guy.
But guess what… They ended up paying me.
I do write for free for some sites, big and small, and for others I get paid, despite having only one or two Xs. The “exposure” I’ve had from writing for big sites has, in fact, helped me in different ways. Plus I enjoy the freedom of writing only about things that interest me, only when I can or want to. It is definitely a quality-of-life issue. Would I want to be a journalist? Not really. Too stressful. And I doubt the pay compensates for the pain. Would I want to be assigned to write about a sanitation scandal at a chicken farm? Hell no. I’d rather write about things that inspire me.
Here’s a list of previous frogblog posts on the issue of blogging for free, in the order in which I wrote them: