Angst at the Atlantic

I have done several gigs over the years with nothing but “exposure” as the reward.
I’m fine with that on fiction, sometimes. There are lots of small-press and tiny website magazines out there, and if I can’t find someone who pays to publish a story, I’ll go with one of them. If I were playing at a higher level of the game, I’d be a lot pickier but I’m not there yet.
I’ve also done it with my And columns. They’re Google-ad revenue based, so I knew going in the money might not be huge. And I’m okay with that because I like writing about politics—hell, I feel obligated to use my great powers (so to speak) for good. I’ve written columns on staff, letters to the editor, blog posts and the vast majority weren’t paid (though And is working on monetizing the columns, and I’ll be delighted if they do).
I’ve also done a couple of voice-over gigs, many years ago, for local businesses back in Florida. These were commercial ads for a for-profit business, but they explained they simply couldn’t afford to pay me even though they were making money off me. But hey, down the road, this might lead to more jobs where I got paid! Surprise, no such jobs ever materialized, but I’m sure getting free voice-over talent worked out great for those companies.
And this, in turn leads us to the current flap at the Atlantic (links courtesy of Mari Ness). Nate Thayer, a professional journalist and freelancer of 25 years experience, got a request from the magazine to adapt a story he’d written on North Korea for them. He said he could do it, but wanted to know the fee. The answer: Nothing! Except, of course, exposure!
Thayer understandably did not think this a fit wage from a for-profit company for his efforts, and recounted the email interchange at the link.
Senior editor Alexis Madrigal then posted his response, which was that he really, really, really, really, really hates telling a pro that he can only work for the magazine for free. Sure, they’re a for-profit company, but that doesn’t mean they have money to spare—”The money gets sucked upwards and the work gets pushed down,” like so many other companies. And that being said, “I’m not willing to take a hardline and prevent someone who I think is great from publishing with us without pay.” After all, there are new journalists and writers desperate for yes, exposure, or who want the Atlantic’s platform to promote a related book or some other reason why it’s a great deal.
Practically speaking, if the Atlantic has enough of those people to fill the pages, I don’t blame them for not paying anyone (even given it’s cheap and cheesy). But if that were the case, why are they asking an established professional to contribute material for free so that the owners can suck the money upwards?
Not that they’re unique: Huffington Post had a policy of not paying its bloggers (I don’t know if that’s still the case). And the problem extends well beyond creative fields—LGM has multiple posts on internships transitioning from a form of training to a tool for corporations to cut costs by using unpaid labor (the supposed benefits—networking, training, eventual employment—often don’t materialize).
This reminds me of something I read after Hostess went belly-up: If a company refuses to pay enough to attract the workers it needs, the problem isn’t that the workers won’t accept “competitive” wages, it’s that the company won’t offer any.
I can understand the Atlantic‘s owners want to keep the money sucking upward, but nobody else is required to donate time and talent to fill up their bank accounts.

3 Comments

Filed under economics, Personal, Writing

3 responses to “Angst at the Atlantic

  1. Pingback: I’m not actually whittling down my long list of bookmarks this week— | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: I think I should have phrased this more strongly | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Some more richsplaining | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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