Work: Should You Pay to Do It?


Oh good, the whole thing is settled:the Atlantic does not want to pay Nate Thayer to write, and turns out, Nate Thayer did not write anything in the first place, so all is well that ends well, right? No, not quite, this whole thing is not over yet, we are still discussing an important question:

Work: should people be paid for it, or should they be satisfied with "exposure" dollars?

A tough question indeed! Would it surprise you that some people are erring on the side of “exposure dollars” and some other people are wondering why Nate Thayer didn't want to pay the Atlantic? No, of course it wouldn’t, this is the new normal, so please let us explain at you again about why large corporations owned by millionaires should pay people for their work, and not vice versa.

Exposure Dollars or Actual Dollars: Which is Better?

No, seriously, this conversation is still happening. Except (and we really should have seen this coming!) there is a twist: Nate Thayer should have been glad to get Exposure Dollars instead of actual dollars, assuming, of course, he had written the article in the first place, which as it turns out he didn't, but that is beside the point.

Here, let Gregory Ferenstein of TechCrunch explain at you in a post titled "I'm Glad I Was an Unpaid Blogger":

Corporate health insurance and a moderate savings account are new additions to my life after spending five impoverished years as an underpaid freelance blogger, sleeping on the floor of my unfurnished Southern California apartments. While many critics deride the exploitation of new writers by financially beleaguered media outlets, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to trade a living wage in exchange for exposure.

Yes, except the Atlantic is NOT a "financially beleaguered media outlet." It closed out 2012 with "sizable revenue" and "record readership" and it gets 13 million readers per month.  In addition, it is owned by a millionaire, and Jeff Goldberg gets paid in ponies. So someone -- not freelancers, clearly, but someone (Jeff Goldberg?) is making money from the Atlantic’s website, which means by extension that it can afford to pay people for their work.

We are amazed (but of course unsurprised, really) that people who call themselves journalists cannot grasp this basic fact: someone is making money off the Atlantic's website. This someone is a millionaire who pays Jeff Goldberg in ponies. Probably he can afford to cough up a little more money for the freelance budget and pay people for their work.

Is $10 More Than $0?

Here is another amazing (and rather unsurprising) revelation: people who call themselves reporters are also confused by the fact that $10 is more than $0, and that the Atlantic is in a very different position than Wonkette. By “some people,” we mean this NPR reporter who asked our editrix if she could really take the moral high ground on this issue given that $10 per Wonkette post is not a lot of money.

An astute observation, NPR lady! No, $10 is not a lot of money! Is it more than $0, which is what the Atlantic wanted to pay Nate Thayer? Why yes, actually, we believe it is! If we do 20 posts a month for $10 each can we pay our utility and cel phone bills and a little bit of gas? Why yes, we can! If we do 20 posts a month for Exposure can we pay those bills? No, we can't! Is our editrix a millionaire and does she pay Dok Zoom in ponies? No, she is not, and no, she does not (we don’t think)! Does Wonkette get 13 million views per month and whore itself out to Scientologists? No, it does not, which puts it in a very different financial position from the Atlantic. So yes, actually, in conclusion, our editrix can take the moral high ground because she is not taking the fruits of our labor and using it to pay Jeff Goldberg or buy ponies.

This brings us to our next point, which is:

Work: Should I Pay to Do It?

A pressing question! Let us ask Gregory Ferenstein again!

But, here’s the secret I never told editors: I would have done it for free. Putting CNN, The Atlantic, and Fast Company on my resume gave me extraordinary access to the top rungs of the business and political world. I was addicted to meeting fascinating people and writing (hopefully) compelling stories. It eventually gave me the credentials to get my first paid gig back at Fast Company.

Even now that TechCrunch is a full-time-plus job, I still take time out of my scarce dating life to write. Last month, I published an op-ed for The Atlantic’s politics section...[and] it’s sparked an important discussion within the political science community about the relevancy of modern-day academic research.

I’m yet to get around to invoicing The Atlantic. And, let’s keep this our little secret, I probably would have paid them for the opportunity get my thoughts in a publication I know political scientists read.

If only we were so lucky and did not have to pay the bills ourselves, we would be sparking important discussions in publications that we know political scientists read! But we are not so lucky, we have to pay our own bills, even if it is $10 at a time, and cannot afford to work for free even if it means that we can't spark important discussions and network with important and fascinating people. But that's OK, times are hard all around, so let us not lose sight of what is important here, and that is the free flow of information:

I think few if any writers get into this job for the money; therefore, the money shouldn’t get in the way. Because, when times are tough (and they are very tough), the most important priority is the free flow of information.

And herein lies another problem with paying people in Exposure dollars: the information is only flowing freely from people who can afford to give it for free (to the extent that there is "information" in Gregory Ferenstein's article, which there isn't, FYI.)

The Exposure Dollars model also means that the only people who get to spark national conversations and enjoy "extraordinary access to the top rungs of the business and political world" are people who are a) willing to work for free in exchange for promoting an agenda or product (as Alexis C. Madrigal eventually noted when he got around to it), or b) spawned from or married to someone who can afford to pay their bills and subsidize all of this elbow-rubbing and  discussion-sparking or c) taking money from, say, the Malaysian government and failing to disclose it.

Keep in mind that right now, the conversation is limited to writers, but give it time and we'll be talking about other professions too! Because why not pay to work for a few months at a Big 10 law firm or an important advertising agency? Think of all the fascinating people you'll meet and all the important discussions you will spark!

[the Atlantic][Tech Crunch]

[Follow Kris E. Benson on Twitter at @Kris_E_Benson and you can follow Wonkette on Twitter at @Wonkette too!]


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