The clip above of sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison getting all worked up at the concept of a writer working free of charge — “By what right would you call me and ask me to work for nothing? Do you get a paycheck? Does your boss get a paycheck? Do you pay the teamsters?!” — remains one of our favorite examples of righteous rage on the Internet. While it’s understandable that there are less and less jobs available for college graduates to get their foot in the door with a job in journalism, the spike in the number of writers willing to work for absolutely nothing in the last two years is not only insulting, it’s dangerous.
To extend Ellison’s analogy: would you hire someone to rewire your apartment by offering them “opportunities for growth?” What about putting fillings in your cavities “for college credit?” While we sit back and complain about the current news cycle being full of tabloid gossip and snarky commenters, we forget how many of these writers on the Internet (and even as today’s Los Angeles Times suggests, in some remaining magazines and newspapers) are either not getting paid at all, or are extremely undervalued.
Even Gawker, a blog which (to give credit where credit is due) minces no words about how new, unpaid interns will be doing the jobs that the Gawker writers wouldn’t touch with a stick, is still asking for, well, free labor in exchange for the pleasure to “actually wither under Nick Denton’s venomous gaze,” among other things.
Freelancers are getting hit especially hard, with the inversely proportional rise of Craigslist writing “gigs” and the lack of monetary compensation to go around. The Columbia Journalism Review found this ad on Monday, offering $4 per 450 word article, or approximately $.00089 per word. And what’s sad is that is still more than The Huffington Post, one of the top news-making Web sites in the world, is offering to frequent contributors.
So while we go around at CES this week, wondering if Apple’s Tablet is going to save journalism, let’s stop and really consider what the Internet has really offered to our field lately, besides declining jobs and an overwhelming supply of disgruntled, laid-off writers forced to tell their stories for just the benefit of the byline.
Read More: $0.0089 a Word —Columbia Journalism Review