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Writing for Free?

Posted by Charles Gray on March 6, 2013

Nate Thayer has a rather unnerving story to tell about his experiences with the Atlantic.


Why should this be unnerving for writers?  Because Thayer is a published, professional writer– far better than I am, both in terms of his skills and his professional track record.  This is not a case of a magazine offering someone who has never been published before a shot in exchange for a deduction in what they would normally pay– and I would argue that even in that case, the individual should be paid something.

The problem is quite simple– A writer spends time and effort creating a readable and well researched piece.  That last may often take more time than actually writing the material, because a freelance news writer is only as good as his facts.   A magazine that says they’ll run his stuff, without paying him, often “for the exposure” is not demanding that he forgo his normal pay– they are actually demanding that the writer pay them for the privilege of printing his article.  The time and research is wasted time, and every hour spent doing that is an hour that is not contributing to the writer’s pocketbook.

This is of course, only part of a larger problem. Nearly every industry has horror stories of businesses that have “intern programs” where it is unlikely any participant will ever be employed after spending months or years providing free work for their “employer.”  The same goes for many websites that entice writers to perform free work in hopes of receiving money from ad revenue– which very often is a small or non-existent sum.

The Atlantic is not a small-print magazine.  If it desires quality journalism, it should pay for it. If not, then writers should decline to provide their work for free.  After all, if you want to do that, you can always blog.






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