A few weeks ago, I had lunch with an old high school friend. We met because she wanted to break into the world of freelance writing and needed some advice for getting started. Not that I’m the expert on such things, but I’m always up for helping out a fellow struggling writer.
I asked her if she had any clips and she said she had been writing for a certain Chicago newspaper, landing three front page stories.
“That’s fantastic,” I remarked, thinking that I have yet to have one of my stories on the front page of anything.
“Yeah, I guess. But I didn’t get paid for any of them.”
I was shocked when I heard this, knowing that it was sometimes necessary to write for free in the interest of gaining clips, but never 2,000 word feature stories. She then continued to tell me how she reviewed a few books for them as well, but they wouldn’t let her keep the books. Isn’t that the deal when you write book reviews? That you get a contributor’s copy and a free book?
It amazes me how many writers are writing for free and how many editors not only refuse to pay their writers, but act like they’re doing them a favor by publishing them. Not that we’re doing this for the money (and if you are, you are in the wrong profession), but we should be compensated in some form for our time and effort.
I told her all of this and she agreed that she was fed up with working for free, so she asked her editor if it was possible to be compensated for future articles.
He looked at her as if she was nuts, saying that she was hired as an intern and that after a year they could discuss some form of compensation.
Say she was assigned an article a week, putting about eight hours of work into each article. That is approximately 416 hours of free labor.
Editors and writers, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is it unreasonable to expect compensation for work when we’re just starting out or should magazines and newspapers pay their employees, no matter what level they are at? Should we be writing simply for the love of the game or are we suckers for working without pay?