Monday, February 08, 2010

Why it’s perfectly OK to blog for free

In response to my recent posts saying journalists should insist on being paid properly for their work, several people have asked how I justify blogging for free. Good question. Easy answer:

Blogging for fun and profit – or, ideally, for both – is a victimless pursuit. But it is unethical to abet the exploitation of fellow journalists by working for publishers who pay nothing or something awfully close to it. Allow me to elaborate.

Writing a personal blog, though demanding if you take it seriously, is fun. It is a socially acceptable way to get things off your chest and cheaper than going to a shrink.

Blogging also can be profitable, if the blogger gets hired to teach, consult, speak, write articles or author a book. In the interests of full disclosure, I have done everything but publish a book. However, I am working on a book now and would be happy to hear from any potential publisher.

The point of blogging is that it is something you do for personal satisfaction and/or personal gain. In other words, it’s a lot like building birdhouses or baking cheesecakes.

If you build birdhouses, you can give one to a friend or try to sell some at a craft store (note the $75 price tag on the example above). But no one would hand a bunch of birdhouses to the local Home Depot so it could sell them and keep all the money. You might take a cheesecake to your church bake sale, but you wouldn’t wheel a rack of them into the Safeway and tell the manager to sell them and pocket the profits.

If a clear-thinking journalist would not donate birdhouses to Home Depot or cheesecakes to Safeway, why would she give her professional services for a pittance – or, worse, nothing – to an organization that was taking advantage of her to make money?

Some helpless-sounding people feel they have to give away their work to gain the “exposure” they hope will earn them paying gigs. I say that’s unethical, because it takes work away from journalists who not only want to get paid but – damn it – need to get paid. It’s just that simple.

14 Comments:

Blogger Scott Ruecker said...

I agree, I also think that blogging can be good practice for writers who need to keep there fingers to the keyboard in order to stay warm. Great chart on the pay scale by the way, thank you. I created a Google doc spreadsheet that based on yours.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Don Marti said...

Doc Searls told me that a lot of his blogging is "answering email in public." Instead of typing a long answer to a question into email, if it's not personal he'll just put the answer on his blog. Why not, if you're answering the email anyway?

9:32 AM  
Blogger turkeymonkey said...

I think we need to have a moratorium on the use of "blogging" as a synonym for what is essentially journal writing.

The problem is that you confuse the content with the publishing format. Huffington post is a blog. TechCrunch is a blog. Anywhere from 10 to 30% of most newspaper sites are blogs. Just because content on these sites is being published with blogs doesn't make them any less newsworthy or professional.

Rather than talking about blogging for free and blogging as a form of therapy, let's instead just call it what it really is: journaling.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read blogs and I don't read newspapers any more. Blogs are better, in my experience.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Walter Abbott said...

I have a weblog and do news reporting. And I do it for free. I go to my local City Council, School Board and Police Jury (County Commission) meetings.

In six months, I have uncovered and reported more about an ongoing economic development hoax than all the rest of the Louisiana news media put together.


I will put my reporting expertise up against any journalist in Louisiana. Any of them.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Californiality said...

If anyone is seasoned and qualified enough to write this post, it is you! This is the post which compels me to put your fascinating blog in my sidebar today.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Wood said...

Or, you're helping to put Editor and Publisher out of business.

Blogging, publishing or building community web sites - it's a free country (still!) and a semi-free marketplace. If you're blogging or writing for free and getting the value you want out of it then no one should be telling you to stop (not even you).

Your post would be more effective by selling the value to editors and publishers of having an experienced writer verses one that is not so experienced.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Stan Spire said...

There's one point about blogging that should be mentioned: the blogger retains the rights to his material with services like Blogspot.

One time I checked out a newspaper web site to find out what its policy was in regards to submissions and copyright. I dug a bit and finally found a statement about submissions buried within the site. The corporation that owned the paper was claiming all rights to everything from letters to the editor to articles to photos. Free content, indeed.

At least a blogger can collect or rewrite his posts to publish a book or create other works. The potential for profit remains his.

Remember the outcry when it looked like Facebook was trying to do a copyright grab on any submitted original material?

10:07 PM  
Blogger dsearls said...

I now write without pay for publications that used to pay me. Is this wrong? Does this take bread from the families of other journalists? No, because it keeps those journals alive.

I have never been paid to blog, yet my blogs are journals that have led to much paying work, including book writing. I make more now than I did in the old days when the total paid to journalists was far higher. That's largely because I write blogs for no money. I make money because of them, not with them. None of this work has taken bread from the mouths of other journalists. All of this work appreciates the nature of a new world of journalistic work that is far larger than the old one.

One still has to be good. One still need to create demand for what one does well. The demand is just spread out differently.

3:06 AM  
Blogger leroy said...

So it is okay to blog because blogging is not journalism? The thinking that new ways of communicating cannot possibly be journalism is what got journalism into trouble in the first place.

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writing for content mills is "unethical" because we take money from journalists who NEED to get paid?

I write for a content mill because I NEED the money. That pittance sometimes means the difference between getting to eat once a day and getting to eat three times. My husband and I both worked last year, and between the two of us, we brought home less than $18,000.

I'm not "stealing" income from "real" journalists, I am trying to survive any way I can, and I resent being told that staying alive and off the street is unethical.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous David Boraks said...

At DavidsonNews.net I started out 3 years ago the way Walter Abbott did: writing about the news in my North Carolina town for free. I don't think that should be the model. It's unsustainable, unless you're sitting on a trust fund. We all have bills to pay and some of us have families and spouses. And at times, you can feel taken advantage of.

I was willing to do that to jump start what I hoped would eventually be a business. It was an investment of my time. But anyone doing this needs to decide for himself or herself if the investment remains worthwhile. In my case, my volunteer labor was certainly equal to tens of thousands of dollars over three years.

I am thankful to now be getting a small paycheck, and employing one other full-timer and several part-timers. Still hoping for a real paycheck, though.

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem as I see it is there will always be someone who is a very good writer (like I believe Doc Searls who posted here) who will give away content to publications because s/he will make money other ways, or doesn't need the money. Finding less expensive labor has been a goal of companies for centuries. So has finding less expensive resources and locations, which is why North America became prosperous and Asia is the new boom area.
As a side point, can we all agree there are good and bad bloggers, good and bad journalists, good and bad publications, etc? Making generalizations that one group is better than another may be one reason why main stream media is having issues.

4:43 AM  
Blogger David H said...

If newspapers doesn't have money to pay journalists, then a journalist that is looking for work can't do much to negotiate that. However journalists can be looking for exposure, opportunity, etc. So instead of paying more, a newspaper could increase the exposure of a pro bono journalist by:
- giving a larger area of the article for a small bio + link to a personal blog.
- prioritize that journalist when in upcoming paid assignments
- accomodate him/her in other ways...

2:24 PM  

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