Do young writers care if they get paid?
Sarah Millar responds to Russell Smith's recent Globe and Mail piece, where he laments that young writers, unlike older writers, don’t seem to care if they get paid for their work. This post originally appeared on her blog, Through the Looking Glass.
Sarah Millar responds to Russell Smith's Globe and Mail piece, where he laments that young writers, unlike senior writers, don’t care if they get paid for their work. This post originally appeared on her blog, Through the Looking Glass.
"Why don’t creative young writers care if they get paid?"
That’s the headline on a column by Russell Smith in The Globe and Mail, where he laments that young writers, like me, don’t care if they get paid for their work, unlike old writers, like him.
The column stems from a “recurring argument” he has with young writers about why they choose to write for publications, such as The Huffington Post, where they are not paid for their work. They claim they do it to further their brand, while Smith’s generation (the older generation), would never imagine writing something for free — let alone to something like HuffPo that can afford to pay its writers.
"There now exists an entire generation of intelligent people who have grown up without any expectation of compensation for imaginative work."
As a young writer, I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Nor do I believe that I contently give away my creative work for free without getting anything back out of it.
As someone under the age of 30, I can only assume I am the demographic Smith is speaking about. I wish he were as right about me as he thinks he is.
I began writing for newspapers at 17, and I was paid for every word I wrote. Sometimes I was paid too little for the amount of work I put into a story, other times too much, but I was paid.
When I moved to a small town, the weekly papers there were happy to have me contribute, but I didn’t get paid from them until I began working as a staff reporter at one of them. Weekly papers don’t have the budget for freelance. (Or at least not the ones in my small town.) Nor should they. After all, being a community paper means the community contributes. Paying every citizen who contributed to a small town weekly paper would bankrupt it pretty fast, I would guess.
When I moved to Toronto, I knew I’d have to take some lumps to make it. I worked for free at a website here and there, volunteered for my school paper for two out of three years, and wrote stories and blog posts when I worked at a national paper that I considered, for the most part, part of my job as a sports copy editor.
Did I make a willing decision not to get paid for my work? I wouldn’t say that. But I do have this blog. And no one, not even Google Ad Sense, is paying for me to write this blog post.
Perhaps then Smith is right. I’m just too willing to give away my creative content, but then I look at what I got out of all that giving away and suddenly things aren’t as black and white.[node:ad]
I got exposure. I got experience. I got to interview celebrities and cover stories and beats I love. I got to find my voice.
And yes, Smith addresses all this:
"Somehow, they know, money will come in from another source. They can get famous fast this way, and it’s gratifying to have a huge audience."
That’s right, I do what I do to get famous. And I’m pretty famous, in case you couldn’t tell. (I mean, more than 1,000 people follow me on Twitter.)
Smith explains in his day, reporters worked their way up:
"We old farts did that tiring reporting/interviewing stuff for years before we were allowed to write our opinions on things."
Well, people still work their way up, for the most part. The whole getting-famous-for-a-blog-or-something-else-you-did-for-free is prettty rare.
Another difference between the two generations?
"I still don’t even aspire to this ideal of not being edited; not being edited doesn’t seem like a benefit to me. I still have a deep-rooted (and unjustified) instinct telling me that something published has value only if it has been commissioned by someone else."
I prefer being edited. I know this blog is not perfect because I wrote it and no one proofed it. I’m not an expert writer on my own, I know that (and so do my editors). Does something published only have value if commissioned by someone else? I say no. There’s lots of great ideas out there, and some of them come from reporters themselves.
Should the Huffington Post pay? Maybe, but if you’re happy getting the kind of exposure you would get writing for a site like that, then there’s no need to complain.
Now, if you’d excuse me, I’ve got to get back to some writing I’m getting paid for.
Sarah Millar is the social media editor at the Toronto Star. You can follow her on Twitter @sarah_millar