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To pay or not to pay?

Should journalists always get paid for the work they produce? It’s a question that I’m not sure has a definite answer, but the more I have thought about it the closer to an answer for myself I have come. I used to think if anyone would publish me, I would take it. I get my name out there, I get a byline. What isn’t there to like? I need clips to get a job, right? But are the clips more important than my integrity or my time and effort that went into that piece?

At a conference last spring, one of the presenters made a comment that resonated with me. He said something along the lines of “If you do work for free, you are just hurting in the industry as a whole.” He went on to explain that if more and more journalists accept doing work for free it will become more common and it will be more difficult for freelancers to get paid fair compensation or get paid at all. I had never looked at it from that perspective, but it made sense. If I am going to write a story for free to get the experience, why would a publication pick someone else to write the same story, but he or she expects to get paid? This comment made me reconsider the value that I hold in my work and what I should expect of myself.

This doesn’t mean that I would never write for free or I think every time someone publishes something he or she should be compensated, but there are only certain circumstances where journalists shouldn’t be paid for their work. Therefore, I think some of the backlash Arianna Huffington received when she sold The Huffington Post to AOL was warranted. She made a pretty penny off of the work that her unpaid bloggers were producing. Granted, I can only assume these bloggers were knowingly producing content they knew they would not be paid for, but I don’t think that is the best journalistic model. Also, when those bloggers signed up to write for free, they couldn’t have known the value The Huffington Post would rise to when it was sold.

Those bloggers created the success The Huffington Post reached, but did they reap the benefits that Huffinton reached? Monetarily, no way. Now maybe some of those bloggers went on to get paid jobs based off of their work or their unpaid work was just a side job to their paid job, but that couldn’t have been the case for anyone.

While The Huffington Post can be deemed a successful model, is it a model that the journalism industry should want to replicate if it means allowing journalists to do a job they should get paid for, for free?

I would love to work for a successful publication, but that doesn’t mean I would want to change my values or beliefs just to get a byline.

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Bearing Witness to News

In Arianna Huffington’s blog post, “Bearing Witness 2.0: You Can’t Spin 10,000 Tweets and Camera Phone Uploads,” she addressed the issue of whether eyewitness reporting is always the best method for reporting the most accurate story. In theory, it would make sense that being on the ground witnessing the event would allow for the most accurate portrayal of events, but Huffington does not think that always produces the best story. This may have been the case before “new media,” like Facebook and Twitter, but we have emerged into a time where different resources need to be utilized to see the full picture and have a deeper understanding of the story.

When the Chinese government is personally walking journalists through an event giving them an eye witness account, how can it be argued that their story is more accurate than journalists using the stories people were telling who were involved with the event and had their accounts removed from the Internet by the Chinese government? The government has complete power in revealing what the journalists see and know, and the journalists can see and believe what they want instead of understanding the fuller picture. Journalists should consider all means of retrieving information to more accurately understand an event or story. It is more difficult to deny actual pictures on Twitter and videos on Youtube than an official statement from the government.

It is crucial that journalists understand that media is changing and the methods of obtaining a story are changing. Independent bloggers and journalists were quick to adopt using social media and “non-eyewitness” means of reporting to get their stories to their readers. It is possible to accurately cover a story and still get the atmosphere of the event without actually being on the ground covering it. There are people willing to share their experiences and their information and journalists should be looking to these people in their reporting.

As the Internet has proven time and time again, not everything on the Internet is true, so journalists still have the responsibility of fact checking their information and doing their best to use reliable information.  The potential that something may be wrong or need to be checked shouldn’t prohibit journalists from seeking new media as a way from telling a story. Talking to a police officer at an event could be just as misleading as someone’s tweet. Regardless of the source there always needs to be some skepticism.

One of Huffington’s final points that truly rings true is new media has given a whole new group of journalists the potential to report on different events because they no longer have to be at the event to cover it. This removes the cost and travel barrier that before only elite or mainstream journalists could overcome. New media has opened up the journalistic world for independent journalists to just as actively participate as mainstream and salaried journalists.

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