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.


Who is a journalist?

I don’t think it is truly possible to define who a journalist is. There is always going to be some situation that is an except or breaks the set standards, so why bothering defining what makes or doesn’t make a journalist; especially if it means excluding bloggers or nonsalaried reporters. The articles this week that talked about bloggers potentially being excluded from executive sessions in Oregon and a senator’s attempt to define real journalists were mind boggling are perfect examples of why people, especially government officials should not be trying to define what makes a journalist.

If a blogger is trying to cover government proceedings there is no reason he or she should not be considered a journalist. Even if a blogger isn’t trying to cover government proceedings, he or she should still be considered a journalist. There are varying degrees of what a journalist is and what he or she covers, and it doesn’t always fit into a perfect box of what a government would like to outline. Bloggers could be doing second had report, first hand reporting or media analysis; and all of these things classify them as journalists. If a blogger considers himself or herself a journalist and he or she can make a case, then there is no reason not to classify he or she as a journalist.

The second article about the shield law brought up the exclusion of nonsalaried journalists as not “real journalists.” Just because someone is no employed by a publication, does not mean he or she is not doing reporting where there may be the need to using confidential sources. Not all reporting is done for monetary benefit. Also, by excluding nonsalaried journalists from the definition, it would also be excluding freelance reporters. Many journalists spend some of their career doing freelance work, still producing quality journalism, but are paid by the article instead of a salary. So someone who freelances for The Nation, shouldn’t be given the same writes as a staff writer? Even though they are covering the same beat and writing similar stories with similar sources. It doesn’t make any sense.

Government officials should stay out of territory they do not understand. It would benefit themselves and the journalists they are trying to quiet.