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.