The Truth About Paid Journalism

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Ben Cohen
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Cord Jefferson weighs in on the Atlantic's attempt to get a writer to repurpose a lengthy article for them for free, and tells some hard truths about the state of the writing industry:

Who can take an unpaid summer internship at a fashion magazine in New York City—and then take a starting salary at the magazine of around $25,000, while dressing and socializing in a suitably upscale and fashion-conscious manner? When a website like the Atlantic offers no money for 1,200 words of writing, what kind of writer is best equipped to take on that assignment? A mechanic who works 10 hours a day and comes home exhausted, or a 23-year-old still getting rent money from his father?....

Some writers may be able to hustle double-duty for a while, filing short stories during the day while waiting tables at night until their big break hits. But the field will still be overpopulated by people who came into it with money and security behind them.

I was able to support myself as a freelance sports journalist while living in L.A for several years, but only because I taught Martial Arts. The money for freelancing was crap and the money for private training was excellent, so the two worked out pretty well. I didn't have to do that many hours of personal training to make enough for rent/gas/food etc, so the money I made from writing was more of a bonus.  I also don't mind admitting that I have an extremely supportive family who have helped me out when work was sparse. Basically, I count myself as being very lucky and see my career as a journalist/writer as one born out of luck rather than talent. There are thousands of good writers unable to do what they love, not because they don't work hard enough, but because the industry can't sustain them.

It pisses me off when institutions like the Atlantic try to get professional writers to work for free, because 1. It's immoral, and 2. They can fucking afford it. We pay what we can at The Daily Banter as a matter of principle to writers who show talent and dedication and want to be a part of what we're doing. And I can assure you we don't make anywhere near what the Atlantic is bringing in.