Published April 13, 2011
I think Alec Baldwin is a kick. I particularly liked him in the movie It’s Complicated and I assume he was paid a handsome sum for his work. As I’m sure he is nicely compensated for his acting on 30 Rock.
Ideally, that’s how it works, right? You hone your craft and then someone pays you for it.
But in the name of all that is holy, I am almost relieved he didn’t get paid a cent to write a recent less-than-100-word – hmmmmm, what to call it – article, post, musing on HuffingtonPost.com called “Here’s to Five More Seasons.”
“I want to take the opportunity to state that although my days on network TV may be numbered, I hope 30 Rock goes on forever,” Baldwin writes. “Or at least as long as everyone involved desires.”
I have no quarrel with that. More power to Tina Fey and Co. for their cutting edge humor.
What has been stuck in my craw for the better part of this month, however, is the dissing of serious writers since Arianna Huffington struck a $315 million deal with AOL. In subsequent commentary, there has been a lot of confusion about why people who were writing/blogging for The Huffington Post for free would suddenly want to be paid. Um, maybe because when you see in black and white that your work has helped someone make a boatload of money, you figure you’ve volunteered your time and skills long enough? Lots of startups got going with unpaid help and then began compensating employees once they started to turn a profit.
The writer issue just won’t go away. A recently-leaked e-mail to once-paid Moviefone freelancers in AOL’s Huffington Post Media Group who were being let go by the now-fired Moviefone editor-in-chief said, “You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system; and though I know that for many of you this will not be an option financially, I strongly encourage you to consider it if you’d like to keep writing for us, because we value all of your voices and input.”
The operative word, of course, being “value.” As in, I sure hope you have another marketable skill or at the very least a dog walking opportunity because your clever or melodic turn of phrase and your time mean squat to us.
Nearly a month ago the Newspaper Guild called for a strike against The Huffington Post and the latter’s spokesman, Mario Ruiz, went on record saying, “We are inundated with requests from people who want to blog” for free. Prior to that, staff writer Jason Linkins wrote a mostly helpful piece explaining the structure at Huffington and how there are full-time staffers and then those who contribute as bloggers for free.
“Please note, that part of what ‘free’ entitles you to is a freedom from ‘having to work,’” Linkins wrote. “No daily hours, no deadlines, no late nights, no weekends. You just do what you like when the spirit moves you.”
Actually, that might be true for those in the category of, say, Bill Maher, but it leaves out the professional writers who are not free from “having to work” at all. Just because they’re not on the schedule and under the demands a full-time staffer would be doesn’t mean in many cases they’re not grinding out a living and putting in time. Not to mention the fact that those freelancers are also saving his company the hefty cost of benefits and a salary despite still providing content. Is there nothing in between? It’s full-timer or slacker?
There seems to be murkiness in the public consciousness around the distinction between those whose livelihoods are in other fields and are simply seeking an outlet for expression, and those who write professionally. For example, it is no mystery why Alec Baldwin would have no objection to providing content for free or why Bianca Jagger would do so to promote a cause she’s passionate about. When Maher tells Arianna Huffington while she’s a guest on his show that he will continue to post for free, it’s not exactly jarring.
And, of course, Huffington herself is bringing some much-needed change to AOL that is more in line with ethical journalistic standards.
“The ‘AOL Way’ entailed combining business and editorial staff for similar sites in the same operating unit, known as a ‘town,’” writes Jessica E. Vascellaro in The Wall Street Journal. “Ms. Huffington abandoned the system, and moved ad sales to a different floor, concerned that the department was playing too big a role in generating content ideas.”
But getting back to writers, this isn’t just about The Huffington Post or AOL.
For the record, FoxBusiness.com pays me to bring my 25 years of journalism experience to its site week after week. A few years ago a respected professional approached me about contributing articles to her Web site and when I asked about the pay I was told that her writers do it “for the joy of writing.” How nice for them, I thought, but count me out. I journal every morning “for the joy of writing.” I have dabbled in writing classes outside of my comfort level “for the joy of writing.” I have been writing since about age 12 “for the joy of writing.” I put myself through college and earned a degree in journalism and professional writing “for the joy of writing.”
Now I strive to make money “for the joy of writing.” I can’t imagine asking the aforementioned Ph.D in psychology if she’d like to counsel a few of my friends for “the joy of counseling.”
Just for sport, I took a look at Craigslist.org under the ‘writing/editing’ category to see if I could find a few opportunities for those writers interested in merely exploding with joy as opposed to, say, paying their bills. I was not disappointed. My hands-down favorite was for AskMissA.com, an online magazine run by Andrea Rodgers -- recognized by Politico as being one of the Top 10 Social Leaders in Washington, D.C. -- with the tagline “love life.”
“Recognized for her grace, professionalism and style, Andrea is a member of the Vogue 100, a hand-selected group by Vogue magazine of 100 influential decision makers and opinion leaders across the country known for their distinctive taste in fashion and culture,” reads Rodgers’ bio.
Her site is seeking experts in their field, reviewers of the arts or those with knowledge of a particular geographical area who are willing to share their ‘love of life’ with 650,000 unique visitors a year for free. While they don’t get money, they do get exposure and “full credit for the post, a bio including your head shot with a link to your business or blog website.” Further, “posts will never be edited or changed in any way … Any changes or modifications have to be done by the author.”
However, more reading of the rules reveals that “as of March 2011, AskMissA.com articles will be edited according to AP Style. If you are not familiar with it, we suggest you purchase a copy of the AP Stylebook.”
Seriously? You want writers of that caliber who also know the AP Stylebook? Some of us took an entire course in college to become acquainted with the AP Stylebook and find that mind-blowing.
I know aggregation is the way things are going and I realize we’re dealing with a lot of readers who don’t know the difference between news and opinion or off-the-cuff blogging vs. thoughtful essay writing, but gosh, couldn’t we strive for standards that educate them a bit? The beauty of the Internet for writers who aspire to make a living from their craft is that they can showcase their writing by simply starting a blog or even writing an e-book. It gives them control for little or no start-up cost.
But it’s a whole different story when someone else is asking them to do it.
“No one cares who writes these shows, they care who presents these shows,” Stephen Colbert joked on The Comedy Awards last weekend.
It was funny because it was true. Most writers that are any good write because they must. It’s a calling that is heady and unnerving all at once. It’s got us by the throat and, darn it, some respect and some cash would be much appreciated as we toil and thrive in our process.
I stand firm until the day Alec Baldwin accepts a role in a blockbuster film for the sheer joy of acting. Then we can talk.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.