I worked for a few months last summer as a Demand copy editor. I very quickly felt like a piece-worker in a factory and wondered who was valued less, the article writers or the copy editors. I made the mistake of signing my name to comments on articles I returned to writers for corrections, a courtesy to which I felt the writers were entitled. It wasn’t long until one of the faceless “senior editors” contacted me to say that contact of that nature between authors and editors was prohibited. It was the most miserable couple of months of my career as a journalist, writer, and editor.
I’ve spent the past year and a half job-hunting and failing at freelancing. I resisted content mills on principle—and the apparently misguided sense that I was worth more. But poverty has made me cave. I started writing for Demand Studios a few weeks ago under a pseudonym. I, too, find I’m earning about $5 an hour, maybe less. I just can’t seem to do less than my best, even under these humiliating circumstances.
San Francisco, Calif.
I’ve written for Demand, and I have a long history in what I’ll call more socially acceptable writing ventures. On a good day working for Demand, I will make close to $45 an hour, significantly more than or at least comparable to my other writing and publishing jobs. In this economy, I can’t afford to let my writer’s ego get in the way of my basic needs to pay bills.
I write for Demand and I like it. Why? I get paid twice a week. Period. I’m a content writer, not a journalist. If I could write as good as Spangler, I wouldn’t do it either (really, he had me laughing out loud). It serves its purpose, though. Through the years, I’ve saved a whole lot of money doing repairs, etc., because some cool person shared their research, step by step. That’s not journalism, but there’s a market. So all of you real Journalists need not worry. Writing for Demand gives me a few extra bucks to buy your books and newspapers.
My dear Nick, it may well be that your future does not lie in journalism or even in activities that may be considered its cousins. That would be a shame, however, particularly given your clear desire to remain in this line of work and the sparkling talent you exhibited when we worked together at The Miami Herald. I relished your stories. And I was proud to have contributed one story idea from the copy desk (surely you will recall your delightful feature on the fainting goats?).
If you mean to continue in this profession amid the turmoil that has overtaken it and in defiance of what appears to be a grim future indeed, I guess you should brace yourself for more tribulations, including, perhaps, more of the soul-sucking work that you describe in your lovely essay, and press on. All the best, my friend.
Gilbert B. Dunkley
United Arab Emirates
A question after noting that your subtitle with “In Demand”—an article predicting a news mediocrity—read, “A week inside the future of journaism”: unintended irony or the subconscious tacit agreement of an overworked headline writer?
Grosse Pointe, Mich.
The editors respond: It was the latter, with several overworked copy readers also in agreement.
Re: “A Faustian Bargain: Slideshows are the scourge, and the savior, of online journalism” by Chadwick Matlin (CJR, November/December). Newspapers and magazines, which produce most of the content that is aggregated into slideshows by all of these websites, are laying off photojournalists at higher rates than writers at the same time as they are looking for more visuals. Sure, photo galleries are looked down upon, especially by executives without a visual bone in their bodies and writers who just don’t get that we live in the most visually literate society in the history of the world. The bottom line: people like photos. Instead of looking for ways to devalue this trend, we as an industry should be hiring more visual people—photographers, artists, photo editors, etc.—and putting them in management positions to help the industry improve its quality and visual content.
Move Over, J-School
Curtis Brainard accurately portrays the potential dark side of the discontinuance of the University of Colorado (CU) School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) in his article “Drop Out?” (CJR, November/December). However, as one who has attended all the public meetings, knows the key participants, and sits on the SJMC Advisory Board, I find this doomsday scenario to be unlikely.