Paying for freelance journalism

An email correspondence between a freelancer and an editor has ignited a widespread discussion in the business

On Monday, journalist Nate Thayer published email correspondence with an Atlantic editor. She asked if he would shorten one of his previously published pieces for her, for free: “We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month.” He declined, responding that he didn’t need the “exposure” she was offering, but he did need to be compensated for his work.

The exchange ignited a fierce debate in journo-circles over freelance writing rates. Discussions have covered the inability of digital journalism economics to support the sort of payouts that used to see writers getting dollars, rather than pennies, per word; unestablished versus writers with existing brands; the preference for hiring staffers rather than freelancers for most work. (CJR’s Ann Friedman has addressed freelancer compensation here and here.)

Here are some of the pieces that have contributed to this still-unfolding, widespread discussion:

The problem with online freelance journalism — Felix Salmon, Reuters, March 5

People writing for free on the Internet is an enormous boon to society and Writing for free: part II — Matt Yglesias, Slate, March 5 and 6

A day in the life of a digital editor, 2013 — A direct response to Thayer by Atlantic senior editor Alexis C. Madrigal, March 6

How much should a writer get paid? A conversation — a Branch conversation, featuring a host of writers and editors (including CJR’s own Sara Morrison), posted on The Awl on March 6; as of this posting, the conversation continues

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg. Tags: , ,