Newsflash, Forbes: Blogging is Work. Now Pay Up.

Apparently, the wealth giant Forbes recently put out a call for media bloggers. The catch? The gig doesn’t pay anything.

Pay for blogging? Bitch, please.

I don’t know about you all, but I am so over the “new media” notion that blogging grows in a magic orchard on pretty trees and therefore should be free of charge. Um, it’s called WORK, fools. Anyone else continue to run into this problem?

We at Bitch know firsthand that it’s tough to find the money to pay for bloggers sometimes. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re competing with gigantic mega blogs that can afford a large staff, and we’ve struggled with the option of “letting people” blog for free on our site. (Keep in mind, we are a nonprofit media outlet with about one-billionth the budget of Forbes over here.) We’ve always decided against it though, as have lots of other great sites who fight the good media fight by paying for content.

This isn’t so much a rant against Forbes (hey, I thought their recent article on the richest fictional characters was kind of awesome, though now I’m wondering if they paid for that content) as it is an attempt to continue the dialogue about working in new media. If we don’t put our collective bloggy feet down and say, “Hell no! We won’t work for free!” then the very real fear is that no one will be able to carve out a living in this messy new media landscape.

To my mind, it is straight-up exploitation (especially in this economy) to dangle the carrot of “exposure” in front of someone to get them to write content for your website for free. (This obviously doesn’t apply to personal blogs that don’t turn any profit whatsoever. Even on the Bitch blogs, which are ad-free, we’re still trying to get you to subscribe so there is some financial motivation involved.) Of course someone who is looking for work or trying to get a career off the ground will be tempted to take that offer, but to what end? So that they can get a few hundred (or even a few thousand) hits on a blog post that makes money for someone else? I get it that there is a “pay your dues” time period in most professions, but asking someone to lend their professional services free of charge is way beyond that, IMHO.

Clearly we are in a new era when it comes to media (hence “new media”) and we’re still figuring some of this stuff out. But how can we expect professional writers (who would have written for print publications before that whole situation went pretty much belly-up) to write for free to keep the flow of information going? Where will the quality come from? Does anyone have any experience with this phenomenon? Does blogging for free for a media organization pay off in the long run because of the exposure it can give you? Or is it just furthering the notion that bloggers don’t need to get paid? (We have to pay rent too, people. Keep it in mind.) Help me out here – what do you think?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

paying your dues... or what it's worth

In my limited experience, being promoted by a popular outlet has only short term effect- and can be detrimental to a writer (or any creative) in the long term.

The climate of the new media is obscured even more when you start to take into account the "Private Label Rights" stories ("PLRs") whereby you can purchase a piece of writing, call it your own and publish it for $5 a pop. Unlike old style syndication, the accreditation is yours to do with as you will - the catch is that each piece written can become literally dozens or hundreds of equivalent articles (all sold in the name of content) through the wild application of a thesaurus. These PLRs sully search engine results by skewing keywords to the same basic information, packaged and repackaged...

Mastery of a craft has traditionally depended on the honing of skill over time bolstered by regular output. Beyond that it's all marketing. Ultimately the internet is a close approximation of a social anarchy wherein each site will have to determine whatlevel of standards they're willing to support and the image they want to portray. The old adage "you get what you pay for" does seem to hold true.

Well written... and thank you

Professionally I write for two reasons... to empower women and promote my coaching business. The latter put me directly in the path of a seemingly endless line of great causes who could "really use my support". Indeed, my original desire was for people to read my work, but I've matured - both in quality and self-respect - and now what I want (and need) to be paid for my writing. I worked to find a balance my for free vs. for fee writing time that honored my intention to be a paid writer. It also forces me to be far more deliberate about the causes I support with my time, skills, and energy.

This all became more clear when I, for the first time, hired (meaning contracted and paid) someone to write for me. Yes, I am a writer but I'd driven myself nearly insane trying to write marketing materials for my business. In a moment of true brilliance (meaning the savvy mentoring of my life coach) I realized that I am not THAT kind of writer. This realization freed me to invest my time in projects that are a match for my writing skills, those which allow me to produce great stuff. Then, I found the woman who is THAT kind of writer, someone who can produce high-quality goodness that I desire for my website and other marketing collateral. She deserves to be paid for the time and creative energy necessary to produce the materials I need... and she demands it, which was a huge self-esteem reality check for me.

I think it's trashy that a

I think it's trashy that a big publication like Forbes would even stoop to something like that. Not even internships are entirely unpaid in this country anymore. Free work is something you do when you're trying to launch your career or your own small publication, NOT when working for a HUGE publication who can afford to give its writers a competitive dime. Writers often typically get the shaft enough as it is by making chickenscratch from their own writing. Blogs are an advertising tool for companies like Forbes, and should be treated that way. Would you trust an ad company to handle your account professionally if they didn't charge you?
I freely blog to keep myself in writing shape while I'm job-hunting. I specifically refrain from putting my best ideas on my blog or in forums. Right now, I'm essentially working for myself, so I'm only blogging in a kind of quality I'm comfortable doing without pay (or with whatever my ads generate).

It seems to me that creative

It seems to me that creative professionals (writers, artists, designers) are often the ones that are expected to offer their services free of charge (there's no way Forbes is asking their accountants to work for free). What's that all about? The irony is that people in creative fields are often struggling financially to make ends meet—especially those who are freelance.

Good point!

I was thinking this exact same thing. Could it have something to do with the fact that creative skills (writing, design, art) are often more personal, and therefore people have a harder time negotiating/charging for them? Because you are absolutely right – none of their accountants, lawyers, janitorial staff, administrative staff, etc. are being asked to work for free. Nope, just the "creative folks."


It's equally annoying to me that it's Forbes—arbiters of ideal wealth and supposed high culture that goes with it—is asking for anyone to do *anything* for free. I'm one of those freelance writers who def struggles to make ends meet, and I do think it's highly insulting when people expect others to do skilled work for free.

I had similar problems when I was a graduate student in a film and video department. People always wanted me to shoot and edit video for them pro bono, and more than once, it was a non-profit or another creative professional! My standard line became, "I am not at a point in my career where I can work for free." I became really wary of anyone asking me for favors because it seemed obvious to me that I'd only give up an entire weekend for a very close friend, if that, you know? I know non-profits have to rely on the generosity of like-minded allies too, but at what point does that become an expectation? I'd have settled for a "we'll buy your lunch and give you $50" offer instead of the entitled attitude that I should do my part to support the cause with skills that would bring me upwards of $30/hour elsewhere.

Since I recently blogged for Bitch, I think I should also say that there's definitely a balance between exposure and payment. My Bitch gig got me a few others that I can be sure were connected, so while it wasn't super lucrative (and believe me, I'm not hating—thanks again for the opportunity Bitch team!! :), it was something I could feel good about on a personal and professional level. It put a nice dent in my credit card debt, and I got to write for people I like and admire and for a cool audience. I honestly think it's more and more rare to find that, and I think it's important to really highlight when it happens because so often, you either have to "sell out" to make $$ or you have to be broke and do what you love. Personally, that dichotomy is getting pretty old, and I'm back to feeling defensive around activist types for anything that might be perceived as "selling out" when I just wanna do what I love and am good at (writing) and put food on the table.

/rant :D

Wow I wish I could agree.

Having done this non-stop since 2004-05 or so, I'd like to think you were right. It would be great if blogging was sustainable work.

However, bloggers have been learning the same lesson that manufacturing workers around the US were learning in the 90's: we're all commodities now. We're all Third World labor. Take a look at sites like eLance, where US graphic designers and bloggers can compete with Indians who are better educated and willing to work for a fraction of the hourly pay we view as a "livable wage."

I used to rage about it, but I just started to feel dumb doing it. It happened and it's very much, totally, completely, over. This is a battle that was raging back when Ross Perot was dumb enough to think a 3rd party had a chance in this country. That battle was lost before the Seattle protests even happened.

This is the economic climate that makes college-educated, upwardly-mobile, highly-talented kids willing to work for Forbes for free in exchange for "Exposure." Compared to $4 an hour to write SEO content for some "4 Hour Work Week" entrepreneur, at least the Forbes gig has some sort of future to offer.

I'm not a commodity...

Well, Justin may think of himself as a commodity, but I'm not. Magazines and companies pay me $1 to $3 a word because there is a value to what I produce.

If you're going to write for free, you need to evaluate what you're going to get out of it. If you have a book to sell about marketing, it might make sense to write a column for a marketing magazine for free -- you are promoting the book to potential buyers. Writing for a horticulture magazine would be a waste of time.

In general, "exposure" isn't all that important for a writer. Writing free blogs for Forbes isn't a pathway to getting discovered. It's just working for free. And if you want to do that, you can come to my house and pull weeds.

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