Freelancers versus Editors in the Digital/Print Age
Freelance journalist Nate Thayer’s blog post about his experience with The Atlantic has made some waves.
In short, Thayer was pretty annoyed when Olga Khazan, an Atlantic editor, asked him to re-write a piece published elsewhere for The Atlantic — for free. Thayer reproduced their email exchange, which included him reminding her that “exposure” does not pay any bills:
I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts.
Then a more senior editor, Alexis Madrigal, got involved, feeling Thayer’s pain but explaining how, gosh, publishing is in a tough spot and he just doesn’t have any budget for freelancers, even as he wanders the halls and ponders the magazine’s past glories
If I open up one of our musty tomes at the office, I can get sucked in for an hour just looking at the ads, or marveling at the eloquence of W.E.B. DuBois. When I look back at old Ta-Nehisi posts or see Fallows in the halls, I can get emotional. I was watching Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary, and he notes, offhandedly, how stories that ran in our magazine helped preserve Yosemite for future generations.
Commenters saw it differently:
I just love reading lengthy self-justifications from people who have full-time jobs taking other people’s work for free.
Congratulations: you’ve made your magazine’s arrogant, sorry-not-sorry half-apology and made it into a full out non-apology. The amazing thing is that you think you’re articulating a defense of the profound self-worship of The Atlantic, when actually, you’re engaging in it.
A lot of the comments does engage the money issue in intelligent ways, so if you are trying to write for money, it’s worth reading them.