When freelance journalist Nate Thayer posted an email exchange he’d had with an editor at The Atlantic, who hoped to publish his work without compensation, he had no idea it would garner so much attention. The blog post has been viewed over 100,000 times, tweeted like mad, and has prompted a vigorous debate among journalism professionals.
Over at Reuters, Felix Salmon breaks down point-by-point where The Atlantic screwed up, while explaining why the magazine’s online freelance budget is so small as to be, at times, non-existent. It’s not that digital journalism doesn’t pay, he explains, it just rarely pays freelancers. If you want to make a living wage, you need a staff position.
Not everyone is against working for nothing. Matthew Yglesias of Slate calls it “an enormous boon to society” when people write online for free. Staffer-turned-freelancer Ann Friedman admits in her column at CJR that she occasionally writes for free, albeit only with good reasons. Those include establishing experience, raising her profile, or an opportunity to participate in something wonderful.