I wrote a Tweet that got me more cross replies than I could have ever predicted. Here it is:
No one should ever be working for free. Ever. For any reason. https://t.co/cBDQnrTSuZ
— Ian Morris (@IanMorris78) January 2, 2018
That’s not controversial at all, or at least I don’t think it is.
But lots of replies seemed to miss the point, either wilfully or with genuine confusion about my feelings for charity. So am I against charity or those who give their time to help others? Of course not. Charity is necessary, and laudable and while I wish we took care of people well enough to make charity unnecessary, that’s unrealistic. We don’t, after all, live in a Star-Trek-style utopia.
The problem I have is about people working for free or very low wages. In what I do there are a lot of people who want to “build a profile”. Working for free is the most selfish thing you can ever do.. In journalism those people who are building their profile are doing so at the expense of the people already in the industry. But what they’re also doing is making a name for themselves in an industry that won’t exist if they keep working for free.
If you write for free you’re taking work away from a professional who needs to earn a wage. That may not worry you, but I can tell you that the implications are dire. In tech writing what we see now is most journalists having to take on commercial work to earn enough to survive. Think about that – you literally can’t earn enough money in journalism to support yourself unless you also do copywriting on the side. Now I have no problem with commercial writing, but journalism needs people finding and writing original stories, which is hard to do when you’re focusing on promotional copy.
When I worked at the BBC a friend described a lot of the junior TV staff as “independently wealthy”. Runners and the like are paid so badly in TV that the only way anyone can do the job is either with support from their parents or by living a life of abject poverty. A lot of runners speak with home counties accents for a reason. They work hard too, but it does NOTHING to help the diversity of TV production when you just give jobs to rich kids who don’t need the money.
In more personal terms, I experienced a problem with this back in 2015 when someone from the Hearst-owned website Digital Spy told me that I was asking for too much money because it paid £9 for news stories. Hearst had revenues of $10bn in 2016.
Nine fucking pounds.
Those stories are “news”, which doesn’t mean you go and do some reporting. You can’t do any reporting for £9, you’d bankrupt yourself. What you’re doing is rewriting news that someone else has reported on and doing a 300 word stub. What you’d probably do is write six of those per day and get a salary of £1000 or so per month for it.
Some people might slam through six stories in a morning, leaving them to write something better paid in the afternoon. Or maybe they wouldn’t, and they are a student or living at home and can afford to earn £9 per story because they have low expenses. This is the damage being done to the industry because there is no union or requirement for companies to pay freelance writers fairly.
We are here because people will work for exposure or minimal wages. Make no mistake When you work for free you are taking a job away from someone. You might not care about that now, when youth is on your side, but I promise you when there are mouths to feed and bills to pay and you’re offered £9 for your years of writing experience, it will cause you pain.
Don’t work for free. Ever.