It’s a shame that today’s featured photo/meme is so truthful. Journalism shouldn’t be a “joke” profession.
Today’s rant is inspired by a comment I read on The New York Times’s Facebook page. The comment was in response to an article about Dolly Parton’s attempts (and unfortunate failure) to motivate Tennesseans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The person had cut and pasted the op-ed article, written by Margaret Renkl, into the comment section on Facebook. Then she left another comment directly under it that read, “F*ck paywalls!”
I left her a comment that read, “Do you work for free?” Someone “laughed” at that. I’m not sure why it was a funny comment. Maybe she saw my point, or maybe she thinks paying for news is crazy. I don’t think it’s an outrageous concept at all. Many people go to school to learn how to write the news. I also know for a fact that plenty of people can’t write for shit. They can’t formulate ideas in a coherent way, produce grammatically correct material, or even spell worth a damn. I’m glad there are actual writers with talent, education, and skill who write for publications like The New York Times. The average person should have more respect for what journalists and other writers do, and stop expecting them to work for free.
It really bugs me that people complain about having to pay for newspaper subscriptions. Do people really not understand that journalism is a legitimate and extremely important profession? That’s right, it’s actually WORK to write something of good quality, especially something that is considered publishable in a respected newspaper. It takes time and money to gather the news, and it takes talent to write a piece that is enjoyable enough to finish. Why do so many people think it’s acceptable to “steal” content? Would these same people walk into a store and steal a book or a printed newspaper?
Journalism is a time honored and vital profession. We rely on journalists to deliver the news in a timely and accurate fashion. Newspapers also offer opinions, which give us something to think about and discuss with friends and loved ones, or even in blog posts like this one. They contain recipes, reviews, and classified ads, all of which are useful and valuable to the public. The people who deliver the news– yes, even online– have to eat, just like you do. They have to gas up their cars, pay for housing, and keep the lights on. They deserve to be paid for their work. One way that can happen is when people purchase subscriptions. That’s how newspapers stay afloat.
Sadly, newspapers are dying. According to The Guardian, which doesn’t put its content behind a paywall, but does welcome donations, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “the newspaper industry has lost more than 50% of its employees since 2001. While several big national papers like the New York Times are healthy, more typical are the closures, bankruptcies, and extreme downsizing that increasingly leave cities, towns and rural communities without local news.”
The Internet has been very tough on the newspaper industry. People can pick and choose from so many different papers or other news sources. It used to be common to subscribe to the paper in one’s community. But now, we can all go online and read from an endless array of newspapers from around the world or watch an array of news on television or the Internet. While more people than ever are reading the news, there’s a lot less money to go around to support the papers. And so, a lot of newspapers have died or are dying. If too many of them die, it could lead to the death of freedom itself. Journalism is vital to providing unbiased information to the masses.
I understand that newspaper subscriptions are expensive, especially if you don’t have a lot of money. There are “free” sources of news, that rely mostly on ads to get revenue. Some papers also offer a few free articles per month as a public service or incentive to subscribe. So often, though, I read rude comments from people who lament about having to pay to read. I’m sure you don’t work for free. Why should journalists and publishers? If people don’t pay for a subscription, how can we expect them to keep writing high quality content?
What’s the alternative to not paying for news? The abolition of the free press is one alternative, but that would come at a high price. It would likely mean we’d mostly be getting news that is heavily slanted by bias and the preferences of the benefactor. I don’t generally rant a lot about communism or socialism in this blog, but in this case, I think it makes sense. If the government alone provides the news, how truthful do you think it would be? The same thing goes for a businesses that provide the news. There needs to be a healthy balance of news sources available in a free society. Without money, it’s not possible to maintain news sources. Writing for news outlets can be a stressful, dangerous job, too. Plenty of journalists have put themselves in harm’s way to get stories for the world. Sometimes, those career decisions end in tragedy.
At this writing, I subscribe to several newspapers. I get The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Irish Times, and my hometown paper, the Gazette-Journal. I also subscribe to an online periodical called The Local: Germany, which provides news about Germany in English, and The Atlantic magazine, which regularly depresses me, but does provide some food for thought. Most people don’t want or need to subscribe to as many papers as I do. I like to have the subscriptions, though, because they help me write my blog.
I don’t get paid to write this blog, but I am a big believer in accuracy and quality. I like to be able to quote sources. It’s much harder to do that if I don’t have newspaper subscriptions that allow me to read and research as much as I need or want. So, while I personally get something out of my subscriptions, I’d like to think that anyone who reads my blog might also get something from them, since this blog doesn’t cost anything to read. Of course, this blog isn’t a news source, nor is it particularly highbrow journalism. No one should be reading my blog for anything more than entertainment value, even though I have found myself quoted in undergraduate and high school academic papers and on Wikipedia. 😀 I get a kick out of that, especially since they refer to me as “The Overeducated Housewife”. Just this morning, I found myself quoted in a term paper offered for sale on a site called Course Hero. I guess I’ve arrived… or education standards have really slipped.
Since I don’t like hypocrisy, I just contributed 50 euros to The Guardian, since I do use that paper sometimes. I used to be a regular patron, but I accidentally unsubscribed when I tried to turn off auto-pay. I did that because I don’t like auto-pay deducting money from my bank account. I prefer to do it manually and consciously. That way, I can be sure there’s enough money in my account and I still want or need the subscription.
I also like to contribute money to causes and needy individuals, although I’ve found that a whole lot of people neglect to say “thank you”. I just gave a dog rescue $200 through their donation link. I’ve never even adopted from this outfit. But so far, I’ve not gotten so much as a “thanks” from them. So that will probably be the only time I send them any money, since I know there are so many other rescues in need. Ditto for people– sometimes even “friends” on GoFundMe– who ask for money and then don’t even express appreciation.
Newspapers are different, though, because they truly do offer a valuable and VITAL service, particularly in a free society. I think the availability of quality journalism is very important and worth paying for, so I will continue to chastise people like the woman on Facebook who wrote “f*ck paywalls” underneath the content she stole from The New York Times. I’d like to tell her, “Lady, you’re not Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Newspapers NEED your financial support. So fuck you for saying ‘f*ck paywalls’. I hope someone stiffs you sometime. Maybe you’ll learn some empathy.”
I don’t like to be preachy or shaming, but really… think about this for a moment. Consider paying to subscribe to at least one news source. The press needs your support, and your mind will be better off for actually reading, and paying for, your news.
7 thoughts on “You don’t work for free! Don’t expect journalists to work for free!”
Before I dropped out of college in December of 1989 – not something that I am proud of, but after failing remedial math twice, I knew I had a snowball’s chance in hell of passing the three required math courses I had to pass in order to earn my AA – I majored in mass communications/journalism.
Even taking into account my disability – another topic I usually don’t write about much – I was damned good at my job when I was on my community college’s student paper staff. I started out, as everyone does, as a staff writer in September of 1985. I got my first assignment right after my first class of Basic Reporting & Editing: an interview with the campus music department head and director of the glee club (the Caravan Singers). I also had to interview two other profs in the music department, because the story was about the college’s first foray into recording albums featuring the glee club, the gospel choir (Juba), and the campus jazz band.
I had not done any journalism-related stuff since my graduation from high school 2 years before, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the assignment. I had to overcome a lot of self-doubt and social anxiety to do the assignment. But I remembered what I had learned in my high school journalism classes and applied them, and when I handed my copy to my journalism professor a week later, he only changed my “lead” and diid a handful of edits, then told me to hand it over to the Diversions editor for publication.
That semester, I went from staff writer to assistant Opinions editor to copy editor in less than two months. The next semester I was promoted to Opinions editor, and so on and so forth until by my last semester in college I was managing editor of an award-winning college paper. That took a lot of hard work, and even though I never did get as much as an AA degree, i learned a lot of about journalism and consider myself to be a “mostly-trained journalist.”
That’s why I can’t stand right-wingers who hate “mainstream media,” newspapers, reporters, and paywalls. And I have an intense dislike for politicians and wealthy people – like, say, Donald Trump – who egg on these folks to disrespect, distrust, and dislike reporters and a free, unfettered press.
As my journalism professor used to say, the role of the press is not to curry favor with the rich and powerful. It is to cover the news with as little bias as humanly possible (there being no such creature as a totally objective person) and as accurately as possible.
People on the extreme poles of the political spectrum hate a free press because it is one of the tools society has to keep the rich and powerful honest.
Another thing that drives me bonkers is the feeling of entitlement that a lot of people have regarding content on the Internet, especially when it comes to local newspapers and paywalls. As you point out, journalism is a profession. Those of us who studied it not only had to pay for many credit hours of classes, but also spent more time on campus than students in other majors. We not only went to our scheduled classes for lectures (I believe my JOU-1100 class was on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule), but we also had to put in several hours a day at the Student Publications office and production room. In my last semester, my day on campus began at 8 AM and ended usually at 6:30 PM because I had two buses to catch in order to get home.
So yes. Journalists work hard for their degrees. And they work hard once they are hired by print, digital, and broadcast media. And they have bills to pay and families to support. It’s a pity that (a) there are folks out there that want content for free all the time now, and (b) that so many people have been taught to hate the free press, mostly by conservatives who have nefarious motives and selfish reasons to do so.
Yep. And they usually have similar opinions about artists, musicians, and crafters. They offer “exposure”, as if that pays the rent.
Frankly, I am sick of the attitude that the only job worth having or pursuing is one that generates money.
I, too, hate that attitude.
Interestingly, one of the few things my half-sister and I saw eye-to-eye with was the notion that one shouldn’t just follow a career path just because it was a source of great income. Vicky has MANY issues, but when she chose nursing as her career, she did so because it was her “calling,” and not simply because it was a lucrative (if often physically and psychologically draining) way to make money.
To this day, I feel nothing but distaste for physicians and nurses who go into healthcare “just because of the money.” Some of those health care professionals often turn out to be totally unsuited (emotionally) to treat patients in any scenario.
I admit that when I decided to go into the risky and competitive business of telling stories (either on film or book form), I hoped to be good enough at it to make a decent living. Hell, I will even say that I fantasize about having at least one Stephen King/Tom Clancy-level bestseller that would earn me enough moolah to buy my own house, have a car with a driver, and live comfortably without having to live on Social Security and depend on others.
But I love writing, and I have written or co-written four films for little or no financial compensation because I have a passion for it. I might not be at the level of Clancy, King, Ben Hecht, Ernest Hemingway (who’s a bit overrated), or William Goldman, but if you know me well, you know I love my craft.
I love writing, too…. And singing songs.
You are a gifted writer, Alex. I think you chose well.
You are an incredibly talented person, Knotty. It shows in your blog posts, and it shows in the songs I’ve heard you perform when you’ve shared them online.
Any time, my friend.
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