The sad story of one Mr. Nate Thayer and his experiences with The Atlantic magazine will sound very familiar to any freelance writer whose hopes of writing for a major, high-profile publication were dashed by the sad reality of learning they weren’t going to be paid for doing so.
Thayer’s somewhat tense exchange with an editor of The Atlantic went viral and provided an example of the freelancer’s frustration in finding paying markets for their work. Thayer published the entire correspondence on his blog.
Thayer: Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.
The Atlantic: Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.
Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!
Thayer: 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. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps mispoken.
She hadn’t misspoken and Thayer went nuclear on The Atlantic after the editor-in-chief, James Bennett said in a statement, “The case involving Nate Thayer is unusual. We did not ask him to report and write an original piece for us, but we did ask if he’d be interested in posting a condensed version of an article he had already published elsewhere, which we would have done with full credit to the original publisher. We rarely do this outside our established partnerships, but we were enthusiastic about bringing Thayer’s work to a larger audience — an outcome, I guess, we have now, backhandedly, achieved. We’re sorry we offended him.”
For their part The Atlantic says Thayer did not inform them he would be publishing the entire correspondence. Thayer’s response to New York magazine was both more colorful and far more profane.
I was under the assumption that such practices were abolished when the [13th] amendment to the Constitution was ratified,” he said. “I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent. Exposure doesn’t feed my fucking children. Fuck that!” Thayer said adding he could not afford to go online . “I actually stick my fucking computer out the window to use the neighbor’s Internet connection. I simply can’t make a fucking living.”
As a freelancer myself, my sympathies are decidedly with Mr. Thayer. However, I don’t know if I would have disclosed and published the exchange with the editor. Perhaps Thayer will find more paying opportunities coming his way as a result of going public with his beef, but I’d bet there will be as many editors who will lose his address because he aired his grievance in this way. There is a reason you don’t crap where you eat.
Anyone who has been a freelancer for any length of time knows how it feels like you’re beating your brains out in hopes to land a paying gig. Whether Thayer has enhanced or lessened his chances remains to be seen. Every writer who places a value on their work wants to get paid for it. But does publicly trashing a magazine help your chances?
Probably not, but Thayer is my new, if slightly tarnished, hero! He said in print what I know by heart. I would sooner line the walls of a gas station men’s room with my writings than to give them to a millionaire like Arianna Huffington who can afford to pay me, but won’t.
The hell with exposure. I can’t EAT with “exposure” and I can’t pay my BILLS with “exposure.” The idea that I should give away my stuff for free is ridiculous. Unless you and I are friends or we have some sort of arrangement, I could see doing freebies, but otherwise, I’m no different than any other professionals and PROFESSIONALS get paid!
- Freelancers don’t want to be “paid” in exposure! (broadsideblog.wordpress.com)
- The problem with online freelance journalism (blogs.reuters.com)
- Nate Thayer vs. The Atlantic: A Freelancer’s ‘Work For Free’ Dilemma (daily-download.com)
- Salmon: The Problem With Online Freelance Journalism (thestreet.com)
- Sonderman: Is freelancing dead? (szuminsky.com)