Nate Thayer Bites the Hand That Doesn’t Feed

Mr. Thayer doesn’t do freebies.

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.

You don’t give your magazine away, so why should you expect writers to give you their work for free?

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!

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Arianna Huffington’s Liberal Hypocrisy

Arianna Huffington: liberal, wealthy, greedy.

Being a freelance writer is not always sweetness and light.  In fact, sometimes it’s tedious and discouraging.   While the internet now means a writer who hustles can now reach hundreds, if not thousands of possible outlets for their work, one of the worst things about the open marketplaces is the surge in publications that don’t pay contributors.    One of the leaders in this unhappy trend is The Huffington Post, the prodigy of conservative-turned-liberal, Arianna Huffington.

You can’t be a good little liberal without regular visits to the Huffington Post, the wildly successful left-leaning site which was recently sold to AOL for $315 million. Fans of the HuffPo are wondering what the sale will mean to the site’s content.

Huffington sent an e-mail to the site’s contributors and bloggers that read in part:

Together, our companies will have a combined base of 117 million unique U.S. visitors a month — and 250 million around the world — so your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation. That’s the only real change you’ll notice — more people reading what you wrote.

What you wrote for nothing that is, because despite the millions of dollars changing hands, one thing that won’t change is the HuffPo’s policy of not paying freelancers as Tim Rutten wrote in the L.A. Times:

Whatever the ultimate impact of AOL‘s $315-million acquisition of the Huffington Post on the new-media landscape, it’s already clear that the merger will push more journalists more deeply into the tragically expanding low-wage sector of our increasingly brutal economy.

The other partner to this dubious arrangement is the Huffington Post, which is a new-media marvel of ingenuity, combining a mastery of editing geared to game the search engines that stimulate Web traffic and overhead that would shame an antebellum plantation. The bulk of the site’s content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they’re devoted. Most of the rest of the content is “aggregated” — which is to say stolen — from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit the news.

The Huffington Post is a brilliantly packaged product with a particular flair for addressing the cultural and entertainment tastes of its overwhelmingly liberal audience. To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates. Given the fact that its founder, Huffington, reportedly will walk away from this acquisition with a personal profit of as much as $100 million, it makes all the Post’s raging against Wall Street plutocrats, crony capitalism and the Bush and Obama administrations’ insensitivities to the middle class and the unemployed a bit much.

I started out in 1992 writing for alternative and Black newspapers for free. I had no clips and I was a raw, not yet ready, wannabee writer. This is 2011. I’ll be damned if I give away my stuff for free to millionaires who reassure me my work will now be available to an even wider audience. Meanwhile, Arianna gets paid even more and her contributors still have to grab some salt and eat their clips. It’s called the HUFFINGTON Post, but Arianna wasn’t the only person who made the site practical enough to demand over $300 million for it.

Nobody owes me a living. I have to earn it. Well, I’ve earned the right as a damn good writer who’s paid his dues to expect some compensation for my talents. Quality costs and if you place no value on your writing that’s exactly what you’ll be paid for it. I may be a freelancer, but that doesn’t mean I write for free.

Alec Baldwin can afford to give his stuff to the HuffPo for nothing. I need a check. No pay, no play.

AOL executive TIm Armstrong and Arianna Huffington agree to put a ring on it.

I like the HuffPo in some ways, but their business philosophy SUCKS and as it gains in popularity, it’s freelancers who will get hit in the wallet and that doubly SUCKS. Huffington may be a hero to the Left, but she’s also a cheap skate who screws over freelancers.

I could be wrong, but I’ve always believed the relationship between a freelancer and a publication is one of shared interests. THEY are interested in content and WE are interested in being paid to provide it. Huffington took the internet meme that “All content should be free” and applied it to her self-named website.

Maybe when the HuffPo was a start-up Huffington could make the argument she couldn’t pay for content. That argument became null and void this week. She could pay her writers. She just doesn’t want to.

I know God must have loved poor people because he made so many of them and I developed a second career to pay my bills because it was clear freelancing never would. But I will never feel sorry for a rich person like Huffington who rails against the excesses of capitalism on one hand and acts just as bourgeois in her dealings with the workers as any union-busting boss.

I’m not interested in working on Miss Arianna’s plantation.