A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

Here is an exchange between the Global Editor of the Atlantic Magazine and myself this afternoon attempting to solicit my professional services for an article they sought to publish after reading my story “25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip comes after 25 years of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea”   here http://www.nknews.org/2013/03/slam-dunk-diplomacy/ at NKNews.org

From the Atlantic Magazine:

On Mar 4, 2013 3:27 PM, “olga khazan” <okhazan@theatlantic.com> wrote:

Hi there — I’m the global editor for the Atlantic, and I’m trying to reach Nate Thayer to see if he’d be interested in repurposing his recent basketball diplomacy post on our site.

Could someone connect me with him, please?

Olga Khazan

 From the head of NK News, who originally published the piece this morning:

Hi that piece is copy right to NK News, so please engage us mutually.
Thanks, tad

From the Atlantic:

Sure. Thanks Nate and Tad…I was just wondering if you’d be interested in adapting a version of that for the Atlantic. Let me know if you’d be interested.



From me:

Hi Olga:

Give me a shout at 443 205 9162 in D.C. and I’d be delighted to see whether we can work something out.


Nate Thayer

From the Atlantic:

Sure, I’ll call you in a few minutes.

After a brief phone call where no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her:

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.


Nate Thayer

From 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!

From me:

Thanks Olga:

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.



From the Atlantic:

Hi Nate — I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100. I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork. Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have, but that’s not right for everyone and it’s of course perfectly reasonable to decline.

Thank you and I’m sorry to have offended you.



From me:

Hi Olga: No offense taken and no worries. I am sure you are aware of the changing, deteriorating condition of our profession and the difficulty for serious journalists to make a living through their work resulting in the decline of the quality of news in general. Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition. The then editor, Michael Kelly, was killed while we were both in Iraq, and we both, as it were, moved on to different places. I don’t have a problem with exposure but I do with paying my bills.

I am sure you can do what is the common practice these days and just have one of your interns rewrite the story as it was published elsewhere, but hopefully stating that is how the information was acquired. If you ever are interested in  a quality story on North Korea and wiling to pay for it, please do give me a shout. I do enjoy reading what you put out, although I remain befuddled as to how that particular business model would be sustainable to either journalism and ultimately the owners and stockholders of the Atlantic.

I understand your dilemma and it really is nothing personal, I assure you, and I wish you the best of luck.

So now, for those of you remained unclear on the state of journalism in 2013, you no longer are…..


  1. says

    Nate, a few years back the one and only CBS person in Asia (I think she answered phones in Japan) contacted me for a possible story on bamboo scaffolding….I told her I estimated a half-day for recon, and a half-day for the shoot…she said that she did NOT have the budget 4 Dat, and did I know anyone who would do it for FREE? And that was TV news. WTF???

    And the Atlantic, Great rag but for shame for shame……

  2. says

    This is really frustrating, for in my case a rookie photojournalist trying to make a living of something you love, and everyone tried to take your work for free… Great post, and thanks for sharing. This will help me a lot in my career.

  3. says

    I have a friend who does photography. Needless to say, he refuses to work for his friends because we all expect him to just work for free, and that’s one thing. To have a major brand tell you “Hi – I’d like to buy this for free,” that’s just insulting.

  4. alexandra says

    “…perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them.” I’d like to print and frame this.

    • Amy says

      Moreover,considering that this was a hard copy,profitable magazine, WHY were they paying only $100.00 for freelance work, and “out of” freelance money? They aren’t out of staff money. Specious and unacceptable.

    • says

      R – you don’t know much about haggling and setting a market rate, do you? If I offered to buy your shoes and said: “I’ll give you $10 for them”, I doubt you’d think, “wow, if these shoes were worth more than $10 he’d have offered it – I’d better sell them to him for $10.”

    • Ari says

      I appreciate you speaking out Nate. I think many journalists, me included, fear going public because of the potential repercussions of not getting future work. Thank you for taking a step to make a change for all of us.

    • says

      An odd and small-minded comment, I think. This is the model for many blog-centric new media, from the Hufftington Post to the Washington Post. They don’t have to pay for content, frightened and hungry journalists are happy to get the exposure. I might have written for them for free, and have “re-purposed” a number of my articles for nothing, at my publisher’s urging, but after reading this strong and honest piece, I would not. Sorry but I see why you do not have the strength to post your name.

    • Josh says

      Sorry, ‘R,’ but your response reveals that you know nothing about the news media today and how freelancers all too frequently get shafted, sidelined or severely exploited. Your post is both ignorant and insulting. Thanks, Nate, for an informative,honest and necessary post.

    • says

      No, “R,” The Atlantic knows how much the story is worth, but the editor thought she might get it for free. No harm in asking, right? “R” should try to write a news story some time just to see how much time it takes, then decide what he deserves for his work. In the good old days, a journalist might aspire to be paid $1 a word by a magazine, and well-known writers got much higher rates. As an ex-journalist, why anyone would want to get into this business is beyond me.
      Thanks for the quintessentially anonymous snarky comment from someone who doesn’t even have the nerve to leave a name but is sniggering somewhere about having told Nate Thayer the unpleasant truth.

    • Dave says

      You’re sorry, all right. That’s the most asinine comment I’ve read all day. You’re blaming the writer for not wanting to work for free?

    • says

      Yes, because people always get offered exactly what they’re worth. No business (or individual, for that matter) would ever dream of lowballing somebody simply because they can. Or because claiming “exposure” seems to have become a substitute for fair payment.


    • RR says

      I think you meant to say, they would’ve paid more if other writers weren’t willing to work for less or even for free when they wave around the readership numbers. The Atlantic is gross and so was this comment. Obviously not spoken by a content creator.

    • Working hack says

      Economics 101: It takes two parties — the buyer and the seller — to determine what a story is worth. Atlantic thought it was worth nothing, but the writer disagreed. Since there was no sale, the value remains undetermined.

  5. says

    I do some translation and editing work for entities in Hong Kong but the rates haven’t changed for ten years if not more.
    I contribute articles to openDemocracy, Counter Currents and India Resists (the last two are India-based) for free because these are websites promoting democracy and human rights.
    But working for them too takes a lot of time.
    Partly because of the costs, I moved out of Hong Kong where I lived until mid-February last year and to my parents’ place in Bangalore, India.
    That a high profile journalist such as Nate Thayer should face the kind of indignity he did is shocking and sobering.

    • David says

      When I read stuff like this, it makes me glad (and sad) that I took the corporate shilling and left the world of journalism. My last editorial job was online blogging for less than $200 a week! It’s a tough world out there for writers.

  6. says

    I’ve been a journalist for 23 years… nothing depresses me about my profession as much as this. When I was running a music section for a large American online outfit over here in the UK recently, I berated any of my writers who said they’d write for free. The trickle becomes a flood, and before you know it, the only people who can become journalists are the ones that can afford to.

    Good on you for standing up and making your point.

  7. Amelia says

    As a final year journalism student this saddens me yet doesn’t surprise me. If this is what it’s like now, imagine another 5 or 10 years down the road. Anyone will be writing anything appearing everywhere and the amount of uneducated, ignorant people will continue to grow. As long as there are people who remain true and who value quality journalism then perhaps we will survive and the future won’t look do dreary.

  8. Vizkaino says

    Nate, Thanks for sharing this great piece. You handled it beautifully! As photojournalists, many of us often experience those “great exposure” opportunity offers. I think is great policy not to give away for free, quality professional work to for profit entities that pay others for similar work. If your reply to them would have been shorter, we as readers of your blog would not had benefitted from this amusing piece! 🙂

  9. Anya says

    A few years ago I was given charge of a small city-based online arts and culture magazine. I was expected to solicit articles, reviews, and galleries of work while offering no compensation. I was so ashamed of this that I often offered small stipends out of my own pocket, and once even paid for a great article with a home-made cheesecake!

    The least a site like that should do is offer a percentage of the ad revenue from the article page.

  10. Camilla Schick says

    Thank you so much for posting this correspondence. Since moving to the Middle East to freelance I’ve been completely shocked by this same experience too many times now, from both print editors of national papers/magazines and producers of the main big broadcasters in Australia, Canada and Britain. Including being contacted by one big broadcaster asking if I could head into the West Bank to do a live hit, only to be emailed afterwards: ‘Thanks so much for your help!’ and being told sheepishly that they hadn’t ‘expected’ to pay me for it, not even expenses. Why did such people ‘at the top’ go into journalism in the first place if they cannot stand up for quality in their profession and security of their freelancers later on? Or perhaps many of them never even tried freelancing or working as a journalist before? This default attitude of ‘freelancers will work for free to get exposure’ is disturbingly chronic and seriously damaging to the quality of news.

  11. andrewdownie says

    Nice one, name them and shame them.

    This has happened to me more frequently than I’d like, most recently when NBC called and wanted a Q and A on breaking news from Brazil, where I live and work.

    My response is usually, ‘Are you getting paid?’ Or if I am feeling particularly put out, ‘Would you ask a plumber to fix your bathroom for free?’

  12. says

    The only good thing about this story is I can stop envying people whose work appears on The Atlantic’s Web site. All this story is missing is a contract giving them all rights in all media in perpetuity.

    I assume that The Atlantic, like many publications, has different policies and rates for the print magazine vs the Web site. It seems to me not at all uncommon for online publications, even for-profit ones to have this we’ll-pay-you-in-free-electrons attitude, which we could possibly blame on The Huffington Post, which has this business model baked into its business plan. US TV has long had this attitude toward experts hauled in to comment on the news stories of the day; British and other European TV always paid those experts for their time, even if only modestly; you do still sometimes get paid if you can convince them you really don’t have anything to promote that pays you by another means. So Web sites seem to me to be adopting the TV model, with the presumption that you have something *else* to promote than your ability to write stories, to length and to brief and on time: books, consultancy, etc.

    It’s a pity. I’ve been admiring The Atlantic’s coverage over the last few years, and resubscribed after I realized how many stories they posted on Twitter I was actually reading.


  13. says

    This post is being passed around in the journalism circles I’m in — like you, I bring 25+ years’ experience and have been freelancing for the NYT since 1990. My standard quip is that “people die from exposure”, but yours was smarter and tougher.

    It appalls me that people suck up salaries while asking veterans to write for nothing. As long as their lights are still on, they have $$$. They just don’t feel like paying it to us.

  14. momokoprice says

    Unbelievable. And sadly, all too common. I hope you get plenty of ‘exposure’ from this post — might as well get it from a moment of catharsis rather than a moment of soul-sucking compromise.

  15. Micah Morrison says

    Well done, Nate. Great post on the freelance life, 2013. Just outrageous behavior. The Atlantic, no less! Your post moving in the Twittersphere. Best wishes, Micah Morrison

  16. Matt Mendelsohn says

    >>>Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have, but that’s not right for everyone and it’s of course perfectly reasonable to decline.<<<

    How's this for a professional goal–to get freaking paid for working? That's usually what makes a professional a professional. Last time I checked nobody was going around asking to paint my house for free. (You know, for the exposure and all.) This kind of crap has been going on in photography for years now. Bridal magazines, for instance, have created a billon dollar industry off of free content provided by naive photographers who buy into the photo-credit-equals-exposure nonsense. A photo credit on page one of the New York Times might translate into exposure; a photo credit in a bridal magazine translates into stupidity.

    Back to thee world of journalism and the same issue is suddenly everywhere. The Daily Mail recently asked to "repurpose" a photo story I worked on for years about a quadruple amputee. I thought of the story, reported the story (drove two hours each way in the process, many, many times), spent several years of my life working on it, paid my bills, and bought my cameras. But The Mail wanted to "repurpose" it for a photo credit–and, of course, the exposure. You know what? I don't need exposure. i worked for the biggest newspaper in America for over a decade. I need to pay my fucking mortgage.

  17. lucianafonseca says

    Even when I was in grad school, I tried never to work for free. I, too, find it insulting when a for-profit company thinks this is acceptable behavior.

  18. says

    You shouldn’t work for free, but also don’t neglect the fact that if you can get to a hyperlink without a nofollow from The Atlantic to your site and you start getting serious about advertising or a subscription upsell, there is value there.

    At that point you’ve transitioned from journalism to publishing, but that might pay the bills best.

  19. says

    Hi Nate, I just wrote the The Atlantic and asked for my free copy, so that I could talk about it on twitter and facebook, you know, for the good exposure…

  20. Rebecca Burke says

    Fascinating. Good for you for standing your ground. And yet…the j-schools are full of eager communication majors. Where do they believe they will work, and how much pay do they expect to get–are their professors being straight with them? If either of my kids wanted to go into journalism, I would wage a full-scale campaign against them, using this post as part of my ammunition. I have worked in a field that is equally as insulting/exploitative–educational publishing–for years. They offer piecework pay to writers and editors and then sell their textbooks and study/test materials to a huge market that is locked in–schools and students–for incredible profits. I guess the moral of the story is don’t expect to make any money off your ability to write well. Or: marry well (or have a plump trust fund).

  21. X says

    I guess it always hurts to find out the going rate for your writing is $0. How much did the venerable NK News pay?

    A 6 figure offer a few years ago? Sadly 2003 is not a few years back, it’s a decade ago. Journalism has changed and the freely accessible article on NK News would’ve gained slightly more traction on the Atlantic with less typing than you spent on this blog post.

  22. says

    Nate, I appreciate the piece and also the tone of the piece. You were professional and direct. I felt for Olga, also, what a dreadful position for her to be in. And the Atlantic, no less. I will say as an author and former journalist that I have come to believe in the individual blog as a response to the collapse of civil journalism. I write books but I believe the blog is becoming more valuable than the book. Book publishers are also doing less all the time, as I am sure you know
    I teach a writing workshop and each of my students are beginning to earn money on their blogs, bartering with local merchants, taking ads, connecting and promoting one another, preparing e-books and animations. And writing what they wish. My own blog is now the focal point of my writing life – it promotes my books more than any publisher – and I think blogs – especially connected to other writer and journalist blogs – are the future, a new kind of Associated Press, a new kind of Atlantic. They don’t want to pay you, but you may not really need them either. I’ll happy pay for your reporting. People will pay for good work, they need it.
    Congratulations on your piece. You are standing in your truth.

  23. says

    I’m surprised—I’ve written a number of times for the Atlantic, and have always been paid what I took for reasonable rates. But the Atlantic has grown very quickly—perhaps they’re stretching themselves too thin!

  24. Judith Levine says

    No one — high, low, or medium profile — should work for free. That so many people do it means that no one will ever get paid decently for anything, if they get paid at all. This includes unpaid “internships,” not just in journalism but in everything else, including banking & bartending. Kids: Do not intern. Unpaid work does not “lead to” anything, except more unpaid work.
    Every global human rights convention — and the U.S. has signed almost all of them — enshrines the right to decent wages & working conditions as a basic human right.
    But rights don’t come for free. We have to fight for them.
    Thanks for refusing, Nate. Everyone should.
    Judith Levine

  25. says

    I think I can actually compete with this insane story:

    Last summer an entire police swat team was dispatched to my townhouse complex here over the Canada Day weekend. I’m talking dozens of police, kevlar vests, target weapons, multiple paddy-wagons, detectives, at least six of them walking around… this in an area that is full of kids and upper middle class families. I called/emailed all our media outlets – not only did they not come, forcing me to cover the story, photos, videos, talking to police/witnesses/videotaping the arrest myself, not a single one of them even got back to me for follow-up purposes.

    So I wrote my story and sent it off to the media here – the same media that didn’t come to the two-day stand-off/siege of my piece of quiet suburban street. What did they do? They took it, my photos/videos and work, put some other journalist’s name on it and posted it online, as if they were there on the scene reporting the event!

    I’m an internationally published journalist and I’m only 42. I still remember the day when the written word had value. Sadly, times have changed. The same article I was paid $2500.00 for from the Washington Times back in 2000 is not commissioned out at little more than five hundred, depending on topic/section etc. But still, tough times for writers when everyone fancies themselves one.

  26. says

    What’s worse is when they say they are going to pay you, you do the work, and THEN they don’t pay you. Get paid for your work!

  27. JP says

    Forgive me if this is tangential, but I think it speaks to the same issue on a localized (which could ultimately read broader) scale.

    I’m an online and video journalism professor at a small liberal arts university. We are working to develop a more professional journalism program rather than a more generalized media studies mass communication degree. Historically, we had other programs, but for reasons I won’t go into we no longer have them. Thus, I’m one-man-banding my way through establishment of video, online, and social media classes for a reworked curriculum.

    When people in our community heard that we had a videography course, the calls started coming in for our student to use our gear to do freelance work for free. The words “experience” and “exposure” are being thrown around much more often than “billable hours.” Often, my own fellow faculty members in PR and Advertising push the calls my way, which is their prerogative, but what it would have me do is to undercut the local freelance market, teach students to devalue their work, put stress and strain on equipment purchased for the education of all the students in the program, and take students’ focus away from our rigorous coursework.

    Actually, I don’t know if it’s all that rigorous, but about 40 students are always telling me it is. 😛

    Saying “no” while in a new position at a university where I am treated well in a community where I am trying to get to know people has not been easy. It’s especially difficult in the cases where I need to turn down other faculty members, but I keep thinking of our students just out of college who are going to try to cover expenses freelancing, if they want to stay close to home. I think of undercutting their market, and I find a way to politely say Argo.

  28. Mario Kaiser says

    It’s a sad irony that even editors at high-quality publications as The Atlantic undermine the very business model that created their brand in the first place. They may choose to ignore the fact that good journalism costs money, but they’ll find out eventually that they’re outsourcing their own jobs.

  29. says

    One day, I want to be able to be that grown-up and assertive.

    “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.”


  30. says

    Here’s what kills me most about this exchange: “Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have.” Isn’t your professional goal to get PAID for the reporting and writing you do? Nate, I am just as baffled as you are. Well done in standing your ground. We should all have the fortitude to push back when it comes to these matters.

  31. says

    I’m glad you took a stand, Nate. This is one of the problems with the proliferation of citizen-blogger journalism. So many “writers” are willing to give it away, and places like HuffPost (and, apparently, The Atlantic) are more than willing to take it.

  32. Nico Escondido says

    Hey Nate… Interesting post…

    I find two things interesting here actually… First, that you felt compelled to go public with this dialogue, including emails which, while professional, are generally considered private and not for public consumption…. though some journos tend to feel that email are fair game. Debatable.

    Second, as a big fan of the Atlantic, I am saddened to hear of these recent transgressions (so, in fact, I am glad you did post this information). I find it hard to believe some of what is stated by Ms. Khazan regarding the state of the Atlantic and their budgets.

    I am currently and editor for High Times Magazine (yes, it is still around and actually very alive and kicking)… and I pay my freelancers $250 a page, which most stories going about 4-5 pages at approx 1200 words (new large type face sucks). But the point is High Times is paying $1250 to multiple freelancers per month for stories (about weed)… so how is the Atlantic (with “13 million” readers… yea right) not able to pay competitive fees to good writers? It makes no sense and sounds like hogwash honestly… so good for you for sticking up for yourself — and the rest of the starving journalists out there…

    Anyway, found the post interesting, so thank you.

    And if you ever have problems paying bills just remember good ol’ Mary Jane, because she’s still paying out and I suspect always will. 😉

    Stay well,

  33. says

    Great post. The only time I actually got paid for a piece I wrote it took me so much time and energy to finally get my money that it was almost not worth it.

  34. says

    The photographer in me loved this: ‘A Post on Seattle’s Craigslist “Gigs” Board:

    Need Photographer

    We are a 5 person construction company and need to update our website and brochure with NEW images of our staff. We would like to give an opportunity to the right photographer to take our company images. Ideally we need a formal and an informal picture, also a landscape shot of our company vehicle. Basically these pictures will help us get off the ground and renovate our website.

    If you do a good enough job on our company portraits then you will ideally be awarded a future PAID contract to take pictures of our job sites (once we get a job!). We will want to have the rights to be able to use the photos on our website and brochure/print media. You will get a boost to your portfolio!

    Experience in corporate photography along with a portfolio is a MUST or your email will be disregarded. We are looking at scheduling the shoot within the next week so be prepared to move fast!

    A Reply Posted 2 days later:

    Need Construction Crew

    We are a 5 person photography company and need to update our photography studio and shooting space with NEW office spaces for our staff. We would like to give an opportunity to the right construction crew to build our new company digs. Ideally we need a formal and an informal working space, also a landscape crew for our out side shooting area. Basically these structures will help us get off the ground and renovate our old space.

    If you do a good enough job on our company building then you will ideally be awarded a future PAID contract to build structures of our photography clients (once we get a job!). We will want to have the rights to be able to exploit you as we see fit just for credit and a great job! You will get a boost to your structure building skills!

    Experience in corporate building along with a portfolio is a MUST or your email will be disregarded, after all beggars can be choosers. We are looking at scheduling the construction within the next week so be prepared to move fast!

    The original post has been deleted but the actual reply post can be seen here: (normally we wouldn’t copy and paste an entire clip but we all know how those “fun” craigslist postings disappear just when they are getting fun to read!)

  35. says

    I used to read this Atlantic Magazine with great pleasure and interest when I was correspondent in New York and Tokyo. No more. I have been running through it with lightning speed when it did cross my path in bookstores here in Singapore thinking it maybe was me changing a lot since absolutely nothing caught my attention. Now I know it is not me. And now I know why. Thanks for sharing this. People writing in papers and magazines for free are probably nice people who don’t beat up their grandmother. But I would never pay for a magazine that prints their stuff.

  36. says

    I’m just starting out on this path. Looks like I’ll be chasing stories by day and pouring drinks by night (or whatever other work I can find) for a very long time…

  37. alwaysworkforfree says

    Hey but what are us poor interns to do? No one pays you to work at a paper until you’ve already been paid to work at a paper. I met a girl the other day who finally got hired after 4 years of interning at various papers.

    But seriously…what are we supposed to do?

  38. Johdus says

    “I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork.”

    I suppose editing is no longer considered work either.

  39. Paul says

    So if the toliets at the toilets at the The Atlantic’s headquarters backed up, would the Atlantic managers call a plumber and say, “Hey, we’ve got a huge stinky mess and we need your professional services, so rush on over here. We can’t pay you, but think of the exposure you’d get. All of the other businesses in this building would want you to work for free for them too!” Yeah, how would that go over? Why are journalists expected to work for free? What total bunk.

  40. says

    Thanks for sharing this Nate. The writing for exposure line is getting pretty old, but there will always be the young and dumb that fall for the premise. There will also always be an audience that is more apt to talk about their subscription to publications like the Atlantic than to actually read and understand the issues put forth in their content..

    My services for business to business clients are billed at a reasonable rate that is less than what a plumber charges per hour. Most clients understand the value of twenty years of experience and I have several long term professional relationships.

    There are always some who scoff at paying me $90 per hour “just to write”. If an editor is unwilling to pay then they should not approach a writer with an offer. Can you imagine talking to an attorney, engineer, or doctor and offering them “exposure” for their services?

    If anyone thinks there is any less professional skill in writing than the previous three occupations then they should try to produce world class content in a timely manner. Good luck with trying to turn a profit on that piece that has taken eighty hours to produce.

    Editors always remember: Do not anger a writer any more than you would anger a swordsman.

    • says

      One of the challenges I find in this field is the perception of quality. This is where the writer competes hardest, first to prove his/her own, and second to convince the payer that such quality deserves such a price. The reality is that the market’s opinion of what professional language is is arbitrary, particularly in journalism (as opposed to drafting legal documents, for example), and the advent of social media has further blown apart the supply/demand relationship and left it and traditional notions of careers in the field (incl. photojournalism) in tatters. Now there is such an over-supply of ‘talent’ that there is a race to the bottom in wages. The Atlantic is just following what the market is allowing. And all the calls to solidarity start to disperse once one feels the wage is not awful enough to refuse. So I hear the calls for solidarity, but I think this is less desire to form a linked chain, it’s actually a desire for a culling of the breed and, if we’re really pining for bygone salaries, an endorsement of subscriptions/payment for all media publications, web and print, in order to bring back the advertising dollars that make up so much revenue and salary (and would help end the ‘sorry, but you’ll have to work for perks’ argument. We are living through a media evolution, so this instability will settle down, and new norms (and words, and ways of talking/writing/communicating) will become standard, though there will always be fluidity because there is no absolute when it comes to the notion of professional writing. Which brings me back to my point on competing on perceptions of quality: a bad surgeon, plumber, engineer is quickly exposed. A bad writer? Throw a stone…

      • says

        Patrick, thank you for your reply. If you would like to have some debate about the aspects of quality in culture we should move this conversation to a philosophy forum.

        The idea that we should be less concerned about the situation because we are seeing a grand media evolution is directly out of the corporate linguistic playbook. Any amount of direct observation will disprove the argument that the industry is too disorganized and advert poor to pay a writer for their work.

        You rarely hear of alternative payment methods that are pay for performance in the freelancer space. Why not a share of CPM?.

        My clients have expectations of absolutes. These are their perceptions; not mine, not yours, and certainly not the publishing industry lobbyists. They are the attorneys, doctors, and engineers I referenced in my post. Do I reach these aspirations every time? No, of course not and neither does anyone else. In writing or any other field.

        When people start talking about quality I tune out the conversation because all that matters is that you engage your audience and convey the message. Those that talk about quality all the time have thin skins and can’t seem to grasp that sometime you need to publish before it’s perfect.

        When I look at this situation as a media owner it looks very ugly. Many small media shops have much more integrity, and that’s what I see as lost at the Atlantic, integrity. The change in attitude is due to investor pressure, not economic pressure.

        The Atlantic will no longer be printing an issue within three years, maybe less if high tariffs are enforced on Chinese paper products, so we will see if the two tiered system is truth or just a new set of Emperor’s clothes.

  41. Pat says

    I’m 20 and an aspiring journalist myself. Unfortunate that this is what I have to look forward to, but nice to know nonetheless. Thanks for sharing this, Nate. Feel free to check out my blog as well! patbradley.wordpress.com

  42. Einar Johnson says

    Great post and very well written responses. I would have asked her if the Atlantic was going to be giving away free subscriptions for a year? Think of the exposure they’d get? The answer from Olga would be no I suspect, but then maybe she would realize what she was asking you to do. Somehow we need to turn consumers expectations around regarding the cost of media and build value back into content again. That’s the only way I see this problem being kept in check. More effective apps with scalable subscription models from all of the major media companies might be a way to start.

  43. Lucy Writer says

    $125,000 for 6 pieces a year is greedy and not sustainable in this economy. Maybe you should have more realistic expectations: the market and money is not there for those payouts any more.

    • says

      perhaps you missed the part where she mentioned 13 million readers a month? publications do make money, even today, and they reward their executives quite nicely (especially on the business side).

      for reference: a print magazine I write for (that pays freelancers quite well, though not $125K for six articles well) has a 4 million circ and collects nearly $250K for a single page ad.

      nate, thanks for publishing this. I go through similar stuff on a regular basis, and I’m sick to death of it. us old timers need to hold our ground as long as we can on this.



    • Frank Lee Non Writer says

      Hey Lucy Loo! If your statement reflects correctly your interpretation of the text, you may wish to think about taking a refresher in “Comprehension 200”. Perhaps there is a reason for the lesser expectations you appear to harbour.

    • says

      That’s not what the author was asking for. He just wanted to be paid something, which is entirely reasonable.
      125k is a fair wack, yes, but you’re talking about professional services. And how much work would those 6 pieces require? You might be talking about a month’s solid research for each one. Also, the trouble with freelancing is that there is no sick pay, no holiday pay and no pension – that all has to be built into the fee.

  44. says

    I understand keeping cost down to some extent, but to offer nothing stinks. I have this happen to me as well. Magazines tell me about no money set aside to pay for articles because they are small or a start-up. Then I visit their site and they are charging 300 dollars or more for a half page ad.

  45. tishgrier says

    Thank you for this post!
    Honestly, it doesn’t matter how many years one’s worked as a journalist, nor whether or not one is “freelance,” nor whether or not one has a degree in journalism. It’s about paying a fair wage for work. Which, nowadays, every organization is trying to get around doing so that the profits can stay on the top. Well, we who struggle as freelancers deserve pay for our work too. We’re not doing it just out of the generosity of our little journalistic hearts, you know. And we don’t live too long on air.

  46. Steven Maclean (@Steven_Maclean) says

    This isn’t really the Atlantic’s fault, though. With the emergence of the internet, and the limitless advertising space available online, journalism – which has *always* been funded via advertising various products of little or no social value – just can’t bring in the same advertising revenues as the finite print space could. As someone who studied journalism at university, and found the industry in the UK impossible to penetrate without connections or rich parents, I do feel your pain, but I think we have to accept the economic realities and look forwards.

    There is probably more money being made by people through writing then ever before, just spread among far more people. In a way, the journalism industry is experiencing something similar to the porn industry, where more is being produced than ever before, but very few are making much out of it.

    The real journalistic tragedy is that this (a declining rate of profit as technology improves) is an inevitability under the capitalist mode of production, yet you can hardly find a journalist with an understanding of political economy. The vast majority of ‘journalists’ produce socially destructive propaganda of no quality whatsoever, so I’m not even convinced the decline is a bad thing.

    • Ted says

      Well the other real tragedy is that not paying journalists a living wage will result in shoddy, desperate, dashed-off journalism. Who can take the time and expense to carefully report, research and write a piece for a couple of bucks and some “exposure”? No one but the independently wealthy and hobbyists. So what do we get? Crap journalism.

  47. says

    Thank you, thank you Nate for sharing. I’m also finding that more outlets are commissioning stories so they can have a look and then kill them for low or no fees. As a friend just said, all editors who weren’t freelancers should be forced to do it for five years.

  48. says

    Many thanks for this. Here in the UK the dirty little secret is that freelance journalism rates have hardly changed at all since the 1980s. Consequently many good journalists are leaving to do other things. I find it very hard to encourage any young person to enter our profession now. No one who wants to earn decent money would consider journalism. And this matters. Because we need good journalism and decent, proper, news coverage. Has there ever been a better time to be a shyster, crook or crooked politician or CEO?

  49. Lightning writer editorial services says

    “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of a civilization.” Admittedly not the best known of dr. Johnson’s assessments (fools writing for nothing and the like) but strangely appropriate given the circumstances!

  50. Julie Gedeon, freelance writer says

    Thank you, Nate, for sharing this. Maybe if enough writers do so, it will ultimately make a difference.

  51. says

    Reblogged this on raincoaster and commented:
    I knew the HuffPo was like this, but to reach out to a professional journalist for a customized piece and not mention you don’t intend to pay him, ever, is pretty unexpected from The Atlantic.

    Then again, this is the industry that laid off everyone at True/Slant with a letter that began “Dear Contributor…”

  52. says

    “Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have”

    In general my professional goal is to earn money so I can pay the rent. My landlord tends not to respond well to ‘but look at all this exposure’. It isn’t really a currency he understands.

    And what do you gain from the exposure? A reputation for working for free and the expectation that you’ll do it again? More unpaid exposure? Thanks but no thanks

  53. says

    Nate, thank you, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for blogging this email exchange. I had a similar experience a few weeks ago, where I was asked to write a piece pro bono. It boggles the mind that publications think they can get away with this. Freelancers do not get paid enough in the first place (and often times cannot haggle over costs) and to think that we are happy/satisfied to write for free because it will “get more exposure” is offensive and disheartening. I am so Tweeting this link. Bless you for highlighting this issue…!!!

  54. Allan H. says

    How much do the paid writers at Atlantic actually make then? The $125K figure is much more than I’d have expected. Anyone know what the “journalists” at Daily Beast make per column?

  55. says

    Horrible. And even if payment were offered, only $100, from The Atlantic? Unbelievable — and, I think, a lie. Or at least that’s probably what she’s told to offer, and to bump it up only for a big name journalist. Disgusting.

  56. pinkdama says

    Nate–back in the early days of my stand-up career, bookers used to ask me to perform for free because it was great exposure. I usually answered that people can die of exposure.

  57. Catherine Walsh says

    It’s a sadly similar case in freelance photography here in the UK. I have several connections who are highly published in the field of equestrian sports photography but who have all but had to withdraw from the area in recent years due to the number of weekend warriors who offer their ‘services’ for free to publishers. As a result, the standard of photography has plummeted as the professionals are shunted aside and the fantasy pro brigade stand around at events bragging about being ‘press photographers’. It’s very difficult to watch both photography and journalism being decimated like this.

  58. says

    Nate, thanks for blogging this exchange with The Atlantic. I was able to make a good living as a freelance writer for 9 years, but got out of it a few years ago for this exact reason. Publishers and editors want fantastic content and innovative ideas, but don’t want to pay for it. $100 for a reported story is not a living wage.

  59. says

    I wish I had a fresh peach for the number of times some snoid offered me the opportunity to work for nothing. As much as I would like to be independently wealthy like Henry Adams and want to have my work stolen and reprinted for nothing so more people would read it, I’d just prefer to be independently wealthy.

  60. says

    It is deplorable that people expect journalists to work for free, as if the time and effort to research, interview, write and edit a piece isn’t worth paying for. I think the unfortunate practice of giving away news for free online has led to a widespread belief that all writing should be free. How are we going to pay our bills with this pervasive assumption that others can exploit our hard work for their own gain?

  61. Jenna Scatena says

    Nate, could you clarify if your article was to be published on the web or for the print magazine? I understand it’s still under the umbrella publishing of The Atlantic, but as far as I’ve heard the Atlantic pays upward of $1/word for articles published in their magazine (though I have not written for them myself). That’s about the average rate for most magazines. However, most WEB platforms–magazine, blog, or otherwise–don’t pay their writers because the web publishing model is not lucrative (though it’s totally bogus that web editors get paid, but writers don’t get paid to supply the content). No matter what, I think writers should get paid for their work, regardless of what medium is appears on. However, I’m hoping that you can add a bit to this argument to distinguish if you think this is an issue with magazines or if it’s actually a problem of publishing free content on the web, which are two different issues that often get blurred together. Thanks for sharing this.

  62. says

    I just read your post after getting a note about it from the National Association of Science Writers. I’ve had some clients give me a heads-up that they were running late on payments, but to offer nothing is absolutely insulting. Writing is a skilled craft, and quality content is what draws people to read books, magazines, and websites. Failure to realize that is part of the reason why publishers are having problems these days.
    Thanks for sharing. The more writers share information like yours, the better chance we’ll all have in this market.
    –K.M.K., http://summacumlatte.wordpress.com

  63. says

    “We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month.” Always an invitation to bound in the opposite direction. Thank you for calling them out on this chicanery, Mr. Thayer.

    • judith brown says

      I once had an editor who offered me only “exposure” for payment and I replied, “It’s winter, and you I could die from exposure.”

      Ya know who was getting paid? The editor, that’s who.

      And the publisher, and the printer, and the people who supplied the paper, and the landlord of the building, and the people who watered the publisher’s plants.

      Of the dozens employed by the Atlantic, none would work for a day for the “exposure” — nor would they be expected to.

      The Atlantic is media, media is communication, and it’s communication is through the writing.

      Which is what the Atlantic is selling to readers: the writing.

      It’s odd (no, it’s disgusting) that The Atlantic would refuse to pay those who create the product they’re selling.

      But then again, the pimps always want to keep all the cash, don’t they?

    • Jason Ruiter says

      Good sir, could you please explain this situation where you write, say an article for about $20,000!!! (125,000/6)

  64. Sally says

    A recent conversation:
    Website publisher: We’d like a 500-word article. How much would you charge?
    Me: A professional of my level and experience receives $1 per word, so $500.
    Publisher: We pay $50.
    I accepted because a) it’s a subject I want to write about, b) I need the $50. Or maybe those should be reversed.

    • says

      Ok, I know you needed the $, but I think would have sent them the following, acting like you don’t need their money. Play Poker! It’s fun, you lose most hands, but if you play enough, you’ll occasionally win:

      “How about I charge you 10$ and just send you a bullet list of points? Would that work for your editorial dept?

      At $50 you get two hours of my time. After that, I send you what I have and you are free to doctor it up, BUT you must send it back to me for final approval.

      At $100 you get four hours of my time, which is enough to complete the article but it won’t be polished.

      At $200, etc…”

      I don’t know the answer to this one either… just a thought/suggestion… 🙂 Ian

  65. says

    I saw that someone wrote to the Atlantic, which inspired me to write to them too. Kind of conveniently, the most applicable category I could label my feedback as was “Advice”.


    There is no category for general feedback, so “Advice” seemed most appropriate. I have read the article by journalist Nate Thayer in which The Atlantic attempted to gain his story without offering compensation of any sort, beyond “exposure”.


    I wanted to inform you that you have lost your legitimacy in the estimation of this reader. My advice to Atlantic Media Company is to pay your writers. I find this practice utterly unacceptable, and honestly rather pathetic. If you do not wish to be a news site, then do not be a news site. But don’t go begging to legitimate journalists in hopes of bolstering your own reputation for free. I am sure that somewhere up the line is a parent company who can afford to give the Atlantic a budget which can pay for journalists. If you are unable to make any policy changes yourselves, I suggest someone speak to the parent company about amending practices.

  66. Jenna Scatena says

    Nate, could you clarify if your article was to be published on the web or for the print magazine? I understand it’s still under the umbrella publishing of The Atlantic, but as far as I’ve heard the Atlantic pays upward of $1/word for articles published in their magazine (though I have not written for them myself). That’s about the average rate for most magazines. However, most WEB platforms–magazine, blog, or otherwise–don’t pay their writers because the web publishing model is not lucrative (though it’s totally bogus that web editors get paid, but writers don’t get paid to supply the content). No matter what, I think writers should get paid for their work, regardless of what medium is appears on. However, I’m hoping that you can add a bit to this argument to distinguish if you think this is an issue with magazines or if it’s actually a problem of publishing free content on the web, which are two different issues that often get blurred together. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Sandy says

      Nate is a professional writer. I don’t see how it’s relevant whether the article is to be printed on the back of napkin or online. The publishing house’s online business model does not change the value of the education and experience of the writer. I know business are using this two-fold system. And it’s time we call bullshit on it.

  67. says

    “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.” AMEN BROTHER. All of us who make a living as writers are dealing with some version of this. Good for you for being very clear and honest and direct. I understand newspapers and magazines are in difficult straits but in order for them and us to stay in business they can’t expect to walk all over writers. No one should give their writing away for free, no matter how far the “reach” of the outlet is…

    • says

      While this is a very sad situation, I feel it somewhat unkind that you, being such a professional, have not redacted the name and email of the person who was only doing their job and enforcing the policies of the outlet they work for. Where you hoping her inbox would be deluged with complaints? Journalism is going through rocky ground. Not a new story. This offer was pitiful, goes without saying. Sadly, to carve out a career people have to do things they might not want to do and there are people doing much worse than offering nothing/a pittance for copy. I don’t think it’s fair to drag her through the bushes for trying to work within the parameters of her position (perhaps with a view to one day being in a position to offer the likes of you a reasonable amount for your work). Interesting article which inspired all this.

      • says

        Hey Charles, no disrespect because I can tell from the tone of your response to that writer that your a courteous person, but I think you know it’s a mean world out there, and in this day and age almost the only way big corps change their ways, apologize, or at a minimum are forced to take a look in the mirror at, in this case, just one in the myriad of the smug, bull in a China shop, take it or leave it, ways they negotiate err, interface with- not just journalists – but the proletariat at large is by putting them on display (as the subject writer who the Atlantic in this case tried to get a freebie off of) in their full ugliness for the world to see. in most cases it is then and only then that they might – and I wouldn’t hold my breathe – might change, or apologize, or anything of that sort. And, when they do, if they do, its usually some see through way like BP celebrating how they have made the Gulf all warm and fuzzy again that makes you want to puke. Just sayin….

      • says

        I think it’s fair game…and I think the editor didn’t do her research. I looked her up…she graduated from college in 2008. As a young editor myself who has worked with established writers, it is critical…and earns respect…when you know who you’re dealing with. She didn’t receive a blind pitch, she was reaching out, and a five second Google would have made her realize she was contacting someone who had a pretty significant journalism reputation and she could have been less of a ditz on her end.

    • says

      I noted your post in my blog– my main contribution to this is that this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common in nearly every field. I’ve lot count of the people I know who broke their hearts working an Internship job only to be told they “didn’t fit in”, coincidentally as another bright eyed Intern showed up.

      Fundamentally, if your work is worth reading, it is worth paying for, especially if you have a proven track record in the field.

  68. says

    I am so glad you shared this Nate. The Atlantic is clearly suffering budget problems for a while now. When I wrote my investigative piece about Bear Stearns RMBS fraud that turned into a Frontline Film – The Untouchables – and led to an SEC settlement and a NY AG civil fraud suit they only paid me $150 for the story in Jan 2011. I agreed to do it because they were the only pup at the time who had an editor (he’s now with Reuters) who understood fraud and knew this would be big news down the road. Still I really undersold myself. But did make up for it in continued reporting at DealFlow Media (a trade publication) who pays a respectable living wage. I never wrote for The Atlantic again. I learned the trade magazines and online pubs with a paywall are paying the best these days. I gave up caring how many readers my work was seen by because I need to make money selling my stories. It’s sad to see main stream media run away from paying for quality freelance reporting and even sadder to see jurnos allow them to do it.

  69. jane gros says

    Surely you know this has gone viral. Me? Twenty nine years at NYT, five Pulitzer nominations, founded their blog “New Old Age,” wrote uniformly well-reviewed book, “A Bittersweet Season” (Knopf 2011, Vintage 2012). Contacted by “Atlantic” to do series of linked 2000 word paid posts. Asked for sked lines. Sked lines sent. “We love them, but can no longer pay.” My reply: “I don’t work for free.” Ante upped to $100, with first a “tryout.” Leaving aside “tryout” request, my reply, “I don’t work for $100. My cleaning lady gets more than that.” Wish I had saved the verbatim exchange. What if we all went on strike, very publicly? A business model based on slave labor would collapse very quickly were there no slaves. And any experienced journalist who works for free, or for $100, is a co-conspirator in the end of a great profession.

    • says

      Wow – this is all so enlightening – we are witnessing and discussing the death of the written word… at least in terms of its monetary value. Anyone else cognizant/aware of this and all its implications? Put it to you this way… Sarah Palin can now author a genetic research study and get more hits than the most popular geneticist to do the same. Should we be afraid? Maybe we need Coca Cola and Disney in on this debate… hmmm

  70. Steve says

    Wow, have times changed… I was paid $1.25 per word for a 1,500-word Business 2.0 article back in 2000.

  71. says

    Thank you thank you for writing this. A while back I was approached by a prominent, well-funded website to write an original feature-length story related to cognitive development. It would require poring various jargon-y studies and interviewing scads of scientists, while throwing in some IRL examples, to produce a clearly written take on infant language development. For this, they were offering me $100 and lots of “exposure.” I turned them down. I hope other writers learn to do the same, too. My question is: Do their staffers work for exposure? Do their ad sales people work for exposure? Do their marketing people do it for exposure? Probably not. I’m always mystified that writers are somehow beholden to the notion that our skills have no value….

    All if it brings me back to Harlan Ellison. He says it very well:

    • Steve says

      CNN completely jettisoned its investigate news unit. Not that CNN was quality journalism to begin with (at least it had a promising start, however), but what kind of a bizarro world do we live in when the supposed cable news pioneer has no use for a single investigative reporter? In all honesty, I get much better information from the Daily Show than most supposedly “serious” news outlets. Thankfully we still have Democracy Now, Bill Moyers, and Matt Taibi.

  72. NYLG says

    you are awesome for sharing this. If writers continue to expose this kind of thing, we’ll hopefully see a change. Hopefully.

    • says

      I guess I just figured out why I’m so drawn to this string – No matter what we do here, we will not see a change back to yesteryear vis a vis authoring/editorial/writing norms and practices.
      It’s sick, it’s wrong, it’s even bordering on criminal, but it’s also… the new literary reality.

      We’re going to have to swallow this one folks. Ian ;0)

      • jane gros says

        Who says we have to swallow this one? Clean houses. Drive a cab. Eat tuna fish and peanut butter. It’s only the “new literary reality” if literary professionals permit it. And those who do are dooming the rest of us.

  73. DrummerCT1 says

    Very interesting. Glad for the position you took with the Atlantic. Similar thing happens with musicians and live music, including bands being asked to bring their own audience to the bar/club/whatever as a precondition.

    As an aside, “comments” to material published online also add value at given web site (well, sometimes); that being said, in this instance, I’m more than happy to provide this “comment” for free! 😉

    In all seriousness, and in a related fashion, there’s other social media forms that are founded on user-generated content contributed for free based on the idea that they’re providing a service – think Facebook, Twitter. They earn huge amounts of profit yet share no $$$ with the users. Is the equation balanced? Should contributors receive something more in return from social media outlets?

    • says

      Precisely – re: Social media… this amazing invention that connects the world to one or three social databases, has, by natural consequence, diluted the power and monetary worth of the written word. Social media is not squarely to blame – our new methodologies for speaking/sharing info/research – they’ve all changed. As writers, we need to adapt to this. This is CRUCIAL… I think. Things are NOT going back to the way they were so as writers, we need to “niche” and to get more involved/linked/networked in order to get our pieces/views out there, sadly for less and less $… until you’re syndicated of course… 🙂

  74. Steve says

    Oh, and next time they offer “exposure” you should offer some “exposure” — via texted crotch shot — of your own.

  75. Jay says

    Nate, your response to Olga was insulting. You were insinuating her, it’s very clear, and she responded professionally. And you surely know that times have changed, that you’re perhaps earning a lot less as a feature writer than you did in your glory days.

    I’m not saying you should write the article. Just stop feeding your fat ego at the expense of others.

    • Michael Davis says

      Just what was he “insinuating?” It certainly wasn’t her. You can not insinuate a person. He could insinuate something about her, certainly. This is not the company in which one uses words one does not have a firm grasp upon.

      • Ernst Blofeld says

        We appreciate proper grammar too. I believe you meant: “This is not the company in which one uses words upon which one does not have a firm grasp.” Apologies; I couldn’t resist.

  76. says

    Ah, yes, the old “exposure” ploy. I was once asked to have 4,000 of one of my books delivered to my house (where in the world would I put them?), with the express purpose of my signing them to go in a special promotion a certain store was having in all of its many outlets as an added bonus to entice buyers.When I asked about payment, I was offered “exposure.” Needless to say, I was not interested. I feel your pain.

  77. says

    Hi Nate and others–yes this is deeply distressing, I too am a veteran journalist and author, 20 years of writing for national publications under my belt, and exceedingly difficult now just to survive. I’m on food stamps, pitching and applying for jobs, and observing the field I’ve devoted my life to erode before my eyes. I would like to share a couple pieces I wrote on this, one for Salon.com, the other for The Progressive. I welcome more dialogue on this, and thank you for your posts Nate. – Christopher Cook
    The Wages of Words: http://www.progressive.org/wages_of_words.html
    The Shame and Pride of Joining Food Stamp Nation: http://www.salon.com/2012/01/27/joining_the_food_stamp_nation/

  78. says

    I can’t explain why I am so “drawn” to this string… perhaps it is because I’ve seen my “monetary” societal value decrease over the last 13 years, as a writer. However, what that has forced by consequence is a larger business view whereas I operate as a wearer of 12 hats – I own three companies, I am a public and media relations “guru” (small scale to be sure) and I am always on the look out for opportunities re: publishing/producing/ spreading the word…

    It’s a different world today than it was back in 2000.

    Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  79. says

    I presume that you were fairly compensated by NK News because your original article was published there. And that the article circulated well online because that the Atlantic editor discovered the story and wanted a fresh rewrite, exclusive to the website.

    That gave me some hope for journalism in that smaller or trade outlets can compete by paying their journalists to produce excellent content. And excellent content generates interest, sharing, and more page views. That leads to a virtuous cycle of reader excitement and investment in quality content.

    Therefore, I argue that we can reframe this story as both a win for Nate Thayer and NK News, who to me seem far mightier than The Atlantic, who acquires online content through begging and subterfuge. Whether smaller news outlets will survive is another matter, as larger publications who don’t pay their writers have more money to spend in squashing the competition. I, as a writer and discerning reader, will be more mindful to visit and support outlets that pay their writers.

    Thank you for you posting your story. I hope more of us will continue to do the same!

  80. says

    Reblogged this on Kylie Hennagin and commented:
    Really eye-opening. How are journalists supposed to even get to the level of their career where they CAN write for free when large companies like The Atlantic want writers to write for free…or paying only $100/piece? Is this the nature of freelancing today?

  81. says

    “We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month…..”

    Oh geez, how often have I heard that song and dance??? One more time with feeling: FREELANCE DOES NOT MEAN FREE!!!!

  82. says

    The only way freelance journalists will continue to get paid is for all to stop doing work for free, even if offered publication by respected publications. And it isn’t just about money; it’s about respect. I’ve been asked, as a broadcast journalist (part of my work) to produce work for special channels or delivery system outside the traditional for free, and the lure is supposed to be that it’s a big broadcast outlet, with lots of listeners/viewers. Sorry, not for free.

    • Ted says

      Sounds good to me but like a strike it will only work if everyone does it, which won’t happen. Someone will always go for it and even if a lot of great journalists boycott, pubs will get some bright eyed and bushy-tailed intern or recent graduate to write the articles. The quality will go down but the journalists won’t be any better off.

      • nick says

        The thing is we cant hang around the factory gates on strike, warming our keyboard-calloused hands over oil drum fires and occasionally having a punch up with the police as we dissuade ‘scabs’ from going into work. Industrial action isn’t really an option.

  83. says

    Not free from blame or how Nate Thayer co-opted “Atlantic” editor Olga Khazan’s emails and posted them on his blog, Additionally, Felix Salmon states this about the flap: *Update: In another layer of irony, it turns out that Thayer’s piece itself was deeply indebted to — and yet didn’t cite or link to — Mark Zeigler’s 2006 story on the same subject.

  84. says

    I was just curious, as a soon-to-be journalism graduate, how this translates to internships. All the teachers at my university (all current or ex-journalists) talk about internships as an important part of the learning process as a young journalist. The problem is that it leads to this notion that publishers don’t have to pay writers for their work and writers, in turn, come out of school having the idea that working for free is alright. It seems the trend is too far set to be reversed and it would take a monumental overhaul of the current system to change. Meanwhile, publications are dying all over the place and newspapers continue their steady decline, so there is no incentive for them to step up and pay writers when even the best publications are seeing less and less money come their way every year.

    It’s unfortunate that this is the reality we live in but there doesn’t seem to be much we can do to change it.

  85. John Hill says

    Perhaps if you were a better negotiator and less of a (-swallows word-), you’d have less trouble paying those bills you keep complaining about. Not only did you choose to forego any kind of reasonable negotiating (you could have for example given her this piece for free, and extracted a promise for a paid-for piece next budget cycle), you also alienated a pretty major publication, and possibly many more by being so stuck-up, and then publishing these e-mails on top of it.

    I applaud Ms Khazan for handing this professionally and courteously despite your trolling. And whatever your track record might be, I had never heard of you, and probably never will again. Looking into said record, you seem to have done some original and interesting stuff in the late 1990s, but guess what? The 90s are over. They have been for quite some time, sorry to bring this bad news to you. It’s 2013 now, and if you ever want to pay those bills, you could have done with the extra syndication exposure (nknews.org, seriously?!). The additional input required was minimal and you would have built some up some credit, goodwill, a friendly contact, potential for future paid work etc. Instead, you go playing hard to get. Way to go for building your network. Did no-one ever tell you that for any freelancer (journalist or other), it is about three things: network, network and network? This whole episode says nothing about the state of journalism (bla, bla, bla, armchair philosopher, time for coffee, again), the only thing it says is that you are arrogant. Good luck with this, and the bills.

    • Michael Istmo says

      No, the only thing it says is that you’re stupid. I bet Thayer has a much better network than Khazan.

    • Drew Limsky says

      John, you’re a prick. Once in a while, if feels good to assert some self-respect. Maybe as important as money or your career in networking.

    • Denver says

      “you could have for example given her this piece for free, and extracted a promise for a paid-for piece next budget cycle”

      You’re a dum-dum. Or a schill. Likely both.

    • Stan says

      John, what is it you do for a living?

      Or do you just wander around the internet with praise-from-Caesar-is-praise-indeed opinions on arrogance while handing out gratuitously trite advice for free in the hope that you may one day be paid for it?

      You’re the kind of guy who tells a woman that if she has sex with you now, just this once, then one day, you may even marry her…

      Good luck with that, and the bills.

    • Ben Young says

      This post by Mr. John Hill is despicable. What a nasty thing to write. Did someone piss in your Cheerios the morning when you wrote this?

    • says

      Oh yeah “networking”, the all-purpose career advice for the 21st century, right after “unpaid internships” (aka “slave labor”) and “positive thinking” (the Secret, hey it worked for Oprah and its author).

      Lemme guess, John, you’re a “job coach” or a “motivational speaker”, or maybe a “wealth management advisor”,
      “resume advisor” or some other similarly esteemed occupation.

      BTW, someone did google that “professional editor” at the Atlantic the author was corresponding and found she was three years out of college. Probably an unpaid intern looking for “exposure”, living in mom’s basement or sharing a studio apartment with two other 20-something girls, trying to get her “foot in the door”.

      But this is the internet, so for every action there’s an opposite clueless troll reaction. You’re it.

  86. says

    Can I get a free subscription to The Atlantic? I promise to be sure the magazine will be left in exposed spaces for others to read too…

  87. JonG says

    5 years ago I was being paid to blog on a major news website (you would know the name), and they told me I had a couple of months to either get my page views up (presumably by dumbing down and sensationalizing my posts, which were being written for a professional audience) or they would stop paying me. However, they did offer me the opportunity to keep blogging on the site, but for free until the page views went up. Needless to say, we parted ways, and in that case, the whole biz model of that portion of the site went kaput.

  88. Drew Limsky says

    Nate, you’re the man. Olga deserved everything she got. And her apologists are losers. You taught this recent college grad something about self-respect; she’s lucky to have a job at all. Everyone has to take responsibility for his/her actions.

  89. Dexter says

    Isn’t the Atlantic out of business? Till now, thought so… THAT’S how much the Atlantic impacts my life… who needs exposure? The Atlantic I dare say, not you, the pro journalist.

  90. Dexter says

    Might I add. Olga is apparently getting paid for her job. I ponder if one asked her if she would be willing to work for free for the Atlantic, would she be willing to do so? Doubtful.

  91. says

    Sounds about right. I’ve been in journalism since 1973. I’ve been freelancing or contract since 2005. Tomorrow I’ll have to take a writing test to prove to a new vendor that I can actually write.

  92. says

    $100? From THE ATLANTIC? Even if they HAD paid? And to think I feel guilty about only paying $75 for freelancers’ stories published on our little ol’ neighborhood-news site. And that’s just for the relatively simple features. If I could find somebody experienced to collaborate with on some of the hard-news stories – it would be significantly more. (editor@westseattleblog.com)

  93. says

    Same for photographers. Wish I had a dollar for each time someone has said to me over the last 10 years, “we can’t pay you anything, but it’s good publicity.” My motto, which everyone should chant, including hobbyists: “IF IT’S WORTH USING/PUBLISHING IT’S WORTH PAYING (a reasonable rate) FOR”. I don’t need publicity, I need cash in the bank.
    A mag I wrote & photographed stories for over a decade, then offered me less than I started on for work I knew was better quality. Had the editor had a pay rise in ten years? Graphic Designer? Receptionists? Cleaners? etc? Of course! It’s just like farming; the producer is the one who gets the squeeze. Same applies to book authors also.

    • says

      Dear Fiona,
      I am with you on your points, but I can’t say I’m with you on your chant: ‘IF IT’S WORTH USING/PUBLISHING IT’S WORTH PAYING (a reasonable rate) FOR’. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

  94. says

    Reblogged this on Kisses Like Wine and commented:
    I think this needs more attention. Writers — and all artists, no matter their medium — should not work for free, nor be expected to do so. Shame on the Atlantic, and on anyone who expects slave labor from creatives.

  95. says

    Great Nate! so hard way for we…the freelancers. Here in Spain we both, the photojournalists and the journalists have the same problem every day! it is terrible. thank you for sharing!

    • says

      This particular person was only told he would not be paid after the initial contact. Had the introductory note read something like “We would like a rehash of your article but we cannot pay except in exposure” it would have been a different kettle of fish… and you know it. On spec, I would say that the person who offered the (non-)deal thought the writer would jump at the opportunity to be read by a different demographic. It happens to all of us. One editor even told me I was “lucky” that he had not asked me to pay for being allowed (his words, not mine) to write in his publication, and that he was only doing it because I am quite good and he liked my style and my take on the topic.

    • says

      The National Writers Union (freelancers of all genre and platform), has been organizing around this issue, especially since the sale of the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million. This is the new business model. Its why freelancers’ need a union. More power to Nate Thayer!

      • says

        Then publications would just get one of the others that aren’t in your union. The problem is that there are too many writers who write pretty much the same stuff and anyone can distribute their material nationally and internationally with very little effort due to the internet.

        Why would a publication spend 10x on your article when an equally competent writer across the country is willing to do it for x? It is unfortunate, but one does not get rich selling commodities by the single unit, one grain of rice at a time.

        The magazine or newspaper might be selling your article for a profit, but they are also selling the printers ink, the pulper’s paper and the binders glue. Until one finds a niche that someone demands, a writer will be paid in the same way that reems of paper are purchased.

  96. says

    Writers should start advocating for the Article V Convention. It’s the corruption of government, which has corrupted media, and today neither the government nor media conglomerates want writers around. Corporations don’t want humans who think. Consciousness could be altered right back to what it was when writers were sought after, but to get there will require a tipping-point majority of Americans cognizant and desiring the objective solution. Write your member of Congress asking what they think of America dusting off the Constitution and convoking a federal convention in order to propose amendments they never will.Then write a story about their response.


  97. says

    You journalists are ridiculous.

    No one is obligated to pay you a single penny. Your rates are determined by the ROI that you produce. Anything beyond that is wasteful. Profit is the name of the game. If you want to get paid more, then find ways to generate more profit for the companies you work for.

    If you don’t like this idea of working to generate more profit, move to a country with a socialist government.

    “Need comes before greed”, said no wise man. Ever.

    • says

      this comment intrigues me. How many industries pay workers on a precise measure of return on investment? Teachers? – nope. Police? nope. Army? definitely not. politicians? – never. The only one I can think of that comes close is advertising or retail sales.
      A smart company would recognise the traffic/ interest/ readers/ sales or whatever that writers bring and pay accordingly – most know their product would be meaningless without it.
      The only argument for not paying as much nowadays is companies are having more problems earning money from advertising, however, that’s a reflection on the changing industry, not the quality of journalist’s work.
      What we do need to do is work towards a different model where readers recognise their need to pay for quality writing instead of expecting everything for free. And then whinging when journos don’t write stories that echo their own view of the world.
      So what return on investment do you bring your industry, John?

      • says

        I find it interesting that your examples of “industries , i.e. police/teachers/army/politicians, are all government employees and definitely not companies, nor industries.

        Are you possibly confusing them with for profit business, or was that done intentionally?

      • N Levine says

        Trolls live under bridges and have very little profit motive.

        The trouble with John’s logic is he fails to understand journalism and the very industry that makes it valuable. The articles aren’t the revenue generator — the advertisers pay the journals for their ads. The well written, well respected journals attract a certain readership. Those readers attract the advertisers.

        The trend I see in writing articles or shooting photography is that the creator is expected to relish the visibility instead of receiving an actual dollar amount.

        In other words, writers and photographers are all too often asked to work for free. That’s what makes copywriting so attractive now.

      • says

        @Joe, purely coincidence. Same applies to builders, plumbers, secretaries, receptionists, graphic artists, architects – I could go on. You might get paid per job or have to occasionally meet KPIs, but few people are paid in direct proportion to the profit they earn their employer – although some online writers are now paid per ‘click’ on a story.

    • says

      The issue is that a for-profit organisation was soliciting the use of his professionally-provided product to facilitate the service for which they charge their advertisers, and offering him no money for that product.

      The Atlantic was attempting to attain R for no I. If they are unable to I for R, then they have no reason to exist as a business. If you buy services with the intent of selling them on without using money, John, then you are perverting the market.

      Best of luck to you in all your future endeavors, John. Every day must feel like something of an uphill climb for a man of your intellectual talents, and I admire you for just having the energy to keep going.

      • says

        I would add that I pay everyone I pay any money to based on my subjective sense of what that service is worth to me. I don’t pay based on the wealth it generates: I pay the plumber to unclog the sink because I want the sink unclogged–not the money it makes me to have a functional sink. I pay my doctor to detect and treat my ailments because I prefer to be well–not based on the money I am able to make as a well person. It’s interesting that we expect services now that we don’t assign any monetary value to all. We expect information and entertainment for free. Perhaps this is because there is so much of it. The Atlantic wanted something for nothing, but increasingly we all do. Why? Are we now convinced the world owes us? I don’t leave myself out of this. This article, for example, with accompanying comments (also informative and entertaining) are also more or less free to me.

      • janet says

        Thank you, Eoghan, for explaining that to John, who apparently has no clue how this all works, and, I’m guessing, not much of a heart. Hard-working journalists are increasingly taken for granted at a time when we need them all the more.

    • cajjac says

      If we all repeat “Profit is the name of the game” enough does that make it true? I think not. However, if we keep repeating it enough it does make it possible for confusion and stupidity to reign supreme.

    • Dave says

      You seem to have a bit of a reading comprehension issue, John. The Atlantic approached Nate – meaning that they believed his article had value and was worthy of publication (indeed, it had already been published in another form). But then the Atlantic proposed to pay exactly NOTHING for that work. Nate, along with every other right-thinking person on this blog, did the right thing by excoriating the Atlantic’s editor for wanting to get something for nothing.

      If you have something of value, you don’t allow it to be exploited without compensation. I think even you would believe that.

    • says

      That is bizarre, John.

      He never said anyone was obligated, but he said, if you want my content, you pay me.

      There is no other profession that operates the way you imagine writers should. Do I get to have a man build a house for me and then just not pay him? “Hey, buddy, this is EXPOSURE.”

      How is your position at all different from what I’ve just described? Because you don’t respect the work that a writer does?

      • says

        —There is no other profession that operates the way you imagine writers should. Do I get to have a man build a house for me and then just not pay him? “Hey, buddy, this is EXPOSURE.”—

        David, great example to illustrate the point.

        Unfortunately, nowadays, content is so immediate and accessible, writers struggle to receive compensation for their work. If publishers know they have a chance of getting someone to work for free, why would they go out of their way to pay…?

        As writers, we yearn to share our work and, especially in the beginning, our eagerness is our folly. Since writers want to put their work out there, publishers know they can take advantage…as any opportunist would.

        I agree with Nate; if he’s been writing as long as he has, it’s pretty insulting to be expected to write, for free. Maybe if the Editor disclosed, right away, that she expected him to write, for no charge, the issue wouldn’t cut so deep. Either way, when writers start, these are the terms many of us are subjected to.

      • says

        How does my point show me to be intellectually limited?

        What supporting evidence do you have for your snarky and nasty comment? If it is more than a guess, what actual material are you basing your opinion off of?

        What is the value in leaving a snarky insult in response to a comment, while not actually responding to the content and not explaining your position?

      • Estrogena says

        To David Streever: I think John Tongue’s comment was in response to John (“ridiculous” and “ROI”), whose tongue is a prominent feature in his pic. Look at the manner in which comments and replies are indented.

    • says

      Dear John: “No one is obligated to pay you a single penny”? Really?

      I just spent most of the last month working on a 3,500-word story for a national magazine, for which I traveled a thousand miles and spent 5 days and 6 nights away from my family and day-to-day responsibilities. I interviewed dozens of people and did hours of background research. The story then took me about 15 hours to write. I will spend another 5 or so hours organizing and annotating my notes for the magazine’s fact-checking department and making any changes my editor requests. Once my story is finished, it will go into the printed magazine and the magazine’s website, where it will draw in readers, who will presumably look at the advertising that is sold against it. I love my job. This was a fantastic assignment. I also expect and deserve to be (and, thank goodness, in this case will be) paid handsomely for my time, my talent and my experience.

      How hard did you work last month, John? What do you do for a living? How much do you expect to make? What’s your ROI?

      • says

        Dear Lauren: Good for you! And lucky for you. Lots of us in the field are just as talented and dedicated as you are, and we can’t get paid a penny. I’m happy for your success, but please don’t gloat over the rest of us. No matter how hard we try, the jobs aren’t there, and we’re suffering, especially us longtime journalists who should be able to command top dollar.

      • says

        I’d hazard a guess that I make a lot more than the average writer.

        That’s because what I write generates revenue and profits.

        It’s not self-centered, ego-driven writing designed to glorify me as a writer. I get paid because I generate results and because sales skills are in high demand.

        Unfortunately, it seems as though “high quality writing” is not in demand anymore. Tough luck.

        Here’s a quick marketing tip. If you want to get paid more than your fellow journalists, you need to differentiate yourself. If the Atlantic can get similar articles from other journalists for free, then you can bet they’ll do it. But if you (or Nate) has a very compelling reason that the Atlantic should hire them, they will.

        Nate has described a marketing issue without knowing. Most of you (all of you?) SUCK as marketing. Time to learn.

        • says


          You have a fundamental lack of understanding of the ROI of this equation. They are asking Nate to provide for free, the product they are selling, which is not his work, or his time, but his finished, written words. Imagine an Atlantic Online page with just a headline and a bunch of ads, no article. What reader stays the for more than a second? What advertiser pays to be there? What return is there from that page?


          Without a *product to sell* there is no Return. Simply, the Atlantic is looking to maximize their return by minimizing their investment in Nate’s product. Nate is saying “no way.”

          You, John, are a fool, blathering on about ROI. You know nothing and you are blind because you will not see. Without the writer, there is no magazine. There is no product. There is no return without investment.

          A blank page sells no ads.

      • Slothrop69 says

        “I get paid because I generate results and because sales skills are in high demand.” Lots of prostitutes, I guess, would argue that the rest of us are having sex wrong too. The “market” is not everyone’s god, yet.

    • squanky says

      What do you do for a living, John? Are you happy to do it just for “exposure”? Is your paycheck dependent on how well the business does that week? What writers produce IS the product. Why should they give it away for free?

      • says

        Hi all.

        I’m a writer. I’m a copywriter. I make people buy stuff with the words I write. As far as the market is concerned, everything I write is about ROI.

        If I don’t get results, I don’t get paid.

        That’s why I find it so silly that writer’s insist on being paid because “they worked hard”. So what? I work hard. Lots of people work hard. You could spend an entire month working on a great piece, but if no one else thinks it’s a great piece, then you don’t deserve to get paid for it.

        This concept is what keeps so many people wallowing in mediocrity. They believe that they have a right to get paid.

        That’s not how the marketplace works. You don’t get paid based on how hard you worked, how many hours you put in, how much stress you endured, how tough you had it or how many obstacles you had to overcome.

        It’s about results.

        Take a look at a salesman. If he doesn’t make sales, he doesn’t get paid. It would be ridiculous if he walked into his boss’s office to say “But I worked so hard today. You owe me.” If everyone got paid on the basis of how hard they worked, the economy would crash, businesses would go bankrupt and writers like yourselves would be even worse off.

        Yes, you’re all right. Nate has a right to refuse to do the piece. I won’t argue with you there.

        But I will argue with you until the end of time over the issue of whether you should get paid based on how hard you work.

        If you want to get paid more, get better results.

        As a copywriter, I understand that it’s not about me. It’s about understanding the needs of the people I write for.

        Consider the issue from the publisher’s point of view.

        If it made good business sense to pay Nate, then it’s likely they would have done it.

        That they didn’t offer to pay Nate says to me that either the market is flooded with journalists (high supply equals low demand, and therefore, low prices), or that the needs of modern publishing businesses are no longer as reliant on the typical journalist as you all would like.

        If you don’t like that, tough luck. Either accept it, or be courageous and change it. It’s as simple as that. Whining about the issue in blog comments isn’t doing a thing to fix it.

        Want to see what happens when we stop paying people based on results and start paying based on what they need or demand or on how hard they worked?

        Read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

        • says

          The basis of demanding pay for the use of your product by a publisher that professes to have 13 million readers (a number they certainly mention to advertisers when collecting revenue) is not based on “how hard you worked”, it’s the will of the market. Why should Nate give them his product for free any more than Rearden Metal should be distributed for free.

          It’s not like The Atlantic – a professional distributor of journalistic product – was offering to host the article and split the advertising income in proportion to the number of hits it received (and therefore advertising revenue it generated), which would be more akin to the point you are making.

          You make your living through a dependency on that same chain. The ads you write are only viewed – accidentally – by the people who visit sites like The Atlantic to read articles by established writers (not copywriters) like Nate. Your paycheck is a percentage of that same revenue.

          Also, as a fellow writer, I’m sure you’re aware that “Atlas Shrugged” is terrible writing. Good invective, but terrible writing.

      • TD says

        John is correct here. Indeed, no one so far in this thread is actually “wrong,” although there does seem to be some misdirected energy.

        Professional writers in 2013 certainly have a right to feel aggrieved. But any gripes should be directed at the universe, not at any particular set of publications or editors. The fact that the Internet emerged on our clock isn’t anyone’s fault. It happened. It undermined the existing model for content. It changed supply and demand. It reshaped the nature of advertising.

        That’s how it is. The world doesn’t owe any of us a wage just because we choose to “work hard” on our journalism. Nobody was ever being paid for their journalism in the first place — they were being paid for bringing eyeballs to advertising. The digital age has thrown monkey wrenches into the works.

        John understands how a market functions. He’s just serving up hard truths here, for better or worse.

      • says

        John, as a fan of Atlas Shrugged myself, I totally don’t get your point. To repeat a point used by some other commenter, should Hank Rearden have been pleased to have his Rearden Metal used by a major corporation just because of the free advertising and not demanded payment for the work he already did? From what I know of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged, I highly doubt she’d stand for that herself with her own writing.

      • Slothrop69 says

        I find John’s respond really puzzling, even from an Ayn Rand-ian perspective. Not the creepy and mean lack of empathy–that seems entirely consistent with every Rand-ian I’ve met. What is weird is the fact that Nate is doing exactly what a Rand-ian wants us all to do: negotiate one-on-one with an employer. He is a freelancer, exactly what free market warriors want us all to be; he isn’t (oh, God forbid) organizing a union or demanding a socialist state. The potential employer offered a ridiculous wage, and Kyle refused. What exactly is wrong with the exchange?

    • says

      Hey, John … Blow it out your a$$. When you get right down to it, intellectual capital is the only kind of ROI there is, because even some poor sod down on the assembly line needs at least a few smarts to put widgets together. Furthermore, the critical thinking skills required for truly effective journalism ought to be commanding top dollar these days because they’re what’s needed to get a moribund economy and a morally bankrupt society moving again.

      Frankly, according to recent statistics, the last thing ANY worker, let alone journalists, needs to be doing is to generate more profits for corporations. Here’s the proof:

      • says

        Hi, Cynthia. Just want you to know I’m definitely not gloating and hope I didn’t come across that way. I think we should ALL be paid fairly. Best of luck in your writing! -Lauren

      • says

        Huh, I would have thought that I buy the products John copyrights for (assuming I do) because the products have value to me. Turns out his notion is that the ad copy is where the value is.

    • says

      Or, more succinctly, John: Why do you feel the Atlantic’s need to turn a profit is any better or worse than Nate Thayers? He’s greedy because he won’t work for free for a for-profit company? To me, this means the Atlantic is the greedy entity, not the writer.

    • says

      John, I just clicked your link and see that your job as a writer is very different than mine and Nate Thayer’s. I would argue that even though we all use words to make a living, you can’t compare what you do to what we do. You are in advertising. We are journalists. Even you would agree, I hope, that there is value in reporting what is going on in the world. Also, no journalist will take you seriously if you reference “Atlas Shrugged.”

      • 65percent says

        And not just journalists. Referencing “Atlas Shrugged” is a reliable indicator of both intellectual acumen and moral compass. It also happens to be *really* badly written.

      • Mary O'Neill says

        I would also argue that as a result of Nate’s work the Atlantic wanted to run it. He should get paid for that result.

      • says

        Lauren, and John,
        Lauren, your post about being a successful journalist was inspiring (not gloating, as someone called it). Thank you!
        John, I knew you were a Rand fan the minute you posted that mediocre-pseudo-philosophical-hackery. Did you know that professional philosophers laugh at the mention of Rand´s name? It´s true. As do writers, and readers, of literature.

    • Annabelle says

      Eh? I thought the way capitalism worked was that someone produced something and somebody bought it. Or they didn’t buy in, in which case the producer went out of business. But I’m scratching my head to find a model where a producer works for free to create a product for someone else to sell.

      • says

        That’s true. If you read my comment above, you’ll see that I agree.

        But all this whining? You all sound like a bunch of whining teenagers. Don’t like something? Do something about it instead of complaining about it.

        If publishers aren’t paying like they used to, there is a reason.

        If they go out of business, that’s their problem.

        They shouldn’t pay you just because you want to get paid. They can make you an offer. You have the right to refuse. If you refuse, they may collapse, or they may succeed. They they continue to be profitable without paying writers, and that strategy works for them, well, GOOD FOR THEM. But there is no point in complaining about it.

    • simeon says

      John.. I strongly disagree with your negative comment above. Of course an educated, intelligent, original piece of writing deserves to be paid for. Would you expect your doctor or nurse to work for free, or for experience, or it might be “good for your profile”. A socialist society might have far more interesting and quality journalism. Your money is the measure of all things has created the current desperate situation in most of the world.

      • says

        What if we have more quality pieces of writing than we have money to pay for?

        Suppose the total amount of quality pieces of writing amounts to $10,000.

        If we only have $5,000 to spend on writing, where do you suppose the other $5,000 comes from?

        It HAS to come from somewhere. This basic idea is one reason why economies crash.

        In a socialistic society, the media becomes a medium for those in power to control the people. Far more interesting journalism? I think not.

    • Dan says

      “No one is obligated to pay you a single penny.”

      They are if they use our work, John. The Atlantic tried to disregard that obligation and was correctly told to take a hike. If a company asked you for unpaid work, you’d laugh in their face–rightfully so, and not because you’re better than us. (You’re not.)

      Also, your fetish of ROI has a flip side: By your logic, an employee who generates productive work without getting paid generates infinite ROI, making them more valuable than you or anyone else who gets paid for their work. They won’t be able to feed or shelter themselves, but they will generate infinite ROI…and this, in your view, should be our aim.

      As someone who purports to know how business works, you should understand the problem with this. But we both know your affected outrage is less about criticizing writers’ right to make a living and more about flogging your own self-congratulatory conceit–which, believe me, isn’t impressive.

      • says

        If any of you take the time to actually read my comment, you’ll see that I agree with you that we should get paid for our work. No arguments there.

        But you’re all whining about it like 6 year olds. Nate refused. End of story. The publisher didn’t force him to do anything. It simply offered him the opportunity.

        The publisher is NOT obligated to pay him just because you all think he should get paid. By the same token, Nate is NOT obligated to do the job.

        That sums the issue up.

        If you have a problem with the “state of journalism”, you’d be better served by actually creating solutions, not whining about it on some blog.

        My grammar IS atrocious. I’ll take that as a compliment. That’s because I’m a copywriter. My job is to make people understand stuff. It’s not to come across as a lofty, well-trained, uses-good-grammar writer.

        My goal when writing anything is to have the reader or listener understand me. If I need to use colloquialisms and bad grammar to accomplish that goal, I will (and I’m proud of it). I’m not attached to my writing. You can knock me all you want. I don’t care. Why? I get results. That’s what I care about.

        As for Rand’s book, it sounds like you all have missed the point. Also, the quality of her writing (or lack) has nothing no bearing on the efficacy of her ideas.

      • says

        Let the company try to get productive work from someone without paying them.

        Sooner or later, the person is either going to quit or die (since he can’t eat). When that happens, the ROI disappears. It’s an unsustainable practice.

        Therefore, based on good, long-term business sense, the company pays it’s employees.

      • Alan Webb says

        “As for Rand’s book, it sounds like you all have missed the point. Also, the quality of her writing (or lack) has nothing no bearing on the efficacy of her ideas.”

        Most people with a reasonable amount of intelligence and discernment get over Ayn Rand by the time they are in their twenties.
        Cheap ideas appealing to teen age romanticists. Not a shred of solid
        thinking, philosophically lame … and (as an award winning and highly plaid copywriter) I can say that quality of writing equals quality of thinking.

      • says

        True, Dan.
        John, your grammar is not bad in a way that is effective, clever, or even intentional, in a way that good writers sometimes effectively, cleverly, and intentionally write.
        No, Rand´s mediocre writing doesn´t make her mediocre ideas bad. They do however make the mediocre ideas funny. Like flatulence and other explosions of stinking hot air tend to be.

      • says

        In addition, John, being exploited or feeling like someone is attempting to exploit your labor for their own profit over your well-being, or, discovering that someone has already exploited your labor for their profit, is subject to complaint.

        We get to try to create the kind of society we want to live in. That is why we are having this discussion. Humans and their labor, their ideas, their creative work are not merely commodities. That is one way to look at them that can sometimes be useful, but it is not universal.

        If it is not universal, that means it is not the way we must think of our labor or contributions. If we find it constructive, for our own disclosed or undisclosed purposes, we complain. For example, if we note a trend that consists of us feeling like our labor or contributions are being degraded or exploited.

        That is how we find solutions to change said degradation or exploitation. Solutions that don´t always include your neo-nazi-randian-ubermensch approach. Indeed, the constructions you are using are feeble. The world is not parsed into the dichotomy of dark-age-Stalinist socialism vs cut-throat-free-market capitalism (from whence Rand came and went, by the way).

        There is this little thing called U.S. history, i.e., The Gilded Age, when the so-called-complainers wrote masterworks, namely, Upton Sinclair with The Jungle.

      • says

        I always find it interesting that when people are confronted with an idea they disagree with, they resort to personal attacks rather than refuting the actual idea.

        I don’t give 2 hoots what you all think about my writing.

        Introducing Rand’s book was a distraction.

        The problem with everyone’s thinking here is that the publishing industry owes you something. They don’t. Just like you have right to get paid for the work you do (if it produces the results that the publishing industry wants), the publishing industry has the right to offer you money or exposure as they please.

        You’re not obliged to accept their offers. Nor are they obliged to offer you money just because you demand it.

        Of course, you can always refuse their offers of exposure.

        Until you all get over this idea of being “owed something” simply because you took the time to produce something, you will all struggle.

        Until you take the time to produce something that the market actually wants (NOT what you think it wants), you’re going to run into this problem over and over again.

        If I was the editor of the Atlantic and I had access to good quality writing for cheap (or free), then of course I’ll take it over paying for the equivalent. That’s how a free market works.

        Journalists have two options –

        1) Stop complaining, or

        2) Do something about it. Instead of whining, strive to create content that is better than what the publishing companies can get for free. That’s when you’ll get paid. Not a second sooner.

        It’s really a question of evolution. Those who adapt will thrive in the “new” economy. Those (many of them in these comments) who resent progress and demand that nothing changes, will at most, survive.

      • says

        Ah, John, John – this has become an exercise in semantics for you, hasn’t it?
        So a journo HAS written something a publisher wants and HAS taken the option of declining an offer of zero recompense; what more do you want?
        Would you be happy if all the journos in the world followed your lead and took up copywriting?
        OK so you’ve found a nice niche that fewer people are interested in and demands a different set of skills, but I don’t know why that makes you so disdainful of those who chose to write features or news.
        And if you don’t like the idea of blogging about something you find ridiculous, then just don’t read it.
        But I’m guessing your in need of some creative stimulation after writing about all that washing powder, so a good online stoush fill the gap, right?
        Or is this inverted snobbery?

      • says

        I’m here because this I find this subject fascinating.

        Discussing my ideas and opinions with others helps me refine them. I like being challenged. It helps me weed out inaccurate ideas and replace them with accurate ones.

        Snobbery? HA! Me a snob? If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in this discussion, it’s that 99% of journalists are stuck up writing snobs who don’t understand marketing or supply and demand, and have a penchant for critizing the writing of anyone who disagrees with them.

        Certainly not the most sophisticated bunch.

        If the Atlantic thought it worth paying Nate for his writing, they would. But alas, they don’t. Boo hoo. Now let’s all cry about it. That’s what you all sound like. A whole lot of bitching and moaning about how this shouldn’t be happening.

        Well, guess what? It is. That’s how the marketplace works. It isn’t swayed by opinions but by wallets.

        Arguing about how the marketplace works is like arguing with a rock. That’s what you all are doing. Arguing with a rock. It’s a pity party.

        “Let’s all pity Nate and feel sorry for ourselves.”

        “Let’s sit in the corner and complain about how unjust the world is.”

        “Oh the sorry state of journalism.”

        You guys should listen to yourselves sometime.

        As for my investment in this discussion, like I said, I get to refine my ideas (plus be entertained like nothing else).

        • says

          You have the wrong end of the stick. First, they dangled the bait of exposure-to-new-demographic. Then, when the writer appeared interested, they switched to the but-we-can’t-pay-you mode. Before you accuse me for being mercenary… please be informed that I do write for free when I want to; not for exposure, but because I give my work as a donation to a cause in which I believe.

    • says

      John also seems to misunderstand the difference between the job of a journalist and that a magazine/paper/content publisher.

      Using this example: it is The Atlantic’s job to determine what kind of writing will generate profit. THAT is not the freelancer’s job to do for The Atlantic, which very carefully and protectively selects and shapes what writing makes its brand, what IT thinks will generate $$. Then they seek that kind of writing – as it did from Nate here. Nate’s job is to write what they asked him to write – not to determine whether or not or how much revenue it will generate for them.

      What you’re suggesting is akin to saying that a clothing store should not have to purchase the clothes it sells. It should just get the money from selling them, and the people that designed and manufactured the most popular items at their own cost…might get paid some flat fee. Ridiculous.

      • says

        Yes, I agree. This is the part John doesn’t get. I don’t “feel that I am owed something” because I “work hard.” I am quite literally owed something for the product I manufacture, which my employer uses to sell magazines and earn advertising revenues. Each product I manufacture is a hand-crafted one-off that requires hours of my time, a fair amount of knowledge of a wide variety of topics, physical travel, and numerous other intangible skills–including wit, an ear for a good anecdote, and the ability to sweet-talk information out of recalcitrant sources (not to mention track down those sources in the first place). That’s what we journalists are paid for. And we earn every penny.

    • Jean says

      Oh but John, for all his John-ness, has it right. Money for articles comes from income. Part of all income must be directed to profits, part to overhead. Profits and overheads in this industry are what they are; income is not being siphoned off unfairly to either. All the Atlantic’s emails are guilty of is a certain misdirection or rudeness, the kind that happens almost hourly in most companies. Any argument in favour of higher payments that does not take in this economic reality–and an eloquent yet unsubstantiated denial of this economic reality is still an unsubstantiated denial–probably hurts more than it helps, overall.

    • says

      John, your reasoning is deeply flawed. That you’d be mentioning Rand at some point is unsurprising, as your passion drives you to apply a(n antiquated) philosophy to a real world situation which doesn’t truly apply.

      One problem is that Olga’s proposition doesn’t allow Nate to be compensated for his ROI. As others point out, the offer requires no investment on the publisher’s part. But more important, no return either. Had Olga started differently, your argument might have some traction. For example, “We don’t often reach outside our own team of writers, but we are intrigued. And while we can’t offer payment upfront, for an untested product, we can offer compensation should the article generate traffic on the site.” You’ve assumed his work is worthless.

      What it looks like to me is that Olga was trying to leverage all tools available to her, to maximize her impact in her new role. (I’ve read elsewhere she was one week into her job.) She’s revealed her own inexperience by offering exposure to a seasoned journalist – something normally reserved for neophytes. In short, she didn’t know who Nate Thayer is. (Oops!)

      Just like your job writing email auto-responses, website visits for an online article could actually be measured down to each individual visit. This situation is further distinguished as being unlike the Randian proposition you espouse, especially because it’s unlike most jobs, which can’t quantify ROI very precisely to the individual employee.

      What’s sad is that you’ve violated the most basic Randian economics, in not just using the principle to try and defend not paying a worker for his contribution to profit, but worse, to support incompetent management. Very unRandian indeed.

    • says

      And there we have it, folks….the mush that’s left of the American mind after being subjected to a half-century of relentless cold-war propaganda deliberately fashioned to confuse or conflate “free markets” (no such thing now, or in the past, nor will there ever be) with freedom itself. Behold the mindset that is responsible for America becoming the last developed nation in the world without a socialized healthcare system. Here is the mind that is willing to jeopardize the life of one’s own children; who is willing to forfeit the roof over his own head, and the car he drives to work because of a belief that conflates profits with patriotic duty.
      “Sure, Americans may be dying in their thousands every year due their inability to pay for a healthcare services, but at least they die patriotically! Sure Americans pay far more for every healthcare dollar spent than Canadians, Brits, Germans, Italians, French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. etc. do. But those are all communist countries, right?”

      Behold ‘an idiot at home’.

    • Scout says

      In a milder way than you, I agree. If there’s a demand for your work, you’ll get paid for it. If supply exceeds demand, you won’t. That’s the economy in which we live.

      If you’re able to make a free-lance life work, good for you. You get freedom from office drudgery, wage slavery, and all that.

      But it seems to me that far too many people would like to be a writer, actor, model, etc., than a manual laborer, servant, office worker or (worse!) a professional who needs to study for 8+ years to learn their trade (like a doctor).

      My point? If you’re not already rich, and are pursuing your dream life, don’t complain if it doesn’t come easy. Dreams only come easy to wealthy.

    • rlloydmyers says

      @John: Your post is simply ridiculous. Perhaps you shouldn’t drink before posting at online forums. Thank you for trolling and enjoy your particular brand of sententious misery.

      • nick says

        I don’t think this practice of dismissing contrary opinion or controversial opinion as ‘trolling’ is really intelligent or helpful. If everyone commenting here all said the same thing it would not be a discussion. Is it trolling to go onto a racist website and say ‘you’re all idiots’? Or is it a valuable reminder that not everyone supports their far right policies? John’s a bit brutal, but he’s only offering an alternative view.

  98. says

    I really wish I was surprised by this, but as a former Travel Writer & Photographer in the early 2000’s, and a photojournalist up until 2008, it’s basically the state of the industry now. First it was website that wouldn’t pay. Then magazines got killed by the web, so they decided THEY wouldn’t pay, since they were now competing in the rush to the bottom. Then newspapers wouldn’t pay, before they died altogether. The reason professional journalism is dead in this country is because nobody will hire or pay for professionals anymore – so we get what we pay for. Hacks, with no ethics or standards. Bloggers – some good, many iffy, some horrendous, with equally low or no standards or ethics, if they even care about such things. “Entertainment” shows that pass as journalism, like you get on Fox or MSNBC or the like, where the columnists and commentators have well known biases and angles, and you don’t get anything resembling unbiased, fact-based news. A few people still do it at the local level, but beyond that? Forget it.

    Unfortunately Nate, you’re right. Journalism IS dead. Killed because, unfortunately, quality journalism doesn’t make money, and in the corporate world, nobody cares about the public good anymore. If it’s not profitable it’s not worth doing.

    • says

      You’re spot-on, DSDPhoto, but the web only delivered the coup de grace. Corporations since the early 80s owned journalism properties to make money. I worked for three newspapers where the owners sold out and the journalism immediately plummeted as staffs were stripped in order to increase profit. Too bad we journalists couldn’t turn the same scrutiny on our owners that we’d given to local governments etc. Many of us saw it coming but were still powerless to stop it. You’re right — money rules, now more blatantly than ever.

  99. says

    Great piece. Pretty much sums up the state of professional photography as well. It’s essential to stop this slide into free work to main high standards of journalism

  100. says

    Hi. That was unbelievable, the exchange from the Atlantic, thanks for posting it. I saw a bunch of bloggers liked this, so I wanted to put a story out their about nyc court corruption specifically focusing on Judge Laura Drager. Ths petition at change.org links to a lot of articles and information. I know Elena Sassower of the Center for Judicial Accountability is on these crimes, and the Ethicsgate in midFebruary where Cuomo was asked to dismantle the corrupt ethic overseers has received little press. This is a huge open secret, the crimes being committed daily in Laura Drager’s courtroom. I and my nine year old are one of her hundreds of victims, her typical pattern – impoverishing the nonmonied spouse, failing to enforce her own court orders, eviction, etc. My ex is one of the deadbeats from the Milberg Weiss scandal. Thanks.

    • says

      How was he anything bad at all? He explained very clearly that they should only contact him for work for pay. There is no need to criticize him for that if you disagree, because your point of view is disrespectful. Of course he should get paid!

    • says

      Hayden: Are you offering to write something for free, then? Because obviously the editor was correct in presuming that soliciting for free content was a great way to fill a space she somehow forgot to budget for.

      I think you’ve missed who the real prick in this situation was. If somebody came to you at work and offered to let you do the exact same work for them, but they didn’t have money left to pay you for it, would you seriously consider that offer?

  101. Jeany says

    I think the larger issue is that the news media is stretched thin, and the media doesn’t (generally) want to admit this because it would imply that coverage isn’t all that. They can’t afford to pay freelancers, so they only want to use staff material. At the same time, their staff is stretched thin and they simply do not (and cannot) report everything or have their ear to the ground everywhere. The news media would be well served to steal a page from the old news weeklies. Yes, I am aware that they are a dying breed, but that has nothing to do with their method of news aggregation from countries/regions/localities that they did not have a presence in. In Europe, back in the day, Newsweek and Time had in place a system of stringers for all of the various countries. These stringers would freelance for the them and freelance for other people. They were a safe pair of hands and a source of interesting local pitches and stories when having a staff reporter on the ground was not feasible. I know many papers, particularly in the UK, use stringers, but, as a whole, newspapers in the US need to embrace the system more broadly. Simply engage a handful of freelancers–arrange a weekly/monthly phone call or meet for a coffee and receive pitches/ideas. Not everything needs to result in a story, but fresh ideas are being introduced. I think fresher ideas and interesting trends will emerge. There, of course, will be some stories that have a limited audience. Put those on the web, and know who the audience is for those stories so that people can find them. Something simple–almost like an odd news box or a small stories box or divide it into regions. (Again, using Newsweek as an example, remember their Periscope section? The New Yorker has Talk of the Town.) I don’t buy this limited audience BS. People like being introduced to news ideas, and they like being entertained by the little trinkets. Also, I don’t think that the way that the freelance process works makes sense (in the sense that you pitch the idea before you are commissioned to write the story). Stories that have such a predictable outcome before you report them–those are not the most interesting stories (usually). It corners the freelancer into delivering something predictable (which in turn dulls the interest in stories that freelancers pitch–why bother?) or it forces the reporter into doing the reporting before finding a home for the piece, which can backfire big time when no one wants to pay you for your work. (For the record, some freelancers are people who were laid off from staff jobs or who cannot commit to a staff job because of small children or aging parents. The stereotype of some sort of hipster slacker is pretty far off the mark….) My reason for mentioning this last bit–about the predictable arch of that you often find in stories that are pitched before reported–is that I think using a stringer system would help counteract that. People are smarter and more curious than they are given credit for. I wish editors and the media would just acknowledge the current system’s shortcomings.

  102. soundcore2Wakjob says

    Looks like you are the victim of anti-white-male Feminism. LOL. Watch out for those uppity NY feminazi chciks!

  103. says

    Reblogged this on Stuff Found and commented:
    And now traditional Journalism is finally seeing the shift. Loosing money hand-over-fist I suspect. I think bloggers, good bloggers, will be the next standard in news reporting.

    • says

      Retweeted. I’m going to do a blog post on this story at ‘Histories of Things to Come.’ I would rather put my content up for nothing on my blog than engage with a declining system that turns a profit based on my work – and pays me nothing anyway. The notion that professionals can work for nothing is a disgrace and reflects the downward slide of the middle classes, moral bankruptcy of corporate cultures, and a gutting of the liberal professions. This idea that the only way production can have value is through quantification and sales is destroying our economy and by extension, our society.

  104. says

    Not only did they want his story for nothing, they wanted him to “repurpose” it for nothing. He said nope–though he used a lot of words to do it. More words than they deserved. This is a very common gambit, this inflated opinion of “exposure.” I tell people who try this that exposure is illegal in most states. A writer has to run his or her business as desired–in this case, giving away services is not desired. As for that copywriter who is sneering away on here, that is a different business and even then, I bet he does not do a direct response package for a percentage of what he brings in. I could be wrong, but I bet I’m not. As for expecting to be paid–I bet he also has a contract of how much he will be paid and expects every penny.

  105. Matthew says

    Unless I’m mistaken, The Atlantic is a straight-ahead, for-profit entity. (Or as a colleague of mine used to say, “I don’t see the words ‘United Way’ on our door.”)

    Even the smallest NFPs offer modest honorariums; is it too much to ask a commercial enterprise to do the same?

    Not too many years ago, I was part of a delegation calling upon an elderly gentleman who owned the rights to several valuable programs. Since he’d made more money in his field than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes, he had no real need to generate significant income from this venture; revenues would be earmarked for one of his foundations. We were strategizing various ways to syndicate one of his series as a “barter” product (where a TV or radio station receives the show for free, and the owner pays himself by selling advertising within the program).

    He rejected the idea outright: “If *you* don’t put a value on it, no one else will.”

    We all thought this was old-school thinking from a legend who couldn’t adapt to changing times.

    As it turned out, his insight into human nature was profound – and infinitely more valuable than any of the prattle we were giving him about “emerging distribution models.”

    Nate Thayer also understands the need to place a value on his work. But judging from some of the comments I’ve read, this notion somehow renders him a Luddite longing for the days of Linotype and shouts of “Copy boy!”

    As a professional for-profit writer, he makes his work available to a professional for-profit organization in exchange for payment. Simple Econ 101 stuff.

    I applaud Mr. Thayer’s stance.

    Although I would have redacted the name of The Atlantic’s representative (despite the horrible position the magazine placed her in, Olga’s e-mails seem scrupulously polite),
    Nate’s replies to The Atlantic didn’t strike me as rude. However, the justified frustration they display is all too familiar to countless writers and photojournalists.

  106. says

    I hate to say it, but writing has never been a particularly secure or profitable profession. In the last decade it has gone from bad to worse. The current state of print media is so deplorable that I occasionally have the philanthropic urge to walk up and down in front of the local University waving a picket sign urging journalism students to study something that will allow them to get a real job.

    Although I’m employed at an old school weekly paper, I know this is probably short lived as most of these papers are hanging on by a thread. Most of my friends in the business are searching for that holy grail, a communications job in government or industry – you know – the kind of job that lets you pay the rent and buy food for the cat.

    I don’t see this changing until we all begin to emulate Nate, and stop giving away the only thing we have of value for free, our words.

  107. drmar120 says

    Used to be a music journalist…trade press journalist…newspaper editor…travel journalist… I exited the field with a final travel feature in 2001 and have not looked back. Don’t miss it. Too many editors even back then were abusive to writers and it seems to have gotten exponentially worse.

    One of the worst things the internet has done is to utterly degrade the value of professional-level journalism. This is why an editor thinks nothing of asking a respected old pro for a freebie. “Just think of the great exposure you’ll get!” Try paying your health insurance premium with an Atlantic credit! What an incredible insult.

    Society will pay eventually when it becomes difficult to clearly see what is happening, as giant corporations and other centers of power consolidate their control of just about everything.

  108. nick says

    I’ve had this conversation with editors so much. John is right about one thing – there is more supply than demand. You can’t, I suppose, blame editors (themselves under pressure) to get what they can for free when they can.

    Like John I am an advertising copywriter mainly and thus far no one has ever offered to do my job for free and probably never will. There are no perks to writing 1000 words about soap powder, not even free soap powder!

    • blogger says

      don’t count on that. i’ve read posts from bloggers where they write a post about a product just because the company gave them some free samples. why would a company pay you to write about fragrance free laundry soap for sensitive skin when they can get a blog post from a mommy who blogs about dealing with her baby’s eczema? she’s read by 10,000 people who need that product. if they do that 10 times that equals 100,000 customers reading her testimonial, which is more believable than your copy. so, wanna trade your work for free soap powder?

  109. says

    Well, Mr. Thayer, it looks like you ignited a firestorm lol! I say, good for you for turning them down. I keep thinking about John-Atlas-Shrugged and his comments. I’m a fan of the book, and if you were expecting to be paid because “you worked hard” I would agree with his point of view. But the fact the The Atlantic approached you (which, to me, equals high demand) tells me they find your article valuable, and that gives you leverage. Perhaps a neophyte journalist would agree to be paid in “exposure,” and it would be a good trade. But you have something no one else can offer them (your article equals low supply) and so you have the luxury of holding out for actual pay. Now, if an intern rewrites it and they publish it…that’s a whole different conversation. Anyway, my two bits. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  110. says

    Amazing. I have a website with original content and I PAY my writers. Anything else is what they used to call ‘slavery’.

    • MWC says

      Um, you may need a refresher on what ‘slavery’ is. T-N Coates at The Atlantic has some things you can read, I believe it was paid work…

  111. says

    Nate, as a writer I understand your frustration. What I don’t understand–never understood, really–is the bizarre assumption that free lance writers have about automatically being paid a certain amount. They are free lance, that means they are the CEO of their own company, in charge of their own product and sales. Don’t companies negotiate deals? You have something of value, they have something of value, both parties haggle over the exchange with the same goal: to get as much as they can while paying out the least amount. When you alone are the talent, labor, accounts receivable, customer service, and sales all under one hat, it better be a damned good hat or the accounts payable department will suffer.

    With that in mind, I was surprised that you resorted to emotionalism in your correspondence with the Atlantic. Surely, you realize that a company that size can afford not to care about the personal details of their writer’s lives. In fact, bringing such things up can make a professional appear weak and unstable, even desperate. Now that the Atlantic has the goods on you, now that they know how you will respond, they will be unlikely to trouble themselves to solicit your work even as paid services. Or, if they do, they will pawn someone off on you who is gifted in emotional manipulation to work you over, then shake you down. You teach people how to treat you.

    A better method might be to receive all future offers graciously and humbly, while steadfastly sticking to your price in every instance. When they attempt to haggle, simply refer them to the awards, accolades, publishing history, and every other evidence of a warm public reception that you have handsomely displayed on your very fine webpage, then repeat your price again. Maintain a cheerful, yet detached demeanor, as if you are amused and intrigued by the opportunity to work with them but you have very high standards. Then, believe it. Little dogs win lots of fights, particularly when they believe they are big dogs.

    The amount of unpaid “exposure” a fledgling writer agrees to in the beginning of his career is in direct proportion to how big a dog he believes he is. If the market doesn’t respect you, don’t howl and whine–find another market.

    • says

      Re-read the exchange. He’s not arguing for “a certain amount”, he’s simply not interested in writing for free.
      Having said that, as a former commissioning editor, I understand that some writers draw higher readership than others, but find you get a lot less fuss from stringers / contributors if they know they’re all getting paid the same, fair rate.

    • blader says

      he WAS negotiating, and he stuck to his price, and he remained gracious and offered his services etc and so forth

  112. says

    That’s ridiculous. I was a college student up until recently, and I found the same trend. Publications gave out unpaid internships “because you’re a student.” It’s too bad that trend continues after graduation.

  113. says

    I’m impressed you got into such long e-mails with anyone from a major publication. The most I ever get is “If you have ideas, punt them to me, END OF CORRESPONDENCE”.

    Perhaps consider changing that woman’s identity as she might not be pleased at all to find out you’ve pasted her e-mails to the world.

    Good luck.

  114. says

    Fair play to you for having the integrity to turn them down and holding your own. And why shouldn’t you? That inherent disease in Journalism of not paying for work is disgusting and should be illegal. You wouldn’t expect to eat for free in a restaurant, get your groceries for free or for your doctor to operate on you free of charge.

    I have a degree in journalism, focusing on photojournalism and quickly realised after graduation that the possibility of getting paid for your work is very slim indeed. I had magazines requesting a multiple page photo story from me but without any payment. Of course if mommy and daddy had bought my camera gear and were paying my way I would have done it for free (and only added to the problem) but like yourself I have bills to pay. My parents taught me the value of money, and earning your own way in life and I thank them for that.

    I don’t what the solution is to this vile practice of not paying for content, but I hope one is found. Trying to sell the “opportunity” for exposure is all well and good but it’s not going to put food on the table.

  115. says

    Stunning. I’m so glad that I’ve spent my retirement money on a masters in writing at Hopkins so that I can now make the big bucks as a freelancer.
    This is amazing. The Atlantic – one of the ones I thought still paid! Sorry that happened, glad you vented, and glad you were Freshly Pressed for it!

  116. says

    Subject: Comment on James Bennet’s “apology”
    From: Harris Meyer (harris_meyer@yahoo.com)
    To: nraabe@theatlantic.com;
    Date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 2:07 PM

    Please pass on to Mr. Bennet that an apology is to say “I’m sorry we did that.” When you say “I’m sorry if we offended you,” that negates the value of the apology because it suggests that you don’t really think you did anything wrong. I really didn’t have to tell you that, did I?
    Harris Meyer
    Freelance Writer/Editor
    Covering business, politics & policy,
    health care, law, wine, arts & culture.
    Winner of the Gerald Loeb Award.
    Based in Washington State

  117. says

    Bravo for posting this discussion. Writers and journalists have to take a stand and stop this trend of working for free. Exposure is the biggest come on in the industry.

  118. Julian says

    You have valid points and it’s important to discuss these things.

    But you didn’t have to release the thread with the editor. You could have summarized the points just as well (actually better since we wouldn’t have to deconstruct a mail conversation).

    All you accomplished in releasing the thread with a young editor is making yourself look like an arrogant bully. And that hurts the ostensible cause you’re championing.

  119. says

    As someone who dreams of writing for the Atlantic this is of course terribly depressing and wrong. I was incensed enough by an unpaid summer internship I had a few years back where I was published for free.

    However, did anyone else pause at “Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition.”? Dear God. How much are Fallows and Goldberg pulling in? I would be really interested to hear more about why Nate decided to pass this up. If it’s because the offer passed away with Michael then this really is a tragic story about the decline of journalism coming full circle.

    • says

      I just read a local daily newspaper article detailing David Black’s (a newspaper owner) intention to build a 16 *billion* dollar oil refinery near Kitimat B.C. It’s incidents like this that take a lot of the wind out of the sails of those here who claim editors are driven to solicit free material due to dwindling sales/advert revenue. It also shows the owner’s lack of veracity when claiming they *must* lay off staff, slash employee benefits, and use offshore labor to replace the unionized local workers who demand that they receive at least a living wage in return for their work.
      Yes, it’s absolutely true that print media outlets have seen their profit margins decline in recent years. But for CEOs and TV-radio pundits to blame it all on unions, Obama, or commie plotters is nothing more than another example of corporations taking advantage of the decades of anti-socialist rhetoric that Americans have been subjected to. By building on the distorted view the public has regarding communism, socialism, and even capitalism itself, the Murdochs, Blacks and Redstones of the world have been able to convince many that even our own democratic form of government is authoritarian by nature.

      Why they conflate “big” government with the evils of fascism or the gulags of Stalin no matter whether it’s democratically elected or not is is explained by the simple fact that this form of government is all that stands between government “by, and for the people”, or a return to dictatorial rule.
      With the demise of the monarchy and the acquisition of most of their nation’s property by the newly-emergent financial elite, came the realization by some within that elite that the only thing now standing between them and absolute power is government that is beholden to the electorate instead of them. Is it mere coincidence to see how exuberant Greenspan, the Kochs, the Murdochs, and the Tea Partiers who serve them are about Libertarianism? That it is these very same people who use their vast resources trying to convince the public that common sense regulations imposed on the industries they own are really examples of government repression ?

      By removing the ability of the common man to care for himself and each other through a social safety-net, they leave us dependent on whoever fills the vacuum, and needless to say that will be whoever owns all the factories, schools, and hospitals. Because anybody else in charge would be what we call “government”.

      • holubice says

        Gary, so true. You may find this off topic, but, I worked for a Randian once. Made his company hundreds of thousands of dollars. After a year of no vacation time, and my health insurance scratched, I wanted to go to my uncle´s funeral and take time off. I was told by said millionaire Randian boss that I should “sell a vacation” to our clients if I wanted time off: i.e., a fancy trip to south america where I would babysit spoiled adult children. Not a vacation. His economic/political philosophy served him in exploiting his workers. Not me in being “free”. I like public safety nets. They matter. I´ve lived in more than one of those so-called-socialist countries that folks like John are so afraid of, and (I´m thinking of Norway right now) I felt relief knowing that in paying taxes, I for the first time did not fear that my health would be monitored, that my children would be watched in preschool while I work, or that I could put food on the table during hard times. Hell, I was even allowed 4-6 weeks vacation, and was not seen as lazy. It is normal to rejuvenate, at least, outside America. Anyhow, what a relief to know what labor capital is and that my life blood does not have to get sucked by the top leaving me devoid of health and esteem. There is life outside of the Rand nightmare where people actually care about their neighbors´ well-being. Just because.

  120. Gianluca says

    As a journalist myself I fully understand Nate’s position. Having said that, Nate’s replies as to why he wouldn’t write and why his words were so valuable went over a third of the word-count of what The Atlantic wanted out of him. Writing “No thank you” would have saved a good four hundred words. It reminds me of a friend who spent twenty minutes explaining why he couldn’t help out for ten minutes! This is never the less a good read and… I didn’t have to pay for it!

  121. says

    Nate Thayer is my newest (if slightly angry) hero. He said loud and publicly what I’ve been living since 1992 when I started freelancing. I think he is right to be angry and insulted and unless you’ve ever had to chase after a publisher who owes you $100 or pleaded with an editor who rejected your 1,500 word story they asked you for and now won’t tell you why they killed it, you can’t begin to understand Thayer’s frustration.

    I do. Best of luck, Nate.

  122. says

    you should have taken that opportunity and run with it unless you are a big time journalist syndicated around the globe. writing is now about traffic to your website, all you had to do was demand that they explicitly state your signature so that their reader can be redirected to your blog.

    • says

      @Kenyanvoice Maybe you should read this writer’s bio before you say daft things like that. You may not have heard of him but not sure exposure is that essential at his stage of his career.

    • Julian says

      Yeah the irony is I never heard of this guy until I landed here from the Atlantic’s story.

      Mind you I have no interest in reading this guy’s stuff now that he’s shown himself to be a whining bully.

  123. Blake says

    I completely sympathize with your plight, and as a future journalist I sincerely hope that issues like this are soon resolved, for the sake of the profession. However, I cannot help but wonder: how can a journalist who publishes emails with sentences such as “I remain befuddled as to how that particular business model would be sustainable to EITHER journalism AND ultimately the owners and stockholders of the Atlantic”, which makes no sense grammatically, or misspells “willing” be offered a paying job of $125,000? Published on blog, with chance for revision, I can’t help but cringe at lazy errors that pertain to your livelihood. I would hope that the article you wrote on NK was more polished than your blog, otherwise the Atlantic and other outlets could call you out on lack of flourish. Alas, as a student, these are only my two cents.

  124. that guy says

    “Bitching” is the universal language of writers. You didn’t know that, John?

    Learn how to make websites people. There’s more demand and far less supply of people who can competently code.

  125. says

    I really like the way profit-making companies expect journalists to write for free. Like a profit-making house builder would expect an architect to work for free? Or any other profession or trade you care to pick?

  126. says

    The decline in social responsibility is staggering. Though I suppose there will always be someone trying to get you to work for free. People walk up to doctors at parties, asking for diagnosis. Cheap instant gratification. It might be the death of polite company.

  127. says

    Is it really that hard to understand why journalists don’t write like marketers? Because journalism isn’t supposed to be about marketing! Journalism is telling the stories that money doesn’t want to be gold.

    • Foxhunter says

      “journalism isn’t supposed to be about marketing!”

      Unless, of course, you are ‘The Atlantic’ or ‘Buzzfeed’…getting paid for ‘sponsored’ content.

      Just use the google for ‘the atlantic scientology ad’. Used to be a respectable magazine. The Kelly too over. Then Megan McArdle started doing some long form. By then, it’s reputation was tattered up pretty good.

      Coates and Fallows are the last two redeeming folks on that roster.

  128. says

    Well done for posting this – I know a lot of freelancers who feel this way but are scared to speak out for fear of not getting any more work from the publications (which aren’t even paying them anyway). Good journalism should be paid for – I commend you for this post!

  129. Sevket Zaimoglu says

    Nate Thayer’s agitated response clearly shows that he does not know about the difference between the print version of a news publication and its website. Due to the way internet has evolved, newspapers and magazines were mostly forced to offer their “products” for free on the internet.
    True, the New York Times has succeeded in raising a lot of revenue from online subscriptions, but not everybody is a NYT. In the UK, the Times has tried the same, but because its online paywall was much more strict than the one around the NYT online content, it is mostly ignored in the online discussions, which means it is in danger of getting low “exposure.” If I link to an article on the NYT website, my readers can jump to that link and read the article even if they are not paying anything to the NYT. Not the same for the Times. Hence, I don’t link to articles on the Times even though I am a subscriber, since most of my readers won’t be able to read them.
    At first, their internet sites were just static copies of their print content, but then the print content was not enough. One reason is that when you buy a newspaper or a magazine, you pay for the whole package, but on the internet, readers can pick individual stories and articles. Hence, for internet sites, page views correspond to the circulation numbers of the print media. One way to boost page view counts is to divide a long article into several pages. Another, more effective way is to publish even more news articles. Hence many websites of the newspapers and magazines began employing people whose job was to put blog style pages to the internet site of the publication. Those pages could be short summaries of articles published at other websites, just like blogs, and “publishing” those pages went through an entirely different process than an article destined for publication in the real, traditional, hard copy, money-paying and money-earning part of the newspaper or magazine: the print version.
    Last April, Elizabeth Flock, a blogger working at the Washington Post website’s news blog section, had to resign from her job, because she made some mistakes a journalist was not supposed to make in her posts, but then, she was just posting at a blog, albeit hosted at the Washington Post website, and she did not have the resources to do proper journalism. The following piece by Patrick B. Pexton, Ombudsman at the Post, gives the details:
    Now, loooking at the correspondence between Nate Thayer and Olga Khazan, from the very first email of Olga Khazan to the NK News, it is clear she is soliciting for publication at the Atlantic website, which she refers to as “our site”. She is talking about “repurposing”, which is her way of signaling that the text she is asking for need not be that original or important. She proposes a very close deadline, again in the same vein. For her, the distinction between the print publication and the internet site, which mostly exists for the “exposure” of the print version that pays the bills, is crystal clear, but unfortunately that’s not the case for Nate Thayer. If she had indicated from the outset that the repurposed text she was seeking was never meant to be published in the print version of the magazine, it would have been better, but the real issue here is the ambiguity between the internet and print versions of the news media, which translates into two wildly different sets of expectations on the journalistic standards to be followed, and rightful compensation in exchange.

    • says

      Surely if the Atlantic reach 13 million people a month they can afford to pay something. Otherwise, why are they running this as a business at all. They could call it the Atlantic Online Amateur Writers Group. Everyone else gets paid for their work, including that editor, why shouldn’t writers be any different.

    • says

      And as far as I can tell, what you are calling “re-purposing” is what is actually referred to as Editing, in journalism. Something which the Atlantic editor seems to be getting paid to do.

    • Matt K. says

      This is a great state-of-the-art comment … for 1996. If you can’t pay, don’t play. Internet is no longer “exposure” for print, and that is not insinuated. It’s one publications delivered in two forms. It’s clear here she is beating around the bush trying to get him to say “here, take it” without compensating.

      And there isn’t a different set of standards for blogging.

    • WarEagle82 says

      “Nate Thayer’s agitated response clearly shows that he does not know about the difference between the print version of a news publication and its website. Due to the way internet has evolved, newspapers and magazines were mostly forced to offer their “products” for free on the internet.”

      I think it is you who fail to understand business, even in the internet age.

      A for-profit business wants a contractor to provide services for free or ridiculously reduced rates so they can post it on their website and reap significant reward.

      I suspect most people would resent being asked to work for little or nothing so that rich, left-wing publishers can get rich. Just as those idiots who got screwed by Ms. Huffington…

    • says

      This is a great clarification, and once again points to how easy it is for all of us working on the fly to completely screw up trying to communicate. Thanks for this SZ. It is weird though that the web side of things is seen as secondary (sort of virtual replaceable text and images) since web work is available in perpetuity whereas the paper copy mag gets recycled within a few weeks (or months) and then the only evidence the mag stuff existed sits in the electronic archives. Just saying…(no matter what, this is one fucked up marketplace and I’m glad folks like Nate are making their voices heard).

    • m k says

      The Atlantic recently bragged that 59% of their revenue comes from their digital content, (as always, advertising pays the bills.) Don’t be naive, The Atlantic doesn’t lose a dime on the internet.

  130. Phil Studge says

    I loved reading John the Copywriter’s bits here. He writes stuff that people only endure so that they can see the rest of the television show, or hear the next song on the radio. Or perhaps he writes sales brochures, those works that salesmen love to quote and potential customers love for their ability to steady the wobble of an uneven table leg. It was comforting to read his comments, they reassured me that I didn’t miss a thing when I fast-forwarded through the ads, clicked to the next station, or leveled the table with his glossy tri-fold.


    • nick says

      I am copywriter too. There I said it, I feel better now, Nothing wrong with my profession, it’s fun to make TV commercials and the money is really rather good and the challenges stimulating

      I freelance copy write now for money and I write food and travel articles on the side for websites and some magazines. I don’t get paid for the latter but I get free food and travel and see the world in some style.

      Tell me why I should stop? Because ‘professional freelance journalists’ are losing money? Sorry but that isn’t my problem, it’s theirs. The world has changed and the genie is not going back into the bottle. I don’t want to sound as harsh as John, but the message here really is ‘tough luck’

      As Canute discovered, you can order the tide to retreat all you like, you’re still going to get your feet wet .

      The coming generation of journalists will be ready and equipped for the new world, their expectations will be managed. The current generation are adapting if they can or, failing that, are grumbling to anyone who will listen. Which is only their peers really,

  131. rennie says

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” John Rogers http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2009/03/ephemera-2009-7.html

  132. says

    It’s not just journalists, Nate. It’s all writers. Even as a member of the WGA, with a union contract governing all my work, producers would always try to screw me out of free drafts.

    • says

      And increasingly, translators. Google can translate for free – sure, it’s crap, but it’s free!! Don’t even get me started on the “translators” flooding the market with absolutely no clue about what is required, what translation entails, or how to actually write. They have two languages, they can translate! Then there’s crowd-sourcing…
      Nate, I support your reaction 100% (and that is after reading the TNC article and all the comments on the Atlantic site).

  133. Joel says

    Man you are such a whiner in those emails. And by publicizing it online you are further removing yourself from potential opportunities. There is a common understanding when you email someone, whether for business or personal reasons, that neither party should publicize that email for the whole world to see. They were very respectful towards you even when you cried about feeding your children. You need to learn Negotiation 101- passive aggressive whiny behavior never works in your favor.

  134. says

    Nate. Sympathies, and dilemma noted. Journalists today are forced to be entrepreneurs, and negotiate business deals. Perhaps, if you offered them a much truncated piece with links back to a site on which you had ads that paid you, or they gave you a venue to sell something from which you made money (books, for example). So, it’s perplexing, yes. But the market is what it is and the challenge is how to sustain yourself while doing quality work.

  135. says

    Hurray for Nate Thayer!
    A person spends their life and livelihood learning to construct decent articles for newspapers and magazines; only to discover the ethics in the industry has been shamefully obliterated? It IS time for writers to speak up and hold fast to their personal integrity. Whatever happened to a good day’s wages paid for a good day’s work? It seems to be expected in every other profession.
    Wilma Fleming

    • says

      I agree with Wilma and Nate…all those years studying, writing, researching in archives and interviewing-did we do that as a hobby or was it our livlihood? My blog is free for everyone to look at, but hopefully the books are for sale.

  136. Andrew Gatto says

    Excellent. I had a student [also old friend] visiting me to learn how I operate freelancing. I spent a mandatory minimum of 5 minutes per visit explaining to him that his portfolio represents the last ‘free’ work he is required to do.

    It’s a sad mess out there with this kind of exploitation. I’m very grateful to have come across your post (via Gawker) and will pass it along to my friend.

    Viva la you!


  137. Al McCartan says

    Did I read right???? a quality magazine having the temerity to offer a pro a no-pay exposure. No way, i’m glad Nate stuick to his principles. As we say in Oz: “goodonya mate.”

  138. Dave says

    If the quality of writing exhibited in his response is any indication of his skill as a writer I would not be interested in reading anything he has written.

  139. HPM says

    This journalist affair is totally uninteresting. If you have a problem with making money with writing some stories, go and plant some potatoes, harvest them, eat and stay alive…

  140. nick says

    I don’t suppose anyone ever got rich by paying suppliers any more than he or she had to. Be a fool to do anything else, surely? It’s business, not charity,

    • Old Geezer says

      Although, taking goods from your supplier without paying for them is called theft. That Atlantic asked his complicity in that theft doesn’t change the fact that it is still theft. Hey Nick. I really want your jewelry. Would you be so kind as to leave it out on the stoop so I can swipe it with the least amount of effort?

      • nick says

        Taking goods without permission is theft, or promising to pay and later not paying, is theft but that was not the case here. They asked for his copy gratis, he refused. They did not ignore that and go on to use the copy anyway. No loss to the writer occurred.

        If they had threatened him to gain his permission that would be theft, They didn’t do that either, They made a clear proposition and it was rejected.

        Someone may well ask me to leave my jewelry out on the stoop, but I would not do so unless an idiot

      • nick says

        Surely it’s self evident. Are you suggesting that it’s good business sense to pay more for a product than you have to?

  141. says

    Good for YOU taking a stand! We need to stop being apologetic for expecting to be paid.

    It’s also some comfort that this isn’t just an issue for writers in the Caribbean where I’m from.

    Unfortunately this problem is global and entities WILL take advantage of us wanting so-called exposure. I always think, “So can I go into the supermarket, approach the cashier and say: “Say, I’ve got GREAT exposure. Could exchange that for these groceries?”

    • nick says

      But not enough. People these days, and by and large this means the under 25s, do not want quality they want quantity, preferably with lots of pictures. Those that want bespoke writing and not off the shelf stuff are an increasingly small demographic and I suspect a shrinking one.

        • nick says

          Certainly the under 25s want pictures and ‘diary’ style writing. They want to feel the writer is a peer, not somebody ‘in authority’. They want people who write the way they do, casually and emotionally.

          Like bait is crucial in the copy and leveraging twitter is too. Get enough likes and followers and THEN you might be able to get money for your writing, No one cares about the quality, only the stats. The stats are now all the portfolio you need.

          I’ve seen 40 year old writers successfully pass themselves off as under 25s by getting the hang of social media. Just don’t have a byline picture!


  142. says

    Very well put.
    We felt so strongly about not getting paid for the work we do we wrote a song about it and made a video! http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr37eG_DAw4
    It’s a sad reflection of the attitude of many these days.
    Musicians, writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers etc spend a lifetime building up their careers yet others take their work without a thought.
    So well done for shouting out,

  143. says

    I’m surprised that few or none of the comments have addressed the Atlantic’s claim that “our rate even for original, reported stories is $100.” I want the editor to look Nate in the eye and tell him with a straight face that she thinks that is a fair wage.

  144. Nicola says

    News Outlet in Paying-People-Badly Shocker! Come on, buddy. Put aside your pride, be realistic about your product, and weigh up the pros (not monetary) and cons of the offer. I mean, think about it: The piece was already written and published — they’re not commissioning you to write an original article. They’re giving you an opportunity to share it with a massive audience. They didn’t steal it or link to it without crediting you. Sounds like a good deal to me. And if you don’t like their terms, just say no! I think it’s hugely unprofessional to publish these emails online.

  145. says

    So typical of the $$$ driven media world these days. We MUST look after the shareholders, to hell with the creators and customers !!

    I’m a freelance cartoonist and have had similar occasions myself. “For lunch today, I’m having ‘Great Exposure’ with sauce on bread”.

    Do they really think we all stupid?

    Or maybe, most of the material we read these days has been written by the gullible who pay their bills with ‘Great Exposure’. Who knows!!




    • nick says

      They don’t think we are stupid, they do know it’s a buyers’ market. Like any business, they will pay suppliers as little as they can. A product or service is only worth what people are prepared to pay for it.

  146. Chris McCarthy says

    awesome reply..”something for free” seems to be the calling card of corporations..I feel for ppl who write for a living..quality writing seems to be a thing of the past..

  147. johnrhenry says

    I write a lot for publication. Get paid for some, get free display advertising for others, and get exposure for my principal business for others.

    I like to get paid but unlike Nate my writing income makes up a small part of my total so I am not dependent on it.

    Having said that, I think Nate comes across like a crybaby.

    Yes, he needs to get paid for his work. Yes, I think it reasonable for him to say “No thanks” to the Atlantic offer. (It might have been reasonable to say yes, though, since it involved little work and did get him exposure)

    The Atlantic asked nicely. Why get into such a snit over being asked? Just say no thank you and move on.

    Having read both sides of this controversy, I think if I were a magazine editor I would strike Nate off my list of authors to consider when I need a free lancer. There are lots of them out there. Why bother with a high maintenance crybaby?

    Nate needs to make his rent? Of course. Nate needs to be an asshole about simply being *asked* to repurpose an existing article? Get over yourself. It costs nothing to be nice.

    John Henry

    • says

      So lemme get this straight…
      Thayer comes off as a “crybaby” for being insulted that a huge corporation has the cajones to tell him his work is important enough to ask for, but not worth getting paid for?
      And he comes off as unemployable because he — a highly sought-after journalist — chooses to bring to light something that at least hundreds (judging from the responses here) of other workers have dealt with even more often?


      I have nothing against a mom-and-pop shop asking way out of their league. I have nothing against corporations. I do, however, take issue with this example.
      It’s like Bill Gates asking a homeless shelter for a slice of pie ’cause Windows 8 ain’t doin’ so hot.
      Sure… they can give it. But WTF?

      • johnrhenry says

        No, he doesn’t come off as a crybaby for feeling insulted. I don’t understand why he does but that’s what makes horse races.

        He comes off as a crybaby, in my opinion, by the totally unprofessional way he reacted to this. Posting the editor’s email, posting this rant, the tone, etc.

        Someone asked him for something he did not want to give. The professional response is to say “Thanks for asking, glad you like my work, but no, I won’t do it.”

        That is all it takes.

        Yeah, hundreds, probably thousands of others have been asked similar things. I often get asked this myself. Sometimes I accept, sometimes I decline, sometimes I negotiate. Unlike Nate, whatever I do, I do it in a professional manner.

        Does The Atlantic even have any money? My understanding is that they operate at a loss. (Might be wrong on that) Would you (or Nate) feel differently if they are operating at a loss?

        Would it have been different if Newsweek (Sold for $1 Newseek) had asked?

        BTW: Are you a writer?

        John Henry

  148. pigsmayfligh says

    hey im good for free stuff thats the difference of writing for love and writing for money.Like most things in ife as soon as you put a dollar value on something you immediatley devalue it

  149. Dave Stanton says

    Kudos to you for standing up for the value of your work. My wife actual had a worse experience with a well known publication.

    She received a photojournal assignment in Northern Canada & in the winter. It took her from the Atlantic to the Pacific over 45 days. They gave her enough of an advance to cover her costs.

    When she got back and went to deliver her work, she found that the editor who hired her had moved to another position & the new editor was not interested in her work. The editor told her that since the advance covered all of her expenses, they considered the contract paide in full since they were not taking delivery of the finished work.

    She talked to a lawyer who pretty much told her she’d be lucky to get any extra in court.

    But it doesn’t end there, she found a coffee table book publisher and paid to publish some of her pics and story line. Doesn’t the original publication, who didn’t want her work, send a payment demand for using what they claimed as their copyright, due to contract.

    Fotunately, the publisher picked up the legal tab and three years later a jury decided they broke and nullified the original contract since they didn’t pay her the rest of contractual compensation when she tried to deliver the work

  150. says

    Reblogged this on davidbiddle.net and commented:
    There’s a slew of lessons in this post by Nate Thayer, although you need to read the comments to get the full story. Some serious miscommunication here all the way around. Still, it’s 2013 and writers continue to get the short end of the stick.

  151. says

    Typo in the last paragraph. “Wiling” should be “willing” (which, in no way, negates Nate’s professionalism). Great article and, sadly, so very true.

  152. John says

    I seriously doubt the author was offered 125,000 to write 6 articles and suspect he is being dishonest. The average journalist gets paid 15 dollars an hour, barely above minimum wage. Journalism itself is not a cerebral task and it’s a job that’s easy emulated. I wrote for my college newspaper, received recognition, offered an internship and also interviewed local mayors, famous alumni and an u.s ambassador in the middleast. Do you know how many journalist courses I have taken? None. It’s an extremely easy profession to learn.

    That said I do admire journalism however as a field it’s degraded not because of the decline in newspapers but decline in quality: in the quality of reporting, in the quality of interviews and the quality of writing. There are brilliant journalist who deserve high pay but the amount I can count on one hand. Brian Lamb, David Maraniss and Charlie Rose. You don’t even rank close.

    • rlloydmyers says

      $125,000 for six articles is a bit hard to swallow unless they offer definitive proof of a cure for cancer or HIV. Perhaps it was a typo and should have read ‘$12.50 for six articles’ or ‘$125.00 for sixty articles.’ That would be believeable…

    • Veillantif says

      He wasn’t being offered $125K/year as a beat reporter, genius.

      It’s not even such an outrageous salary for that kind of position. Howard Kurtz makes $600,000 a year by watching TV on the weekends and then bloviating about it on the Daily Beast.

      • johnrhenry says

        Does The Daily Beast actually pay Kurtz $600m or is this his total gross from the Beast, books, speeches and so on?

        In any event you make an excellent point which you then seem to miss.

        The reason Kurtz makes $600m is because of branding. He does not get paid for what he says or writes so much as for who he is.

        So who is Nate Thayer? How many people have ever heard of him? What is his BRAND

        John Henry

  153. Dejah says

    I spent over a decade as a freelance journalist covering high tech. I even had “a name” that people in the Mac world recognized. I didnt get out of bed for less than $0.50/word, and a buck a word was more like it. Towards the end, I was glad to get $0.10/word and was regularly asked to work for $3/hr ($10 for an article). Yeah, I dont write for free either. Except for friends or if I want to, but not so others can make money. And yes, the biz is in the shitter. I retired in 2009. Thank god.

  154. says

    I’ve just started to write for a starting website, freelance and for free. Yes it’s sad that more and more people are expecting stuff for free, but I was happy enough to accept since it’s one of my first jobs and some exposure is better then none. Ofcourse if you’re career is further along this is kind of insulting but I would have been over the moon if somebody asked me this. What I’m trying to say is that I totally get your point and in your case you’re right to be offended, but free jobs aren’t always bad.

    • Veillantif says

      This is a great response to the blog post titled “Never Write Anything for Anyone, Anywhere, Without Getting $$$.”

  155. Anne says

    Excellent and polite response to Olga. Especially loved “I spent my freelance money.” Brings to mind a kid who says “I spent my allowance so can I have some money to go to the mall?” Answer in both cases– “no.” Yes, there are many who are willing to write for free. I’m an art director. I get offers from ‘photographers’ willing to shoot for free, and illustrators willing to illustrate for free. But I always pick professionals—meaning people who charge—because they tend to be really good. And I cannot help but have a wee bit of contempt for those who have so little respect for their own work (and/or so big a trust fund…) that they will give it away. Plus, you get what you pay for.

    • nick says

      Actually you get what you don’t pay for. There are plenty of talented writers and photographers (the latter now only requiring a good eye as the cameras have become affordable and of sufficient quality) out there prepared to work for free. A modern editor is someone who can get good work and not have to pay for it. That’s a business model that works.

      • crowd-sourcing troll says

        Go away. You are just “click whoring” and being a troll. No one cares about your twit feed, and you are just fighting with people on here in hope of someone Googling you so you can get some ad revenue clicks for your crap website. No different than a spammer.

        • nick says

          What a ridiculous assertion, I wrote something you didn’t agree with as part of some money making master plan? You need to have a lie down.

        • john henry says

          Nate and some of the others here sound like they are happy to whine and cry all the way to the grave.

          “Waaaaaah…… It’s just not fair!”

          Man up, Nate, and others. The world changes. You want it to stay the same as it was back in the day and it just won’t.

          You want to write? You are going to have to find new ways to get paid for it.

          Or find another line of work.

          Perhaps this clip will give you some ideas.


          John Henry

  156. bill says

    well done nick you cant bank exposure or promises. i used to be a freelance photographer (before i retired) and got asked that all the time, do those people that disagree on here work for nothing

    • nick says

      But when you were a photographer, it was all analogue no? Amateurs simply did not have the kit or the skills to produce the quality needed. Now anyone can rattle off 100 digital shots, apply some photoshop and get a workable image. Hence the devaluation of photographers.

      I’d say the devaluation of writing began with the first word processor, and in much the same way, God knows I don’t want to go back to the IBM Golfball, but the machinery did form a kind of filter. You had to think before you started typing, fixing the copy later was difficult and messy. You had to really want to be writer.

      • Lynn Kloythanomsup says

        Sadly Nick this is a really rude response and your misunderstanding on the valuation of photographers.

        This is an age old conversation among photographers. Just because there is a digital medium available that produces faster images, it does not mean the photographer behind the camera is better. An amateur may “rattle off” 100 images to produce 1 good image if they are lucky enough to (perhaps unknowingly) have the correct lighting, vantage point, and very importantly, be in the right place at the right time. A professional image maker will not need to take 100 images to produce 1 good image, and the professional has the experience and information to control the light and outcome, rather than hope for the best. A professional using analog film, furthermore, will know how to do all this without doubt that the image, developed later after the shot, will produce the desired effect.

        There is a digital medium and digital outlet now in photography, just like writing, and it is dually expected that both produce original content for much less compensation or no compensation. Of course, if you are looking for an image to accompany a written piece as a secondary focus or act as space filler, the options are widely available to take your own picture and provide it yourself (“write it yourself”). Or ask someone who wants the exposure, wants to experiment, or is a friend who will give an image for free, but not necessarily provide something great and you are fine with that. Like Nate says above, ask one of the interns to re-appropriate. If you need to absolutely use the perfect image, this is where the professional comes in and does the job faster, knowing all the variables, and in the end will save you time. Time = Money, whether that is actual cash or because the wasting of time is preventing the making of money.

        It is important for the collective general to at least get a small understanding into the devaluation of photography and also writing. They are not mutually exclusive. They are both original content produced for editorial output and to collect readership. Original content is the most valuable Internet commodity, and publishers Know This. Take that into consideration, and be smart about what you ask for.

  157. says

    I am still baffled after re-reading this piece that publications, who make money, not some high school paper trying to entice kids to write and perhaps even one day go into the journalism field and are churning photo copies of their “paper”, think that it’s acceptable to ask for things for free. Am I missing something here? Freelancers need to keep the lights on — as far a I know, mortgages, rent and utility are real expenses. And as for the comments above — like journalism is “easy to learn” — well, I guess if you’re good in math, you could “easily” be an accountant? Just because you may *think* you can write, doesn’t make you a journalist or one suitable to write for an audience. Having babies is “easy” too, but not everyone is fit to be a parent. And I can use my own profession in marketing — sure, it’s not brain surgery, but I’m just as disrespected when someone says *anyone* can do my job. Those comments are completely disrespectful.

    As for publicizing the e-mail addresses — and name the publication outright — was this necessary? No. Could Mr. Thayer simply have published the trail without naming names? Absolutely. That doesn’t qualify the author as a “crybaby” or a “whiner”. Let’s not forget, this goes to the much, much deeper issue like a pressure cooker in the journalism world. Newsrooms are understaffed. Freelancers who are trying to make a living and publications that need stories need to be mutually respected — and frankly, that’s just not the case. “Freelancers” doesn’t equal “Free”-lancers. This exchange (probably) happens every day and even if you think it was handled poorly (by not redacting certain bits of information), shining a bold spotlight will give pause to other publications. Will some pubs decide not to approach or hire Mr. Thayer? I’m sure there will be those who won’t — and he may very well have thought of this. But, Mr. Thayer wouldn’t have written for all anyway. The spotlight on the Atlantic Magazine (fairly or unfairly made an example) was as real as a heart attack.

  158. says

    Who do you people write for? Idiots? Writing is like breathing. You can either do it, or you gotta rely on synthetics//hospital oxygen. You have to write as if it is your product, your vision, your hope, your affinity, your burning desire. It’s like a dose of amazing sex… you just feel it right to the max. Don’t bother if neither of those things are present or felt.

  159. says

    I’m so glad someone finally posted something like this so that we can see the BS that now populates “for profit” news agencies, magazines, and newspapers. Our going rate is 100.00? That may be true but that’s bullshit. We are out of freelance money? Bullshit. If that’s true, you need to shut down the magazine right now. You have no idea how to run a business if your company doesn’t have an account especially for great reporters that deserve to be paid for their craft. Or, the Atlantic should just invite random people from the street to submit their iPhone pics and texted stories. We’ll now call that journalism. Also, close down all the journalism schools at colleges, or just rename them. Imagine getting your Bachelor’s degree from ASU’s new “School for Blogging, Camera Apps, and Texting.” It used to be the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism but then realized it was training people in obsolete skills.

    • says

      ‘Or, the Atlantic should just invite random people from the street to submit their iPhone pics and texted stories. We’ll now call that journalism’.

      Or call it crowd sourcing, or whatever you want to label, it’s effective – people seem to enjoy reading it, and it’s cheap.

    • Lidia says

      I guess you haven’t seen the increasing number of video “viewer contributions” on local TV stations, along with social media and other on-line content re-purposed in the traditional media.

      My local paper regularly re-prints articles from Salon.

  160. says

    I had a similar experience in the higher education sector recently. Yes, the business models of formerly proud institutions in education and journalism are broken. This is obvious when the creators of what is taught or published are expected to do it for the love of it.

    • Astra says

      Indeed. The amount of work that the NSF, for example, expects scientists to do without salary support has become depressingly large.

  161. says

    It’s actually very complicated in this busy life to listen news on Television, therefore I simply use web for that reason, and take the most up-to-date news.

  162. Tohmkatte says

    I hope journalism doesn’t go the way of the music business, but it seems it’s heading that direction. I am a musician and just got an offer from a blog to review my new album if I paid them $15. Not just advertising–which I’m OK to pay for–but a supposedly unbiased review! I politely declined, and got a response along the lines of “these days, this is how it is.” This is total hack journalism and needs to stop. I understand the writers need to get paid, but the publication needs to pay them, not the artist! Such a sad state of things. I’ve also read about this happening with self-published novelists and writers eager to get good press.

    Blogs and magazines make money on advertising and subscriptions and should always pay for the contributions of their writers. Working for free or paying for exposure is just perpetuating a disrespect for art and the work that goes into creating something great.

    • says

      That’s not hack journalism, and it’s not journalism of any sort, period. It would be bribery if it WAS journalism, but it’s simply pay-for-advertorial, and it’s unethical in the extreme.

      Back in the early 90s, I bootstrapped my own video magazine and picked interesting products to cover. At least 1/3 of our potential interviewees asked if we were going to charge them for being featured! I happened to remark to my wife the other day that I might have seen that as a sign to ditch the journalism and simply make videos for money; there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but there is when you’re appearing to be an unbiased news source.

      You might also be interested in doing an online search for some of the allegations against Yelp.

      • says

        Many young travel bloggers ask not only for the free trip etc but also for money to ‘deliver’ their readership (which on paper, or is that virtual paper?) can be quite considerable.

        I don’t think these bloggers claim to ‘be’ anything, they are simply offering an advertising service.

        Blogs make very little revenue any other way,

  163. Ankit Parashar says

    It was Awesome reading this… I recently bought a story to my editor which could get the paper and the people evolved to a global platform… my story was denied cause the editor and others nobody had the guts to follow it up. What was shocking was they even ignored the facts. It is heart-breaking to see responsible journalism dying.

    • John Henry says

      Responsible journalism died decades ago when reporters became “journalists”.

      I think we might be able to look for ward to a renaissance starting in August or so after the Koch brothers take over the LA Times, Chicago Tribune et al.

      I am hoping for their success in both taking over the papers and bringing reporting back to the US.

      Yes, I am a liberal (libertarian if you prefer) and a huge Koch brothers fan.

      John Henry

      • Greg Rohloff says

        Unless the Kochs channel William Allen White, what exactly are you expecting? This is a company a decade ago, when
        i was a working paid reporter, that when it was tagged for alleged massive environmental law violations for how it managed an oil refinery and pipeline operation, started a massive public relations campaign, declaring it to be the environmental company, chock full of photographs from recently acquired ranchlands.

  164. Kym says

    I’m student at Imperial College of London and as part of a school consulting project for a small start-up we are conducting a small survey about freelancing.

    If you are a freelancer or if you hire/employ one, please take 5 minutes to help us fill out the following survey: http://bit.ly/12ENmIG

    Thank you for your help.

  165. says

    I am so glad that someone posted something new like “A day in the life of a Freelance Journalist”. The information you have shared about Freelance Journalists with us is really fantastic and interesting.

  166. says

    Interesting read. I have noticed all of this happening in recent years over here in the UK too. Don’t know if this is happening in the US and would be interested if it was and maybe it’s a blog topic in itself, but I also have been quite alarmed at the amount of full-time writing jobs that call for people from marketing backgrounds. A typical example might be a company looking for an editor of an internal magazine or website requiring a plethora of proper journalism skills (writing, interviewing, features and news stuff) but yet they turn to marketing professionals to fill the vacancy rather than a journalist. Since when have marketeers been trained journalists?

  167. says

    For some, it is done for earning a living while for some as a part of the
    hobby. As fun as planning to grow your own organic garden may seem,
    it is very important to start doing your research and getting your
    equipment before you do so. However, it is also a very challenging profession for those relying
    on this specialization to earn their living.

  168. says

    The new model (and it seems particular to the yolo generation, or whatever they go by this week) is that everything must be absolutely free, and their ignoramus insistence on same is having a trickle up effect on formerly grown-up institutions like the Atlantic. Nate’s excitement to read them his own justified Riot Act did result in a bit of untoward stammering, though, and his regrettable Michael Kelly Retainer cannonade was strangely freshmanesque and begs the question; if his kids are secure enough in their eating that their dad can rebuff a $125,000 Atlantic retainer offer does Olga really deserve the whole of his penury-suggesting grief? Nate’s the real deal and a writer whose style I adore, but Nate didn’t come off that well in his triumphalist anecdote. But I love him anyway.

  169. Ambrose Pierce says

    This is brilliant! Thank you Nate.

    I caution anyone who would enter the profession of journalism to take heed of Mr. Thayer’s response to Ms. Khazan. Sadly, Ms. Khazan– whom incidentally just wrote a piece about lack of opportunity in journalism and her own struggles finding a place in the profession–has taken a job that requires her to source content from writers for free, which she proffers in exchange for “exposure”. Before Ms. Khazan’s time, writers were paid for their work. To suggest that Mr. Thayer will find compensation through other avenues as a result of exposure through The Atlantic is pure hogwash, but I suspect it serves as a way for Ms. Khazan to rationalize having to make such requests to authors day in and day out. Ms. Khazan’s quest to become a writer has come with the condition that she must ask others to contribute their work for free. Her career as an editor is dependent on how successful she is in selling The Atlantic brand to authors who value it more than they do financial compensation.

    The new business model has done away with the freelance budget in lieu of a small team of salaried editors willing to scour the internet for content that might be obtained for free. What is very discouraging for young people entering this profession, is that The Atlantic is a publication to which every writer aspires, yet it doesn’t offer compensation? Shame on The Atlantic.

  170. Dustin Parmenter says

    Could you be a little more self-righteous? Perhaps a little more self-aggrandizing? Did you not get paid for the original article? You should be so lucky that the digital editor for the Atlantic wrote in response to your veteran-pandering, this-is-the-state-of-journalism, someone-once-offered-me-six-figures-to-write-with-no-strings-attached hypocritical crap, but that was probably your game all along, you hack, otherwise this half baked blog would never get any traffic.

    It’s obvious you were baiting from the jump – everyone has bills to pay, quit blaming “the state of journalism” and find another way to make ends meet. I’m a 23 year old aspiring novelist working for shit pay in a job outside my skill set, trying to make it in the most expensive city in America, and I still find zero reasons to complain about not yet being paid for my work. You made a wise move for web traffic, but you’re still a whiney bitch – don’t forget that.

  171. says

    I wanted to respond to this as a small magazine publisher. We are freely distributed and our payment is through advertising only. Social media has really taken away from your craft as a journalist and for that I am sorry but it’s also taken away from our ability as publishers to generate revenue since there is so much FREE advertising now. It’s a shame that our crafts seem to be suffering but somehow we have to reinvent ourselves and learn how to survive in a new world where everyone is a writer and photographer. Our business models are changing and we have to figure out a way through this to survive some I’m all about discussing ideas. What would you suggest publishers do to increase our revenue so we can pay writers who do have a wonderful craft that us publishers could not survive without?

  172. says

    I, too, have written for NKNews.org in the past (https://www.nknews.org/2013/05/do-sang-rok-the-father-of-north-koreas-nuclear-weapon-program/) in May 2013, about a month after your original post.

    I probably was paid nothing for it, but that’s water under the bridge, But now they’ve shown an interest in another of my stories. Fortunately, a university website has also shown an interest in that same article, and they’ve asked me how much ($money$) I was willing to accept.

    And while I have enough money to feed my kids and pay my rent, I would like to “invest” any monies I receive in a 500-page document on Japan’s nuclear weapons program during WWII — which another journal — and Intelligence journal — has already OK’d for publication.

    So while it appears I am in the same boat, now, that you were three years ago, my situation is a tad more complex. And while I have no idea how this will all turn out, I know something will happen…


  1. […] Nate Thayer caused quite a stir in the Twittersphere this morning when he published the email correspondence between himself and Olga Khazan, an editor at the Atlantic. Khazan had seen Thayer’s 4,300-word piece for North Korea News about “basketball diplomacy”, and decided that it would be great to have a shorter version of the story at the Atlantic. After a bit of back-and-forth, she proposed this to Thayer: […]

  2. […] La historia que hoy recogemos sorprende tanto por la normalizada desfachatez que muestra una de las partes, como por la tajante, digna y valiente doble respuesta de la otra. No sólo se niega a contribuir a la espiral explotadora y ruin que supone el contrato ofrecido por el medio de comunicación, sino que lo “denuncia” públicamente y a través de una de las herramientas salvadoras del periodismo libre: su blog personal. […]

  3. […] Nate Thayer caused quite a stir in the Twittersphere this morning when he published the email correspondence between himself and Olga Khazan, an editor at the Atlantic. Khazan had seen Thayer’s 4,300-word piece for North Korea News about “basketball diplomacy”*, and decided that it would be great to have a shorter version of the story at the Atlantic. After a bit of back-and-forth, she proposed this to Thayer: […]

  4. […] Nate Thayer caused quite a stir in the Twittersphere this morning when he published the email correspondence between himself and Olga Khazan, an editor at the Atlantic. Khazan had seen Thayer’s 4,300-word piece for North Korea News about “basketball diplomacy”*, and decided that it would be great to have a shorter version of the story at the Atlantic. After a bit of back-and-forth, she proposed this to Thayer: […]