Money and Change: A Young Journalist’s Lament

3 Sep

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When I started training to be a theatre critic in 2007, theatre criticism, the internet and digital media were very different. Print was still the primary place for all things theatre criticism related, and indeed, journalism, while online was seen as a younger, but less important sidekick to the newspaper industry.

When I graduated in 2009, theatre criticism, and indeed journalism as an industry, was already changing; content was increasingly being published online, and independent websites were starting to rival the output of more established printed magazines. But perhaps, most importantly, in 2009, the credit crunch of 2007/2008 had become a full-blown recession, leading to redundancies, the closure of newspapers and publishers and fewer opportunities for both young and established journalists. For a new journalist, like me, who needed experience, working for free was a very real and very real way to get into the industry.

In 2012, journalism is still evolving; while some newspapers, such as The Times, The Sunday Times in the UK and The New York Times in the US have put their online content behind a paywall. However, they are fighting against increasingly popular and considerably newer websites, who continue to put their content out for free. While a paywall may be the way forward, and a way for revenue-starved newspapers to increase their circulation and make some money from their websites, many readers, writers, journalists and editors disagree on the use of them.

But the conundrum remains – how can journalists start making money from online content? How much to charge? How often to charge for access to online content? And perhaps most importantly, how do readers feel about paying for accessing news websites?

I always knew that journalism wasn’t well paid, and so, the desire to write and inform outweighed any ideas I might have once have had about making more than £25,000 a year. Although I’ve continued to work for free since graduating, primarily because paid opportunities are very slim if you have no contacts in the industry, I’ve still managed to make a total of £190 from my writing since then. However, this figure is from three separate commissions over three years and in the meantime, in the hope of being noticed, I’ve continued to write for free. I’ve also paid for all travel, food and other expenses during time, so, in that sense, some remuneration would be fair, if not deserved. But until some changes are made across the board and every newspaper decides how they can make money from online, more and more writers will have to continue to work for nothing.

Photo by Images_of_money under Creative Commons Licence

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2 Responses to “Money and Change: A Young Journalist’s Lament”

  1. Claire C September 4, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    I think part of the problem is that people make the decision to work for free. Decent content should have a price attached to it, and giving away good quality content only makes the situation worse. I don’t know why newspapers or magazines or ad agencies think they should get work for free – they shouldn’t. Writing is a skill like everything else. You wouldn’t ask your plumber to do a job for free, so neither should you ask a writer.

    • trashtaylor September 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      Exactly. When I graduated, I was told I would have to do a lot of work for free in order to get everywhere. Now, three years later, I know that my unpaid experience hasn’t helped me get paid work. The thing is, I’ve found that many established journalists are too concerned about their own job and future to even attempt to nurture and advise young journalists. Free work must end, it deprives new journalists of the chance to get paid for their work, and it means existing journalists are expected to write for a lot less, or even, for free in order to keep up with the competition.

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