Jo Boon considers that by producing so much work for free, we’re really just writing ourselves out of a living. If we don’t expect to be paid, then why should anyone ever pay us?
I love writing for The Tribe and I hope to be a writer for much longer. I’ve been involved with journalism from high school, whether it be as a writer, an editor, producer of podcasts… You name it, I’ve done it. Like so many other people I run blogs, am a photographer, coordinate social media accounts and I do it all for free. I am in no way unique in this; there are many enormously talented journalists who produce high calibre work without being paid. There are a number of potential problems with this, many of which are part of a broader pattern within our society.
We expect news to be free and, increasingly, we expect entertainment to be free. Newspapers are going out of print all the time because we can read everything online. The Guardian recently reported that national daily newspapers in the UK lost half a million in average daily sales over the past year. It is harder than ever to make a profit out of DVDs or CDs because films and music can be so easily streamed. Journalism is rarely a full time job anymore, it is part of a job or one of multiple jobs. The people who produce our news entertainment are not being paid because we don’t expect to pay for it.
To take just one example, I think the BBC License Fee is incredibly reasonable when you consider costs and what we get out of it. The problem is that we can access the BBC news website for free and almost any film can be obtained online now. This is a huge problem for the BBC because people are consuming news and entertainment completely differently now. It seems great for consumers but I’m not sure it is sustainable.Students in particular often don’t expect to be paid for our work, for writing or anything else. We run societies, our student unions, start projects, mentor younger students, create what is unique about our particular place of education and, if you are a UK student like myself, pay £9000 a year for the honour. I don’t begrudge this because I love university and I can afford it- many, if not most, are not so lucky.
So why do we do it? Well, I can tell you why I do it: mainly because I love writing and partly because I hope the experience will make me that little more employable in the future. Increasingly, however, my concern is that I am writing myself out of a job. By producing so much work for free, why should anyone ever pay me to do it?
I hold up my hand here and acknowledge the inherent irony in this article. I am writing this for free: conducting research, taking up my time, sharing my ideas and, of course, not expecting compensation. This is somewhat frustrating as I am contributing to a system that expects journalism to be something readily available on a 24/7 basis, without needing to pay the people who produce that work.Whilst I find this frustrating I must acknowledge my privilege and that I can afford, at least for now, to do this. I can afford to write and not be paid for it, most people can’t. It says something about our society that we will pay people for the production of a commodity but not those who produce ideas, report the news or offer an alternative view. We should be paying writers because they are an integral part of our society.
If we do not pay writers then I worry it will become something elitist, something only the rich can afford to do. As with internships, you have to be able to afford to gain experience that you are not paid for. It’s all very well for wealthy students to take up internships and write articles because we are supported by our families, but it simply sustains a two tier system where some have access to advantages and others do not. Once again, I hold up my hand to acknowledge my own complicity: I have both done internships and written articles without being paid.
So what are the solutions? I’m not sure there is an easy one. I’d love to suggest that all unpaid writers go on strike, that we refuse to write articles or produce podcasts until we are paid for them, but sadly this is not likely to be realistic. If nothing else, please keep talking about this problem. Reflect on how it affects you and, whenever possible, always ask to be paid for your work.I think we should value journalism, writers and ideas a little more highly and I think everyone should have the opportunity to become a writer.
All images courtesy of Pixabay