So, my previous Patch editor and I have had several discussions about the fact that while bloggers are valued and becoming more spotlighted on Patch (due to site-design changes), they remain unpaid for publishing there. Or on the Huffington Post. Or on the Daily Kos. Very few of the big sites pay their bloggers, as a matter of fact. Of course, this makes me bristle, but I try to look at the good points:
- I have no obligation to these sites.
- I have no deadlines, except those that are self-imposed.
- I own my work and can publish/re-publish when and where I please.
- My content appears written as I’d like it to – unedited.
- I have gotten a lot of valuable guidance and experience from these sites.
- I already have an audience built-in. That one is big.
Here are the bad points:
- I put a lot of time into writing the main piece, and then reading/responding to comments, when they occur.
- I don’t feel much loyalty towards the publication, or motivation to stick with them.
- I’m almost ALWAYS tempted to get snarky when they make suggestions (“I think you’d do a great job with such-and-such topic…” and “Did you see that comment on xyz? I think you could do a lot with that…”) If you don’t PAY ME, you don’t get to make suggestions.
I have some friends who say this is my own fault – that bloggers like me devalue professional writers’ place in the market by writing for free. They’re right. They have good reason to be annoyed about it. They have many more credentials than I do in the field. They’ve either been published, been building their careers for many years, have worked their asses off in ways I have not, and/or gotten in on the ground floor of the social media skyscraper. They have a long resume of accomplishments and leverage they can point to in demanding pay for their work. They are, in other words, established. I am not, and I’m making it harder and harder for THEM to be compensated monetarily.
So the Catch-22 of the situation is that to test out my sea legs as a writer is by blogging. Yet, the mechanism that makes it easier for me to get my writing out there also plays a huge role in cheapening my worth, and makes it harder for me to get paid for that same writing. Furthermore, when I ask people at Patch questions that could help me determine my value, like how many page views my pieces get, I am told, “We don’t keep numbers on bloggers.” When I point to things like how quickly or for how many days my pieces are listed in the top 5 most popular blog posts for the site, I am told, “Oh, don’t go by that. That’s never accurate.” Le Sigh.
Little by little, though, I am beginning to feel that my writing is worth paying for. I published my first article on Kveller.com – a paying site. I’m looking into other publications that pay for articles. I’m researching and learning how to make a pitch to editors for individual articles, and looking into putting packages together for trying to get syndicated. I’m scoping out writing conferences. I’m trying, as much as time and kids will allow, to pay my dues and work my way up. I’m well aware the odds are against me.
Then last night, my former editor sent me an article by Nate Silver (of the now famous Five Thirty Eight blog on the New York Times) that she came across. It does a nice job using algorithms and math to support the assertion that bloggers don’t generate nearly as much money for sites like the Huffington Post as paid writers do. Basically, a blogger’s piece might generate enough income to pay for a slice of pizza. While she sent it to me with kind intentions (See? We’re not slavedrivers building our fortunes on the backs of bloggers providing free content!) all I took away from the article is that my writing is not worth that much.
Here’s the thing, though. When I publish something on my personal blog, I know (mostly) the people reading it will (mostly) agree with me. When I publish something on Daily Kos, I know I’m (mostly) talking to a like-minded audience – friendly and receptive to my points of view. When I publish something on my local Patch, however, I am much more likely to also be read by someone who holds opposing views. That presents potential challenges that appeal to me.
My goal’s almost always been to start a real conversation, to foster understanding, to find common ground. I thought that meshed with Patch’s goals nicely – maybe even worth enough to be paid. Maybe not, as I know staying in the black is the real goal always. But if I’m going to take the trouble to link my pieces up to Patch, deal with the different design of the site, check back to see if it’s been moved to the front page, send a friendly reminder to the editor if it hasn’t, etc., the least they can do is buy me a slice of pizza.