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Will Write for Food. Not.

September 25, 2012

We've all known it for a while now: It's become close to impossible to make a living as a full-time arts journalist these days.

And it's not just arts journalists who know it; a friend of mine -- a high profile French technology and environmental correspondent who's based in The Bay Area -- told me over the weekend that she is currently being paid 65 Euros (about $85) to write 1000 words for a major National French newspaper.

Here in the arts world, things have equally become a total joke. For example, the Senior Interactive Producer for probably the most highly-respected and trafficked media organization in the Bay Area (no, it's not the San Francisco Chronicle) contacted me yesterday to find out if I'd be interested in covering the local performance scene for his organization.

The pay? $50 for a 500 word review.

For a split second, I thought the guy was kidding, or that perhaps that there was a zero missing from his email. I was then intrigued by a cryptic sentence following the statement about the fee, that read:

"However there is some flexibility that allows us to reward creativity in the range of things covered and the forms that coverage might take."

I asked the Senior Interactive Producer to explain his qualifier. His response read: 

A basic review would be $50 for a five paragraph, 500 word piece.
Same would go for something like a profile or an interview.
We also offer an additional $50 if you can provide us with a slideshow of 10 images. These would be images you take yourself.
Similarly, we offer an additional $50 if you do a "guide" type piece -- IE: The 10 plays to see this fall. We offer an additional $50 for breaking news pieces -- IE: 100 year old theater burns down -- it burned last night and we have filed a piece by 11am the following morning. (that's a grim scenario, but it should serve to illustrate.)
Coverage of a theater festival might also provide the opportunity for additional payment. However, that would most likely take the form of an interview or something like that. We want to write about things before they happen so that folks have the opportunity to go and see.
Of course, there is also flexibility in rewarding the creation of something new -- that I haven't outlined here because you would make it up.


Now, there will always be arts journalism. It's not going away. I am not paid anything to write this blog and I'll continue doing it because I love to articulate my thoughts about culture and I don't have to answer to any editors or, god forbid, Senior Interactive Producers to do it in this forum.

But in light of yesterday's email exchange, I am now ready to call it official: Professional arts journalism is, at least for the moment, just about dead. I'll continue to take on interesting journalistic projects of national significance that will grant me more exposure and at least pay marginally acceptable fees in exchange for my expertise and time. Otherwise, I'm starting to make my living in other ways.

2 Comments:

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  • For some time now arts journalism has been subsidized by parents/working partners/independent investments/ retirement funds.
    It's the canary in the coalmine for journalism as a whole. There will continue to be media outlets, staffed by people coming from the best universities and via multiple internships but the old pipeline for middle/working class people from small town papers is dead. I've been asked to do work for 'exposure' and my usual response is no unless the assignment itself is so challenging it may lead to a long term project of my own. Everyone must decide when they feel exploited; for me there is no longer any reason to contribute to existing outlets (except startups making no money from their venture) in a world of self-publishing and self-marketing. Carpe diem.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At August 18, 2013 at 9:25 AM  

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