International Journalists’ Network: Should journalists ever write for free?

international journalists network ijnet freelancing write for free paid in exposure advice

Many would agree [that] the financial consequences of both offering and accepting unpaid writing: it creates and perpetuates a system that takes away writers’ ability to pay for their basic necessities. 

The conditions around unpaid writing are, however, complex, and the conversation cannot be resolved with a simple dichotomy, with a firm yes or no. What happens, for example, when the prospect of working for free is offered to an inexperienced student and not to a reporter with 25 years of experience?

To explore the nuances of this debate, I spoke with freelance journalists Alex Moreland, Beth Kirkbride, and Sirin Kale about their experiences with unpaid writing. 

So, I was recently interviewed for this piece at the International Journalists’ Network, which is a charity dedicated to providing advice for journalists. (Not that I really think of myself as a journalist, actually, but that’s a whole other thing.)

It is – reasonably – quite a contentious issue, for obvious reasons. My official stance, though I don’t know necessarily how much it comes across here admittedly, is that it’s going to happen either way anyway, so you’re much better off (as either a charity or group or just as an individual looking to be helpful) taking that as your starting point, and trying to give people constructive advice to do as little free work as efficiently as possible – simply saying “don’t do it” isn’t actually very useful, to my mind. “Not really, kind of, ish, but if you have to try keeping these things in mind” is better I think.

(I always find that “if you’re working for free you’re undercutting other people and forcing them to lower their rates” argument to miss the point a little too – the basic point about solidarity and collective bargaining is correct, of course, but it also seems to imagine that established writers are in direct competition with casual hobbyists or student journalists, which plainly isn’t quite the case at all.)

Anyway, anyway, lots of the usual caveats apply (both broadly and personally), but I think Iris Pase, who wrote this piece, has done quite a nice introductory overview of the whole debate. On the off chance anyone reading this wants my advice – I imagine everyone read this and started trying to work out how to get in touch with Sirin and Beth – you’re more than welcome to, and I will drone on at length. (As I did to poor Iris – didn’t realise what her wordcount would be before I droned on for I think over half an hour…!)

You can follow me on twitter @morelandwriter, and you can follow Iris on twitter @irispase. I’ve spoken a bit about writing and journalism and related things elsewhere here.

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