Pay The Writer campaign champions the rights of freelance bloggers

byMargaret Looney
May 24, 2012 in Freelancing

Getting paid can be the hardest part of working as a freelance journalist.

Spurred largely from the Huffington Post's use of unpaid freelance journalists, the National Writer's Union launched the Pay the Writer! campaign to ensure freelance bloggers, journalists and writers get paid for their work.

IJNet checked in with NWU President Larry Goldbetter to see how the campaign is going.

IJNet: How is Pay the Writer campaign going?

Larry Goldbetter: So far, so good, for a very uphill, long-term struggle. We have an organizing committee. We are phone banking our members. We are in the streets. We are meeting new interested writers.

The seven-month boycott of HuffPost helped put the issue and the union on the map. But unlike a traditional organizing campaign, there is no workplace to leaflet and there is no bar to hang out at to talk to the workers after work.

Journalism is going through a sea change from print to digital and right now. The publishers have the upper hand. We are a small union reaching out to an almost endless work force facing the collapse of their ability to make a living at what they do.

IJNet: What’s your plan for securing a living wage for online freelancers?

LG: In a word - organize. The only way journalists and freelance writers can have a say is by having a powerful union, much larger than the one we have today. And the only way we can develop a more detailed plan is to share the experiences, insights and wisdom of thousands of writers, and then, thousands more.

Today online publishing has made it much easier for many people to write and get published, but much harder for anyone to make a living at it. But that doesn’t mean there is no money there. Again, not to pick on Arianna [Huffington]. She’s making $4 million a year at AOL. AOL just had a big increase in first quarter advertising money. And the amount they pay the writers continues to shrink...

IJNet: What about people who write as a hobby/volunteer and don't care about working for free? Do they present a danger to those who do care as far as creating an industry standard?

LG: Yes and no. When people begin to think that because they write for a hobby or volunteer, then everyone should, that’s a problem. And of course, those that write for a hobby, are for the most part, not doing original reporting for a for-profit publication.

That’s why we are focusing on professional journalists and those who want to be. Digital journalism is the focus of our campaign, our battlefield. We can’t stop anyone from writing for free, nor should we. But we can set a standard for professional journalism, for those doing original reporting for for-profit online publications like the Huffington Post.