When Freelance = Free Work

15 Mar

Ah internet scandals. What would we do without them?

I’ve been following the heated  the Atlantic vs. Nate Thayer debate that blew up after Thayer posted an exchange with a (newly hired) Atlantic editor who approached him about reworking an excerpt from one of his published stories…for free. Okay not exactly for free, but for exposure.

For journalists and photographers looking to elevate their careers, or break into the industry, the opportunity to have work published by a prestigious news organization is nothing to take lightly. But balancing boosting exposure and portfolio credentials with making a living can be a difficult call. The debate has raised an important question for the news industry: is it okay for news organizations to leverage their brands to gain access to free or discounted work produced by journalists? At what point does a mutually advantageous arrangement become abusive? Does it say something about the long-term stability of the industry that this seems to be a commonly accepted practice, or is it simply part of how the increasingly crowded news landscape is evolving?

Hear how Atlantic news editors have responded here and here. Hear a wider critique Gawker editor Cord Jefferson makes about the role that personal wealth plays in propping up a media system dependent on free work here. Regardless of where you stand on the free work spectrum, the debate has opened some interesting conversations between editors and journalists that are worth pursuing.

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