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A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

6 March 2013

From journalist Nate Thayer:

Here is an exchange between the Global Editor of the Atlantic Magazine and myself this afternoon attempting to solicit my professional services for an article they sought to publish after reading my story “25 Years of Slam Dunk DiplomacyRodman trip comes after 25 years of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea.”

. . . .

Hi there — I’m the global editor for the Atlantic, and I’m trying to reach Nate Thayer to see if he’d be interested in repurposing his recent basketball diplomacy post on our site.

. . . .

After a brief phone call where no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her:

Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball  diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.

. . . .

Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!

. . . .

Thanks Olga:

I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. . . . 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them.

. . . .

Hi Nate — I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100. I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork. Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have.

. . . .

Hi Olga: No offense taken and no worries. I am sure you are aware of the changing, deteriorating condition of our profession and the difficulty for serious journalists to make a living through their work resulting in the decline of the quality of news in general. Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition.

Link to the rest at Nate Thayer and thanks to Jaye for the tip.


14 Comments to “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013”

  1. Thayer is nicer than I would’ve been. I’d have just sent a link to this Harlan Ellison bit:


    • He’s right – and I’ve been following his advice. I don’t give away my work.

      Not that a whole lot of people ask for it, mind you. 🙂

  2. Nate was a highly respected colleague for all of us reporters at the Far Eastern Economic Review and a well-known byline in Asia before this kid Olga was probably born. (I was the London correspondent 1977-1980.) Since then, he’s gone from strength to strength. This tiro editor might at least have Googled something about the legend she was asking to work for nothing before she asked him to rechurn his reporting her way for free.


    I think Nate’s response is pretty gracious, especially rereading that patronizing tone in her answer, “for whatever professional goals they might have.”

    Well, Olga, Nate Thayer has been sending winners past the goalposts for longer than you’ve been getting dressed for work…if you still have a job tomorrow.

    It’s so sad, sad, sad.

  3. “Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition.”

    Those writers working for $3 an article need to see this. Who says you can’t earn a living from writing? $120,000 plus extra if they do more work. Copywriters earning millions plus a percentage for a sales page they could do in less than a day. Why not?

    The cheap buyers are always the most controlling. They want the work formatted their way, no typos, photo(s)included, a certain font size, a certain file type with a particular folder title, submitted on a certain day at a certain time, and all the rights for a whopping $3…but you won’t get paid because the magazine/website/blog/newspaper isn’t earning money yet–still relying on volunteers desperate for clips–but in the future, you might get something…

  4. Welcome to my world!

    We love you! We can’t pay journalists, but think of the experience you’ll get!
    Um, I already have 20 years of experience, thanks.

  5. “I’m out of freelance money right now.”

    Just like, “I don’t have my ID with me.”

  6. What got me was the jerk in the comments who said (in essence): “Don’t whine about wages, dude. Either write the article for what they offer, or don’t.” Somehow the jerk failed to understand that Nate Thayer was telling the editor he wasn’t going to write for her & why.

  7. Wow. I’m flabbergasted. The Atlantic is one of my favorite media outlets. What the hell am I paying them for if they don’t want to pay their writers?

  8. Wow. I feel alittle bad for the editor – and I’m glad she stayed professional, because Nate was being alittle snarky, but I am completely on Nate’s side in this.

    Good for him. Writers are so devalued. It’s always wonderful to see a writer know his true worth and stand up for himself!

  9. Shocking, truly.

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