Home » Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » Entertainment Weekly’s disgraceful decision puts “prestige” over paying writers

Entertainment Weekly’s disgraceful decision puts “prestige” over paying writers

28 March 2014

From Salon:

Entertainment Weekly, the venerable consumer-friendly magazine about movies and TV and the like, is under the same crunch as the rest of the media industry; its parent company, Time Inc., has recently gone through a series of layoffs. But the manner in which the magazine is attempting to build out its brand is the absolute worst-case scenario — bad for authors and for readers.

Lucia Moses at Digiday reports that Entertainment Weekly is to launch an online “contributor network” that is to feature readers as writers, particularly on “TV and eventually other areas […] staff reporters don’t cover deeply.” In other words, anyone can now write for Entertainment Weekly, but they shouldn’t expect a check.

. . . .

In an ideal world, writing for free would never happen — it’s work and should be compensated — but perhaps there is an argument that a community platform could give rise to particularly innovative or exciting takes. So far, the beta page is just recaps of TV shows in the EW house style. There’s something deeply disingenuous about opening up a website as a platform for young or eager writers to ply their trade for free when they’re not expected to do anything new. Why would Entertainment Weekly hire any of the people contributing to the community page when they’ve already shown they’re willing to do the work of a writer for free? Pardon me — not for free, as they’ll have the “prestige” and “access to editors” that Entertainment Weekly promises. Prestige entirely aside, how helpful or receptive will be editors staking their livelihoods on writers not waking up and demanding money for labor? How can any writer producing identical content to their counterpart distinguish herself enough to make exposure meaningful?

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

This is the same thing that Forbes blogs does.

PG is not offended so long as contributors understand they’re doing it for free and retain all rights to the content they create. EW gets content for nothing and the work of contributors is shown to a much larger audience than would ever see their blog.

Some traditional magazines are laying off staff because advertisers and paying subscribers are leaving in droves. PG never likes to see anyone get fired, but if the magazine is going to disappear should it continue with its present payroll, those jobs are going to disappear at some point anyway. If the magazine collapses completely, everybody gets fired. If it continues in a different form, at least some people (maybe not the most deserving ones) do get to keep their jobs.

Indie authors are part of the freelance economy, usually operating alone or with periodic assistance from other freelancers like editors, cover artists or book designers, selling on common markets like Amazon. While PG has held some very good jobs, all-in-all, he prefers the freelance economy for himself.

A former compatriot of PG owns a PR agency and she helps clients write items for Forbes blogs as a means of promoting their businesses and personal brands. She writes a very popular Forbes blog to do the same thing for herself. She doesn’t feel exploited in the least.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

42 Comments to “Entertainment Weekly’s disgraceful decision puts “prestige” over paying writers”

  1. Im guessing it’s not like an anonymous Wikipedia entry.

    When one writes for such an outlet, one is allowed a promotional backlink to your website or some such, so isn’t the promotional exposure an intangible form of compensation?

    Good money is paid for the chance to get people into a sales funnel, so isn’t that savings (unrealized expense) also a form of compensation?

  2. A lot of journalism will go this way. Most journalism that is primarily opinion based amounts to paid blogging anyway. In those cases, writers are being paid, directly or indirectly, to push a particular commercial or political viewpoint, so I often find unpaid bloggers opinions to be more sincere and interesting anyway.

    Maybe Amazon should start a news division, where indie journalists could publish, and receive micro payments, something like KDP. A model like that might be the direction to which journalism ultimately evolves. It might produce better, less biased news than the advertising based model. It is hard to see how it could be worse.

    • It might produce better, less biased news than the advertising based model. It is hard to see how it could be worse.

      Interesting idea! I’d love to see more accurate, less biased news available. The size of our freedoms depends on it.

    • I wouldn’t think that micro-payments based news would be less biased or more accurate. I would expect that it might actually have a stronger point of view (or bias) to distinguish itself from other competing sources.

      It would be the result of the collection of multiple news reports that would let one filter the competing biases and arrive at a more accurate report of events.

      However, with my low opinion of many readers, I don’t think that many people would go to that trouble. More likely, they would find reporters that support their own biases and just follow those.

      • Yes, everyone has biases, but this approach would ideally result in more diversity. As always, critical readers would have to identify potential biases and make the mental allowances that they deem necessary.

    • If only Bezos had acquired traditional newspaper in order to provide some legitimacy to an Amazon news division.

    • I’ve always considered Aamzon’s customer review feature to be the precursor to blogs. And, of course, they later added the comment function.

    • Isn’t that what Kindle Singles was supposed to be. Nonfiction content too long for a blog but not long enough for a full blown book.

  3. Do we want the news, I mean real, serious, political and social news written by anyone who wants his/her name on a byline in the NYT or WP? Do we even want book reviews posted in such places and submitted by Amazon readers?

    If we do, we might as well shut down the Journalism departments at all universities.

    Come to think of it, when it comes to publishing, education, experience, and research no longer matter anyway.

    Arrgh! I’m having a bad day.

    • Every news report on events I’ve been involved with has been blatantly, if not laughably, wrong. For anything much more complex than a report on the score of a sports match or what Selena Gomez is wearing today, you’ll find much more informed comment on specialist blogs.

    • OK. Shut them down.

      • Absolutely. They haven’t been teaching journalism in half a century anyway.

        • To be fair, I had to take a lot of journalism classes for my public relations major. The teachers I had for journalism were (imho) very good and very firm on what a journalist should be. They were MUCH better than my PR instructors. I had a burning hatred for nonfictional journalists when I went in, but they changed my mind.

          That said, my school IS particularly known for their Mass Communications department, so it’s not surprising we had better than average instructors, and since it’s a smaller college, less likely to attract the type of journalist hopefuls who want to go out there and Change The World No Matter What, nor attract instructors who teach that as a good thing to do.

  4. Isn’t Huffington Post doing the same thing with its columnists?

  5. You get what you pay for.

    The quality is so bad, on the whole, that I refuse to read ‘articles’ written by ‘contributor networks.’

    99% of the time they aren’t worth the pixels – and certainly not worth the chunk of my life.

    Comments here are covered in the 1%.

  6. I find it highly amusing to see the same sort of comments against citizen journalists here that I read over a decade ago at the advent of political blogging.

    Those political blogs are now regularly quoted in legacy newspapers.

    Sound familiar? It should. It also sounds amost exactly like what BigPub is saying about indie authors.

    The wheat will separate from the chaff.

  7. Is it just me or is this mind-blowingly hilarious considering how heavily Salon has vilified Zon and indies, where writer’s have unparalleled opportunity and freedom, while adulating the Agency/Legacy establishment which treats 99% of writer’s like disposable, interchangeable cogs?

    Anyone? Bueller…Bueller?

  8. I don’t mind. I don’t read the HuffPost and I certainly wouldn’t read EUUUUUW.

  9. The one potential victim of this continuing development is very much worth saving: the truth, facts.

    Not that major daily newspapers haven’t slid from their lofty perch as protectors of truth – selective fact reporting isn’t a new thing. Now, the difference is we’ve come to suspect the facts we’re given, and a lot of the citizen journalists don’t make any pretense of objectivity.

    Meryl mentions political blogs – and it’s a great example. The top echelon political blogs today have some tenacious investigative writers, who provide links to original source material. They earned their elevation to reliability by demonstrating it repeatedly.

    The explosive growth of (online) original source material, and access to it, is a game changer, I think. But it is no antidote to lazy reading.

    • Right Pete. And no antidote to investigative reporting which is more rare than hen teeth amongst news bloggers AND the remaining newspapers across the land. Why? Because true and deep investigation takes BIG bucks. Writing for ‘free’ is a gag order against investigative reporting and writing to expose criminal endeavors that are cheating/killing the unaware public. Most indie/ blog writers are in no position to fund tens of thousands of dollars [or far more] of investigations’ costs. Writers who are going to do more than opine, who are going to break stories, expose the dreck that harms the innocent, and more… need to be paid for their work, and given an effective a budget for investigating. We thought that once newspapers were no longer primary gatekeepers of news [meaning which stories appeared and which did not… often the latter, it seemed, to protect big advertisers] that the blogs would be the carriers of truth. But as you see, many of them now also carry significant advertisers. The more things change…

      • And the important right to protect sources and whistleblowers, something the current political administration has worked hard to undermine.

        Snowden, anyone?

  10. I’d think Karl Marx would be turning over in his grave while Thomas More might very well be smiling in his.

    Here in Missoula, Montana, we have a terrible newspaper. It’s losing circulation primarily due to an older population dying off and is therefore making huge staff cuts.

    The blogs have filled the void, and often do a better job on critical analysis. The newspaper reporters, meanwhile, have left the state or gone to the TV stations.

    So what about these EW writers? Where do they go? Jobs with less pay and little cache? Maybe there should be a greater drive to unionize. I’m sure the internet would make that easier.

    Hey, those Hollywood writers seemed to do alright a few years back.

  11. According to Salon, someone is going to be yolking writers like oxen and whipping them until they pull the Entertainment Weekly wagon.

    EW isn’t going to be paying as many writers, and they’ll offer their platform to those they consider worthy. Apparently this is a deadly sin in the Holy Book of Salon.

  12. I kind of wish there was an online equivalent to a tip jar, and I don’t mean relatively large payments via PayPal. I mean a way to click a single button to give 25 cents to the author of an article I enjoyed reading, without my having to log in or authenticate anything. Maybe it’s hard to make that work without it being exploitable by hackers/thieves.

    • Micropayments for reading content has been the holy grail of online commerce since before the Dot Com bubble. However nobody has ever made it work on a large scale.
      You can subscribe to blogs for $0.99 a month on your kindle, but I don’t know of anyone who does.
      Apple tried to charge for podcasts via iTunes, but the concept never took off.

      BTW many authors do have a Tip Jar on their blogs.

      • I know many authors do have a tip jar, but it involves going to another webpage and entering a password and all that, and if I go through that I kind of feel obligated to give a substantial amount. Not a dollar, or twenty-five cents. When what I really want to do is give a small amount with a single click when I read something small that I enjoyed or that gave me useful information.

        When I worked at a Major Software Company 15 years ago, we were talking about micropayments then. But there do seem to be some barriers, perhaps the necessity of authentication (and the hassle that involves for the user) being one of them. Somebody will figure it out eventually.

    • Well, there’s Bitcoin and other crypto currencies (dogecoin, altcoin; etc).

      Before that, I did consider looking into this one service that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of and never really seemed to catch on. But essentially it was the same sort of idea – you purchased a sort of currency and anyone who had that as a payment option could tip you using that currency and convert it back to their own native currency.

  13. the ‘free’ everything ideal is only moral, if all persons are guaranteed a roof over their head, adequate food and water, access to affordable healthcare and medicine, education… ought be free also.

    Writing for ‘free’ is fine for those who are already well off and who are most interested in whatever branding trajectory they are bent toward.

    But for those desperately trying to hold body, soul, family and health together, and struggling mightily– ‘working for free’ is not only untenable–given those at the very top are, via ads etc, hugely profiting off the backs of others’ ‘free’ work and giving the workers NO share of their huge boons– the very idea of ‘branding’ or linking a website being in anyway adequate compensation for one’s ‘free work’ is not a deep enough consideration about how many many talented people across the world struggle so– and deserve to be paid for their talent AND also list a link to their website AND incrementally increase their ‘brand recognition.’

    • Perhaps folks who really need the money for a roof should do something other than writing to get it. Sounds like they are wasting time writing when they could be doing work that pays. We don’t owe them job satisfaction.

      • Every person who works and that work is used by others to promote their own business, deserves a proper wage. It’s about doing the work, others using it without paying the worker. Some docs graduated in the bottom of their class. Likewise lawyers, likewise many others. If they do the work, it is unquestionable that they be paid, nonetheless.

        As I mentioned earlier, those who are well off or set financially may bypass being paid a wage. But for most of the world, being paid for one’s actual work when used by one who is making money off the workers, is a necessity. And more so, it is also across the world, a social justice issue. A necessary one.

        • So what? If they need that roof, go get a job that pays rather than one that doesn’t. Seem pretty simple.

          And we are all free to give our work away to whomever we choose for whatever use they choose. I deserve the deal I make. If I choose to give it away, thats my business.

  14. Is this timely for me? I was approached and agreed to doing this very thing in the lase five days.

    No, they are not going to pay for blog submissions.

    They will include a photo, a profile and a link o your site. Also, they do not request exclusivity. I can live with that.

    This magazine had already accepted a feature and a blog post from me. In my case my topics are new to this magazine and I presented them to the editor as a way to increase readership.

    Also, Harlan didn’t say anything I haven’t thought in the last few years. I did hold my temper when a publisher refused to double my pay by sending TWO free copies of his magazine.


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