By Lisa Smith Molinari
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
You open the mailbox, and there it is.
The envelope is so thin, it seems almost empty. But you know exactly what’s inside. You run a fingernail under the sealed edge, pinch the contents with thumb and forefinger, and hold the precious instrument up to the light. “Pay to the order of …” it says, and, in that moment, the words read like beautiful prose. You smile, sigh softly, and savor the feeling while it lasts.
There’s nothing quite like getting paid for your writing.
Which is why this year the theme of NSNC’s 41st Annual Conference is “Live Free and Write … But Not for Free.” Of course, this is a take on the famous motto of our host state of New Hampshire, but the statement also references the challenges faced by writers seeking adequate compensation for their work in today’s industry. The #NSNC17 conference, scheduled for June 8-11, 2017 at the Radisson Hotel Manchester Downtown, will offer speakers, panels and sessions designed to help columnists and bloggers cultivate real income.
Attendees will learn about podcasting, an exploding revenue source for many writers, from Steven Goldstein, founder and CEO of Amplifi Media. Editor-in-Chief Brian McGrory will tell us about The Boston Globe‘s recent restructuring, and what it might mean for columnists trying to earn a living in our ever-changing industry. John Clayton, columnist with the New Hampshire Union Leader and local historian, will teach us how to write for regional audiences. KJ Dell’Antonia, editor of The New York Times‘ Well Family page, will speak about online column writing in today’s market. Literary agents and publishers will tell us how to tweak our manuscripts to get them published. And a panel of political columnists, including Jill Lawrence of USA Today and James Pindell of The Boston Globe, moderated by ABC Presidential Debates Moderator Scott Spradling,
will inspire us to express our perspectives, not for free, but freely.
Writing for free has been hotly debated even before Arianna Huffington founded The Huffington Post in 2005, grew it into a mega online news site using unpaid contributors, and then sold it to AOL six years later at a staggering $315 million. Despite the obvious exposure no-pay outlets can offer (HuffPo has more than 250 million unique monthly visitors worldwide), critics point out the immorality of those using the no-pay model.
Writer/cartoonist Tim Kreider wrote a piece in 2013 titled “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” that spawned a series of related articles and blogs on both sides of the issue. Kreider writes, “I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing. I have to admit my empathetic imagination is failing me here.” He contrasts his sister’s career as a pulmonologist: “[A]s far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy – doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great – because it’ll help get her name out there.”
Most of us have offered our work for free to break into new markets, contribute to nonprofits, gain name recognition, get clips, etc. However, writers are cautioned to avoid “death by exposure” and to show solidarity.
“I beseech you, don’t give it away,” Kreider urges, “… because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable – it isn’t right – for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.”
In Manchester this June, we will reaffirm that column-writing is a valuable skill. And we will learn that – through ancillary ventures such as podcasting, public speaking, freelancing, syndication, and book publishing – we can earn a real living.
Register now for #NSNC17, because you’re worth it.
For more reading on the issue of writing for free check out these articles on our website:
Does Free Writing for HuffPost Make Cents in the End? by Suzette Martinez Standring
The Flip Side of Writing for Free by Bonnie Jean Feldkamp