Blessed be the naive for they shall be exploited

I was browsing over at Lava Rodeo a few minutes ago, and noticed that Mark Bahnisch was asked about whether he was paid for the articles he writes for Crikey.   His answer rather surprised me:

The answer would be no and yes. I’m not on a retainer or a contract and can submit articles at will, and they decide whether or not to publish them. I get paid a fee for each article published.

I was specifically approached and  asked by Crikey to write an article about the East Timor situation a few months ago.   Not only that, they  demanded it on a 2 hour deadline, which was very inconvenient for my university commitments.   However  Timor is a longstanding academic and personal interest of mine, so I agreed to the request and duly produced an article within two hours.   Naively as  I now realise,  I didn’t ask about financial terms.   I just assumed that I would be paid any applicable fee according to Crikey’s standard arrangements (that’s certainly what occurs with the mainstream media).   I knew that Graham Young’s  Online Opinion doesn’t generally pay for articles, and I thought that perhaps Crikey operated on a similar basis.   Thus I wasn’t really surprised when no payment was offered.   Instead they offered me a 3 month ‘free’ subscription to Crikey.   As it turned out  I didn’t even get that.   Some days the newsletter arrived in my inbox and sometimes it didn’t, but sure as eggs even that irregular performance ceased after 3 months.

Now I discover that they do in fact pay contributors, but presumably only if  they demand it.   I suppose that’s not really too surprising either. Commercial wisdom  has never been one of my strong suits.   That’s why I’m best advised to stay at a university rather than ever return to private legal  practice.   I operate on the old-fashioned (and, I admit, utterly impractical) assumption that people I deal with  will act honourably.   When they don’t, I simply decline to deal with them in future.   It doesn’t work too badly overall, but there are certainly  times like now  when  one gets disappointed unexpectedly.   I can’t help regarding  Crikey’s behaviour  as dubiously ethical, even though  I was a mug not to protect my own interest.   I hope the pricks at least read this and feel a passing moment of shame.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

the squeaky wheel gets the most grease.
’nuff said.

meika
15 years ago

squeak squeak squeak

and still waiting

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Ken, I understand a free sub is the payment for a first article. If you’d gone on to write more, you’d have been paid a fee. Mind you, the fees aren’t lavish (though I’m not complaining).

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Now I discover that they do in fact pay contributors, but presumably only if they demand it.

That’s not really quite fair, for the reasons I gave above.

When they asked me to start writing for them regularly, I certainly inquired as to what payments were made for stories, and on what terms.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Jacques, I don’t think google ads are well targetted for Australian blogs. We made about USD 30 from them which is why we decided not to bother any more. I guess that would have covered a couple of month’s hosting fees, but certainly dividing it up among LP contributors wouldn’t have bought us a beer each.

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
15 years ago

Mark, I disagree. Crikey is a commercial operation that generates revenue and, in turn, pays for the stories and contributions that enable it to earn revenue and build value.

To fail to alert contributors to this fact is to exploit their ignorance or good will.

It is a business practice that’s on the nose.

In the case where it made onerous demands of the contributor, demanding a specialised article within two hours, and still withheld that information and payment, that is an extremely dishonourable business practice.

Providing a free subscription is not payment at all.

All in all, the whole love affair with Crikey that’s been seeping over the political blogs lately reeks of clever marketers exploiting naive bloggers.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Tony, Ken referred to Online Opinion. When I first wrote for them, I asked if there was any payment. When I’ve written for print, I’ve always asked what the payment is and on what terms. I don’t know who the onus lies on, but that’s what I do anyway.

I notice Nick has written for Crikey a couple of times. I wonder what his experience was.

Ken could have asked whether the story could be submitted for the next day’s edition – their deadlines are very tight as they have to have it together by 11am. When I’ve been rung and asked to write on something that’s broken that morning, if necessary, I’ve negotiated a few more hours, or just told them that I haven’t time.
Which is fine with Crikey, as we’re contributors, not staff members.

The practice of a free subscription being offered for a first contribution, and payment for later ones doesn’t seem extraordinary to me.

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
15 years ago

Mark, Crikey is a commercial operation. The ethics are crystal clear. To fail to notify a contributor that payment is available, let alone failing to actually pay, is wrong.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

My point, Tony, is that as I understand it, the first submission receives payment in the form of a free subscription. Therefore I don’t know what you mean by “fail(ing) to notify a contributor that payment is available”. Ken received the recompense for writing one article in the form of a subscription. The fact that he had problems receiving it really was something for him to take up with the admin staff.

If Ken had asked, I’m sure it would have been explained to him. You also have to remember my point about the deadlines for the editorial staff being extremely tight. They don’t have time to talk for long while they’re on deadline.

I think all this talk of shock and “pricks” from Ken is a bit over the top, to say the least. As he says,

Naively as I now realise, I didn’t ask about financial terms.

You wrote:

All in all, the whole love affair with Crikey that’s been seeping over the political blogs lately reeks of clever marketers exploiting naive bloggers.

I’ve seen just as much Crikey bashing. Jason was doing it almost daily for a while at Catallaxy.

In my opinion, Crikey provides informed and interesting news and views that I want to read, and I’m happy to write for them (and as I said, you don’t make a living by doing so). I think it’s a very useful addition to the Australian media mix and a lot is published there that wouldn’t get a run anywhere else. I don’t agree with every article, or hold the same political perspective as all the Crikey writers. But overall, I think it’s a good thing, and one I’m pleased to be associated with.

In the time I’ve been writing for Crikey, I have never had any problems with its commercial practice as a contributor.

I think that’s all I have to say on it.

lynn white
lynn white
15 years ago

I’m a longterm Crikey subscriber. They do occasionally spruik that they pay for submissions – between $150 and $250 depending on the length of the piece. I don’t recall them ever offering a free subscription to a contributor.

You know what? I’d go back to them and ask them to cough up! If they ask you to write something, they should pay.

But you should ask :-)

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

I’ve written for Crikey too, without any payment. In my experience, the media tends to assume that academics/think-tank staff are already paid to make their views known, and therefore payment is not required.

Joshua Gans
15 years ago

I have had the same experience as you Ken. They didn’t pay me either and I had no idea that they did.

Put this seems common. Another leading business magazine solicited a 1500 word piece from me, offered no payment and didn’t even send me a copy of the issue.

When newspapers solicit op eds, in my experience, they do pay.

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
15 years ago

Andrew, yes, that’s true, and I had been conscious of that point in writing my comment. In the case Ken describes, his academic post is not as an East Timor or current affairs specialist, and he doesn’t have a public profile of advocating a particular position, so his enlistment by Crikey is not in the category of providing a forum for an advocate or career specialist.

Crikey had obviously read his informed pieces on East Timor and wanted to, as Ken correctly put its, exploit his knowledge of the topic.

Mark, Crikey does pay for articles when it needs to. The fact that it fobs off some with a free subscription actually bears out my point. A subscription is practically useless unless the contributor had already decided to buy it. Also, it has practically zero cost to the publisher, so payment by subscription is a cynical move aimed at the naive. It is seen that way by publishers.

The point is that Crikey didn’t tell Ken he could be paid if he wanted. They seem to have just, again, exploited his trust in the system that generally applies for commercial media. Ken is correct to feel exploited.

Your comments actually bear out my premise about bloggers being spun by marketers. Here we are discussing unethical commercial behaviour, and yet you choose to provide a marketing spiel for Crikey. It wouldn’t matter if we were talking about top quality media like the SMH. The issue is the treatment of contributors. Similarly, time pressures provide no excuse and are not relevant anyway. If a commissioning editor was racing to deadline, an administrative staffer could have followed up later.

As I said, the issue is quite clear. I think a lot of you are a bit too excited about working with what you think is mainstream media, and let that cloud your judgements.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Tony, at the risk of repeating myself – Ken couldn’t have “been paid if he wanted to” as the standard recompense for a first article is a free subscription which does have a monetary value. There’s really no issue here. If he’d decided to go on and submit more pieces, he would have been paid. As he himself says he was naive not to ask about this before he wrote the first one.

Graham Young
15 years ago

Just a couple of comments – first about On Line Opinion. We don’t pay, because we’re not financial enough to pay. While income is building, it’s still only at the stage where it pays for the editor (not me) and some programming and hosting. When it can financially support itself we’ll be happy to pay. We do, however, collect money if someone wants to republish a piece, and this is forwarded on the author, less a commission. Interestingly, I’ve just caught out some commercial publishers going straight to our authors and getting permission, without paying a cent – makes our commission worthwhile.

You’ll find that the MSM isn’t much different to Crikey. Generally op-ed editors will pay if they commission you, or if you ask for it up-front, but if they can get away without paying, they will. Many organisations are happy to provide them with copy for nothing because they would feel compromised if they did otherwise.

I discovered the MSM system after initially being paid by the AFR for an article, and then checking the mail in vain after subsequent pieces. When I inquired I was told that if I submitted without asking payment, then they didn’t pay. They subsequently made it up to me, more or less, over the course of a few other articles.

However, even when you’re paid, the income to be earned from free-lancing is pitiful compare to the intellectual content that goes into it, which is the more serious problem.

Matt Marks
15 years ago

With an answer like that Mark sounds he suffers from the John Kerry syndrome.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

Publishers of academic journals are the worst in all this – don’t pay authors, make them sign over copyright, and charge outrageous subscription fees.

Policy, which I edit, does not pay either – though we have occasionally given small sums to people who make their living as freelancers. It narrows the contributor base to early career people who need any publicity they can get, those who support the CIS more broadly, and friends of the editor.

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
15 years ago

Mark, although I don’t know for sure, I suspect that if Crikey pays for articles, then it would certainly pay for a commissioned article it wanted, whether first or not, and that the mantra of the first one always being paid by a subscription is silly.

Andrew, academic journals are an obvious special case. The point is that academics trade in a different currency – reputation. They can convert that into prestige, income and more prestigious and higher-paying positions.

I agree with Graham Young’s point that there’s a wider underlying issue, which is that media generally exploit the intellectual content of contributors, even when they do pay.

Just to conclude as it were. Crikey’s behaviour is on the nose.

vee
vee
15 years ago

“Blessed be the naive for they shall be exploited.”

Under the guise of classical liberalism, no contract was entered into in regards to payment so therefore no payment was required.

That said, that is one of my (and perhaps others) criticisms of classical liberalism.

vee
vee
15 years ago

I wasn’t referring to “contract” law. I was using contract as a mutually agreed consent on anything.

Otherwise I agree with you.

Nahum Ayliffe
15 years ago

Boys,

It’s tough to get a paid job as a writer, particularly online. That’s the cold, hard facts. I’ve written two or three pieces for Crikey over the past 3-4 months, and on the second article, I asked for a subscription, and I was given a 6mth one. Actually I think I’d written my third article by then.

If money is an issue, then ask the editors or subs what the terms are. Then again, that might reduce the likelihood of continuing to get work from Crikey. The arrangement, as I understand it, is that only when you are regularly submitting work, will a financial arrangement be offered. I’ve submitted around a dozen pieces, most of which have not been published. I think Mark was asked to contribute, so that’s a different story.

It’s tough to make it in the arts. I did stand up comedy in 2004, and didn’t get a penny for my work. I probably wasn’t very good. But as I understand it, when you build a reputation, then the money comes. Griping about money isn’t really going to help though, I’m sorry. It’s tough and you’ve got to keep at it.

I would much prefer to see my work achieving a wider audience than to receive the meagre sum that Crikey offers. As I understand it’s pretty lean, and that’s not why I write. I think I have a perspective to offer. I don’t need the money.