No hiding once an article is online

There’s been a heated debate raging all week on the twittersphere regarding this article, published on media and marketing website mumbrella on October 8.

Titled ‘How I blew it with the tele’, the story details the plight of aspiring journalist Matt Smith, who had an oped approved to be published in the Daily Telegraph, only to have the offer rescinded by tele editor Joe Hildebrand after an email Hildebrand deemed disrespectful.

There’s been a huge response to the article on social media

Smith said he should have been paid for his writing, as the Telegraph earns revenue from advertising.

“While submitting a piece to an online website for free is one thing, getting published in a major newspaper is another. They’re businesses that sell their pages, and they should be expected to give their contributors some kind of payment. It’s acknowledgment of skill, professionalism, and talent. It’s encouragement. At the very least, the acceptance of a free story should be done with respect and gratitude to the contributor.

I’m not the only freelancer who has these thoughts. We all want to be respected and appreciated for our work, but at the same time a living is a living. For many of us we’re so used to not being paid that it wouldn’t really take much to buy us off – a token payment would be much more than we’d normally see from our work.

‘You similarly wouldn’t ask your accountant to do your tax return, wait until it’s been lodged, and then explain to her that you wouldn’t be paying her this year,’ Karen Pickering said in a recent article on the Wheeler Centre. I doubt that there is any profession where you can so easily expect something for nothing.”

Hildebrand hit back with a statement of reply,

“Matthew Smith sent me an unsolicited oped, like plenty of others we get everyday.

I thought it was a vaguely interesting subject and said I would run it next week.

He then responded asking if we needed a headshot and whether he would get paid. This was my exact response:

“Sadly we’ve got a moratorium on paid contributions at the moment mate, so I can only offer you fame. Any dimension headshot will do.”

Matt’s exact response was as follows:

“Hi, Joe

“That’s a tough ask for an emerging/aspiring journalist – especially when sites like Daily Life manage to give contributors some money – so I hope you can understand my disappointment.

“Please run the twitter handle at the end at least, and let me know when the piece will run. Photo attached.

“Matt Smith”

Notwithstanding that he clearly does not know how to use punctuation in greetings, as you can see his only response was to complain and then sighingly instruct that we “at least” run his Twitter handle and tell him when it was running. Nor did he bother to say thank you in this missive.

The fact that any aspiring journalist would get the chance to be published in Sydney’s biggest newspaper and then turn his nose up and whinge about it I found absolutely staggering.

Just as staggering is that he would have the gall to write a piece about how hard it is to get published in the Telegraph when in fact he was all set to be published but blew it by being a rude little man with an overblown sense of entitlement.

As anyone who has picked up a newspaper recently knows, the industry is facing enormously tough times and our contributor budget is tiny. I have had the unpleasant duty of telling far more worthy, experienced and talented writers than Matthew that we are unable to pay them for future work. None has ever responded with such pathetic self-important whining.

I could not be happier about my decision.”

The story now has more than two hundred comments, ranging from those fully supportive of either Hildebrand or Smith, to others who acknowledged there was merit in both arguments.

The feud spilled over onto twitter, many tweeting to Smith offering support, while Hildebrand, as is his way, retweeted reams of folk on his side.

It is an interesting aside that both Smith (for his improper email greeting) and Hildebrand (for missing an oxford comma in his response), were chastised for grammatical imperfections.

As Elaine Ford noted in her week 10 lecture, grammar and punctuation are even more important in this age of online journalism; errors and inconsistencies are there to see for ever.

In the case of Matt Smith, the permanent nature of online posting, combined with the exposure of this incident and the subsequent higher google search rating may prove detrimental to his career in future. If any potential employer searches his name, the first thing they’ll see is this story, complete with a scathing response from a well-known News Ltd. columnist.

This debate borne from this article is an interesting reminder that the world of journalism is changing rapidly, in many ways.

The 42nd comment on he article sums things up best from my perspective.

“I can see both sides of the coin on this.

When I was a young writer, studying and trying to get a start, I did a LOT of work for free – for papers, radio and TV. Many, many hours were spent gaining experience. To get regular journalism jobs, they wanted a folio. A track record. I got paid for none of it.

Back then, that’s what you had to do. It was before the proliferation of blogs and when papers were still at the forefront of newsbreaking and financial success.

Things have definitely changed.

On the odd occasion I was paid, I was so grateful. I liked being appreciated and having my work deemed worthy of payment – it was worthy (and still is!). But I also accepted that it was part of the deal – when I had solid experience behind me and proof I could work to deadlines and with editors, the paid work would come. That was how it worked. That is how it turned out.

These days, anyone with a keyboard and a Twitter account seems to consider themselves a journalist or a writer. In some senses, that might be true and I am not trying to cut anyone’s dreams in half here, but some perspective is required. Working for free, sometimes, is not the worst thing you can do. Ideal? No. 100% fair? No. But it’s also about establishing relationships. Developing trust with editors, letting them see that you can be relied upon to produce good content, on time. Editors get dozens of submissions every day. They cannot pay everyone. And if you’re a rookie, then perhaps the “fame” should be enough the first time around. Developing relationships as a freelancer is just as important as your writing. That’s the reality of how things work today.

I do think it’s reasonable to be paid for work you do. And, in my experience, when you do something for the “fame” the first time around, often next time that editor has a little bit of cash to pay freelancers, it might come your way instead of somewhere else. If you’re serious about being in the game, then sometimes you have to play along. Not forever. But first time around.”

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