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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Blogging For Free

There continues to be much online conversation about the evils of unpaid internships, and in particular about the willingness of high profile sites - notably the Huffington Post and the Guardian - to make use of free blogs from unpaid bloggers.

The problem can be simply stated.  There are many more people wanting to write than there are organisations willing to pay for it.  Thus, a glut of would-be opinion formers are happy to hawk their material around on free sites because at least it gives them a profile.  It is foolish to blame HuffPo or others here.  If people refused to contribute blogs to the sites - most of which remain as unread as this admirable blog - then the owners would soon need to revise their strategy.  But in the era of free internet comment that is an unlikely scenario.

My real concern over this is that good quality writing and journalism is being devalued.  Writers who articulate opinions in elegant and stimulating ways, or journalists who spend time ferreting out important stories and making them accessible to the wider public, are professional people who should expect to be financially rewarded for their labours.  Unfortunately the model of free news sites has seriously undermined this.  It seems bizarre that so many publishers are willing to make their offerings free online.  Rupert Murdoch may have been mocked for putting the Times behind a paywall, but his principle was sound enough.  His company will spend money employing the best writers, reporters and editors.  In so doing, their labours shouldn't then be hawked around free of charge on the internet.  As a consumer I should be as happy to pay for the internet commentary that I want to read as I am to fork out for a print copy of a newspaper.  Many people have praised the availability of information and opinion on the internet, but it is also in danger of devaluing and undermining the work of real craftsmen in the art of writing.

In this, I think Chris Wheal, of the NUJ's Professional Training Panel, has it right when he says of the students who produce copy for free:

“Students are misled into thinking having bylines all over the place is a good idea, so they are conned into writing for free. Potential future employers can see the difference between paid-for work and freebie sites and have little time or respect for those who place so little value on their own work that they give it away for free.”

I'm not normally a cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch.  But by maintaining that good journalism is worth paying for, he is sticking to a principle that might just save the art of the journalist from being swallowed up by the beast of free blogging forever.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sums it up quite nicely.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE