I love looking at the comments on a really juicy NYT article because it’s a great way to find out all the weird perceptions and feelings that a certain American population has on a topic. You get all the weird, nonsensical, prejudiced sometimes verging into race/classism, e.g. everything that most of these people would never admit in an aisle of the Whole Foods or a fancy dinner party, at least to a stranger.*
The Nate Thayer kerfuffle is that, but exploded, where everyone has their own slightly different angle on it. In short, the Atlantic asked a very famous journalist to cut down an originally reported piece he had written for another publication by 75% and offered to pay him…wait for it…. nothing. Well “exposure” but for someone who has won (and refused) a Pulitzer, that’s pretty much nothing. ** He, understandably cranky and to make a point, published the entire, civil, email chain on his blog, which shows among other things, that they weren’t really too upfront about the whole no pay thing and that, at most, they would have given him $100.
Opinions exploded all over the place, generally clumping into six groups, three on each side:***
I.e. who is Nate Thayer thinking so highly of himself and better than us? This makes sense; we like to think ourselves better than others, not the other way around. We also really don’t want to think about how working hard =/= success. It scares us and once you add some jealousy, thus in short, we decide that Thayer is uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.
For the other side we have:
You wouldn’t expect your dentist/janitor/software designer to work for free, so why your journalist?/You can’t eat exposure/Good for him
The Atlantic website wouldn’t exist if it didn’t make money/it made a shitload of profit last year/it sucks as a company if it can’t make money somehow/what’s the point of exposure or clips if even the Atlantic doesn’t pay
This is an example of corporations constantly making record profits while the relative income of average Americans has gone down.
I.e. we somehow identify with Nate Thayer or his situation and we’re angry. Thayer is ex post example of ‘making it’ and if he still gets shit upon, what hope is there for the rest of us, the still-awesome but not quite as much ones. I think it also hits a vein of people being mad at corporations who seem to keep just trekking along, whining about how difficult it is, while the rest of us are limping around grabbing things, Walking Dead-style.
Personally, I veer towards the second position. I think we should call the Atlantic out for their ballsy bad behavior. Remember not only did they not expect to pay Thayer, but they also thought they should get free stuff that someone ELSE**** already paid for. I also want all of us to learn the distenction between I write something for free that consumers get to read for free and I write something for free that consumers get to read for free, but in the middle someone gets to make money.
And while, I do think that exposure can be a benefit or payment of some sort, if companies want to actually pay in that way, they need to really think about what value they’re offering and at least try to give a fair trade. Imagine how this would have played out if they asked for a 200 word blurb that would function as advertisement leading to the story rather than asking him to rewrite it as an in essence stand alone article. Or even if they had been upfront about not paying him and that he would be doing them a favor, not the other way ’round.
Full Disclosure: All of these links are things you get to read for free on the internet! Some corporations may make a profit if you click. I do not get paid for rambling. Photo is from Inggmartinez under a creative commons licence. I would probably have written for the Atlantic for free if they asked me, just so my mom would have bragging rights; now they would have to pay me at least five shiny silver dollars or a nice printout for my mom. There are now accusations that Nate Thayer plagiarized.
*Notably some people do not have this filter. I once had someone tell me on an informational interview that if more people who “looked like us” had worked at a place, he might have not quit. He said it in a whisper, couched as “just between us,” and I still don’t know what the fuck he meant by looking like us, but assume that it had something to do with perceived shared race or class backgrounds.
**Although it’s never said outright, it seems safe to assume that they weren’t planning on paying the original publisher, NK News, anything either.
***Isn’t that tidy? Just like when I was taught there were only nine schools of social science (in all of history) in a ten-week-long class.
****Poor NK News. It’s still not clear if they paid Thayer but since he says that he doesn’t work for free, presumably they paid. I think they should come out and say how much so we can discuss how much real journalism actually costs (in comparison to regurgitated blog posts, mine included).