We want to like you. We really do.
After all, it’s not often these days that a major corporation invests $50 million in local journalism. You’ve hired some really top-notch journalists, many of them unmoored by the business model collapse at daily newspapers. In fact, we’re not ashamed to mention that some of our best friends are Patch editors. (You should pay them better. But that’s another story.)
And even though your freelance rates would never be described as generous, they have put food on the table of many an unemployed reporter.
So when we heard you were looking to hire 8,000 bloggers in eight days, we momentarily thought, “Awesome!”
And then, “Yowch!”
Because as it turns out, hire isn’t exactly the right word. Although Patch is now recruiting an army of “fresh voices,” the fee you plan to offer is exactly — nothing.
As in, no pay. No dollars, no cents, no need to provide direct deposit information — unless your bank accepts “gratitude” deposits.
The solicitations began popping up on all your Patch sites late last week, and boy, are they depressing.
A lot of them read like your local editors were uncomfortable even writing them. Having endured our share of questionable assignments over the years, we sympathize. This one’s even worse than landing the weather story. What self-respecting journalist wants to beg people to work for free and somehow try to make it sound like a good idea?
- “Do you have concerted opinions? Do you find yourself hilarious? Do others? Do you like to share?” (‘Cause, um, our financial officers don’t!)
- “This isn’t a reporting job. It’s blogging. You write what you want to say when you want to say it,” (Seriously, because how can we impose deadlines and story counts on a bunch of volunteers?);
- “The best part about blogging on Patch is that it works around your own schedule.” (If we were to schedule you, the Department of Labor starts squawking about that whole “minimum wage” thing)
- “Patch won’t own what you post,” (Since we never bought it)
- And, “If writing isn’t your forte, we also welcome bloggers who can convey their thoughts through photos, video, cartoons, art or even audio.” (Honestly, who are we to be choosy?)
Most of the solicitations do mention that bloggers will be unpaid, and some explicitly differentiate their role from the reporting done by Patch’s professional staff members and freelancers.
Palos Patch also helpfully advises that posting on the blog “is free of charge,” in case you wondered how much you owed them for the privilege of contributing your unpaid labor. And bizarrely, Santa Cruz Patch pleads, “Give us your hungry, your poor, your blog.” (Because if you’re poor and hungry, writing for Patch won’t change that?)
Patch: Please stop it. You’re embarrassing yourself.
As our mothers taught us to say: No thank you.
We don’t write free for any company, and no self-respecting freelancer should — no matter how bad the economy is right now. Our democracy needs journalists, and journalists need to eat. And expecting soccer moms, retirees, and school kids to work free for large corporations isn’t just foolish, it contributes to a dangerous decline in our national standards.
So, here’s our counteroffer, Patch: We keep our work, you keep your gratitude, and let’s try to figure out a sustainable business model to save the industry we all love and depend on.