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FREE-lancing: The ethics and economics of paying writers with exposure and a byline, an AEJMC Magazine Division panel

Do you work for free? I have, but then I’m a writer. For some reason people think writing is one of those jobs anyone can do hence the reason for not paying people who you know can actually do it well.

Press Criticism

On Friday, August 9, the Magazine Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication sponsored a panel to discuss the “ethics and economics” of unpaid freelancing. Is it OK, the panel asked, for editors to ask journalists to give them stories in exchange for “exposure”? Is there ever a time when a reporter might want to make that bargain?

The panel was inspired by the freelance journalist Nate Thayer, as I explain in my introductory remarks below. I also invited Slate’s business and economics correspondent Matthew Yglesias; the editor of City Paper, Washington’s alternative weekly newspaper Mike Madden; and Kevin Stoker, an administrator at Texas Tech University and a scholar of media ethics. I thank them for their permission to post this transcript of the panel, which was held at the AEJMC 2013 conference at the Renaissance Washington Midtown.


  • Matthew Yglesias, business and economics correspondent, Slate

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Making new friends as a mum

I’ve spent the last few years living in three different countries, two in which I had my children, and the third one in which I now live. It’s meant being on a constant revolving-door journey of making friends and then having to say goodbye, again and again. When I moved back to Sydney, even though I grew up here, most of my friends were based in another part of the city and/or didn’t have kids. Plus we had that ten years of me being away – which is a lot in the land of friendships. So there I was having to make friends all over again.

I’m lucky in a way I’ve met a few women I like to be around, not just because we have kids of a similar age but because I find them interesting. And then I was thinking – what was it about these women that made me think I want to be friends with you. With my friend N it was because the first time we met she said to me “Sometimes I hate the person I am as a mother.” It was such a brutally honest sentence, one that no one would have the guts to normally utter and I agreed with her 100%. N just had given birth to her 3rd child and was finding herself with limited patience with her other two. I had just moved countries with a 2 year old and a 6 week old and I felt very much that I was fraying at the edges.

Another friend of mine K revealed as we stuffed our babies into prams how she had a horrible labour at a very expensive private hospital with her first child ago 3 years ago and she still was suffering as a result of it. I loved her honesty.

I love when women, mothers especially are honest. We are desperate to try and convey that we are perfect in every conceivable way, but somehow that perfection comes across as being impenetrable. Then there are other mothers who carry the weariness of bringing up children as some kind of defence mechanism – they appear either angry or stand-offish. I have to admit I quite often look like these mothers. But they are very hard to approach, much less befriend.

It’s hard making friends at a certain age, much less after we have children. But I feel we need these friendships in our lives, no matter how fleeting they may be. We all need someone to moan about how hard it is to be completely responsible for the tiny beings that want everything from us, leaving often at times, very little for us that’s left to share.