Archive | Internet media ethics RSS feed for this section

“She pissed off the Queen, now she’s dead ”Why Brits Are Loopier Than Americans Re: Fruitcake Conspiracy Theories?

24 Feb

Why Are The Brits Even More Loopy Than Americans When it Comes to Fruitcake Conspiracy Theories?

By Nate Thayer

February 24, 2013

Some may recall that in December 2012 a couple of radio disc jockey pranksters in Australia called the London hospital where the pregnant Princess whatever-her-name-is was staying having taken ill with tummy troubles. The Aussie jokesters told the nurse on duty who answered the phone that they were the Queen of England and inquired about the well-being and status of their “grand-daughter.”

The nurse believed them and they engaged in a non-substantive, but recorded, conversation as to how the Princesses was feeling that resulted in a minor global hullabaloo after the joke was broadcast in Oz.

The blaring British tabloids didn’t damper the incident and  a few days later the unfortunate and gullible nurse committed suicide.

That is when things got rather decidedly wonky.

What struck me—and motivated me to write the December 2012 story– was the extraordinary number of complete nutcases and the most inane conspiracy theorists who dominated the chattering classes on social media.

These people were seriously forwarding theories convinced that the poor nurse was the victim of a royal murder plot.

So I wrote an obvious tongue in cheek spoof story on my blog titled: BREAKING NEWS: Dark Hand of British Royal Family Behind Secret Murder of Kate’s Morning Sickness Nurse “She pissed off the Queen, now she’s dead.”–Twitter Ace Journalist

After my byline, Nate Thayer, I accorded myself the job title “Senior News Ombudsman for World Social Media Operations”

That should, I would have thought, been a clue that my tongue was firmly in my cheek.

The story began as follows:

The UK nurse at hospital where pregnant Kate Middleton was resting with morning sickness and  answered the prank phone call from two  male Aussie radio DJ’s saying they were Queen Elizabeth asking ”Hello, I’m just looking after my granddaughter, Kate. I wanted to see how her little tummy bug is going?” has been found dead.

Fortunately the crack professionals of social media, which has effectively replaced what use to be the job of the now widely agreed to be the untrustworthy, sensationalist, incompetent institution known as the “Mainstream Media” of journalism is on the case and a well-informed citizenry is in safe hands.

‘I believe the royal family and the British secret agents killed the nurse. It is not the first time. Remember what happened to Diana”–Twitter Crack Reporter'”

The story followed with a series of other outlandish quotes I culled from Twitter and other social media that any—I thought—any half-sensible reader would interpret for what they were—complete and utter poppycock.

I am still scratching my head and continue to be entirely flummoxed and more than a little concerned to have found that almost all the readers of the story—the entirety of it published below—took the story seriously as if I was writing a straight news article.

Every single comment I have received has been from those who agreed the Royal family was behind the death of the poor nurse, because….well they did not say because why, actually.

The story, for no discernible reason, still more than a year later ranks as one of the most read stories on my blog. I received another comment today on it:

“Or perhaps it’s a ‘warning signal’ that if anyone else tried to go near the Royal Family or doesn’t do their job properly, they will be grave consciences. The nurse let her guard down and so the ‘secret Royal guardian forces’ put her down. That’s why everyone else under the watch of the Royals has to do their job properly and those wanting to cause grave harm to them have been warned. Bottom line is The Royal Family has to be viewed as powerful and influential people. Its up to these ‘secret guardian forces’ of theirs to make sure that these ‘views’ are always in place. I will never believe this B.S. even Diana’s car crash death.”

Other comments responding to the story include:

“How many years your country’s king and queen will kill people to save their dirty secrets. ” who is william ‘s baby real mom ?” was it that secert royal family wants to save from england people then they kill the nurse ? You don’t think it is time to kick ass to kings …. England people have a deep sleep . I am yelling “wake up England. WAKE UP ENGLAND, IT IS SO Late.”

Then there was Holly:

“First of all, it wasn’t two MALE disc jockeys, one was a female. Secondly, it’s not the QUEEN MUM, she’s been dead since 2002. This writer should get the facts straight. Bloody British Royal Family or not, this is a super-convenient distraction for them from the Jimmy Savile affair, focusing on this “royal” pregnancy will go on and on and on for another 7 months, then there will be watching the little devil, I mean darling, grow up. I’m sick of all this already.”

I responded to Holly with the following:

Holly:

My apologies on not realizing your Queen Mum was dead. Really, I had lost track of keeping current on the family health issues since my people expelled your people a couple centuries back.

However, occasionally I do admit to spurts of entertainment with Fergie and Di and Camilla (sp?) and Chuck and Randy Andy and Philip et al. But I do agree, it does get tiresome rather quickly.

Why is it they are useful for you people to keep them on the payroll again?

And who is the “them” you refer to?

And if I could politely offer one small correction: Isn’t it “Sir” Jimmy Savile?

The public sexual shenanigans of your people really are a bit hard to keep up with nearly as much as the state of health of your Mum’s and Princesses and Duchesses et al etc and so on….

And since you mention being “sick of it all”, I might suggest you alert your health care providers about your preferences for incoming well wishers, as there appears to be some confusion on that front as well.

Good luck with it all.

I don’t envy you.

Nate

Here is the rest of the story, unredacted, including actual Twitter comments followed by other people who wrote to my blog responding to the article. Not a single one acknowledged the story to be a spoof:

“The Royal Plot behind the Secret Conspiracy to Murder the Morning Sickness Nurse appears to be unlikely to mislead the news hound sleuths from the most respected global Twitter news operations:

“If u think the prank callers are at fault, then YOU are what’s wrong with this world. It’s obviously the Mafia Royal Family. They have done this before many times to avoid shame.”

But while the dominant theme trending by the new vanguard responsible for ensuring a vibrant and free press that serves the people and the principles of freedom of press—Twitter—is to blame the media for the death of the Florence Nightingale of our era, there is another strain of analysis trending on Twitter: That the demise of the deceased nurse was murdered at the hands of the Royals, a dark plot cooked up by the Royal family who murdered her to protect dark secrets which would expose the monarchy to unthinkable revelations of…well they don’t get very specific on the minor details.

“So royal family murders this nurse, calls it suicide and you crazy people are mad at the radio station? It was an innocent prank. At best it was semi-unprofessional and a bit lame. They do not deserve a shred of an ounce of blame for the supposed “suicide”. Nobody with common sense would utter something so ridiculous.”–Senior World Affairs Correspondent for Twitter

The Twitter righteous-indignation social media SWAT teams have been deployed in full force, calling for the poor Aussie radio prankster blokes to get fired, go to jail, or what seems to be the overwhelming favorite, be executed by guillotine.

“We were very surprised that our call was put through,” DJ Mel said after the prank. “We thought we’d be hung up on as soon as they heard our terrible accents.”

The now widely agreed to be murdered nurse took seriously the Australian men imitating the voice of the  British Royal Great-grandmother to be and apparently revealed secrets which surely threatened to bring down the British Empire, and took necessary measures to save its subjects from the calamity.

And the entertaining kerfuffle promises only to get more fun.

The two DJs have deleted their Twitter accounts and gone into hiding after a deluge of death threats, the radio station says it is very, very sorry and apologized for the poor attempt at humour, the Royals have all sent their condolences  and the Queen Mum and Princes Charles conveyed their “sadness and concern for the nurses family”

“I just saw a lord, stupid Brit elites, she was suicided by the inbreeds for knowing too much, either reptile hybrid, or In vitro fertilization from a human donor, the good thing is, no harm was done the royals.”

But the Trojan horse attempt to redirect blame from the real perpetrators by cleverly blaming two 20 something Australian radio talk show jocks did not detract the professional media sleuths of the powerful world network of Social Media.

“The British Royal Family has murdered millions for shiny rocks in the past. You think they have any qualms about killing?”–Twitter Senior  Investigative Correspondent

But to look on the bright side of these developments, I must say it is comforting to know that the nutcase conspiracy theorists running loose are not confined to those among my brethren Americans, but they appear to have taken root across the pond quite nicely.”

Other comments left on my blog include:

“Middleton is a strange woman. Now that the baby is her, she seems very awkward and unloving towards it. Like it’s not hers” and “If everything were really just honest with that family I doubt there would be so many bizarre rumors ?”

 

Advertisements

Corporate Power, ABC TV and Ted Koppel tried to censor the free speech of a free man in a free country. Fuck that.

10 Dec

Corporate power tried to steal my life work.

ABC  TV and Ted Koppel tried to censor the free speech of a free man in a free country.

Fuck that.

ABC TV stolen pictures frame grab from my copyrighted work. Count them--four separate credits demanding ABC be given credit for photographs taken when ABC did b not even have a staff person in all of Southeast Asia. This photo was hand delivered to the New York Times, The AP and posted on ABC's website

ABC TV stolen pictures frame grab from my copyrighted work. Count them–four separate credits demanding ABC be given credit for photographs taken when ABC did b not even have a staff person in all of Southeast Asia. This photo was hand delivered to the New York Times, The AP and posted on ABC’s website

Discuss freedom.

I would like to define this discussion, where it belongs: The power of corporate thugs using their money to put their jackboot on the necks of of freelance creative artists must stop.

It is time to draw the line and demand that we, as writers, photographers, musicians, creative artists are worthy. Our work should be respected and compensated as such.

Unlike the Atlantic magazine headache of a few months ago, let’s use our power to define the debate.

Please discuss.

Whatever the content of your opinion, of the  discussion, is fine. Whatever point of view you have, is legitimate.

But the censoring of free speech is not. Full stop. I will be damned before I allow a 10 cent lawyer to tell me when I can open my mouth and say what I want, or not, especially if it is the documented truth.

Fuck their money and their self delusion of power. I am free and intend to remain so.

My earlier blog post on the raw facts of the failed attempt of ABC TV–and their corporate owner–Disney–and Ted Koppel allowing himself to be a common streetwalker for his pimps, has gone viral.

I would like to hear from @ABC and @TedKoppel and @Disney what their response is. Are you selling quality journalism to free people, or are you only trying to deliver viewers and page hits to advertisers?

I respect Ted Koppel. It is why I chose him to bring the story of Pol Pot to North America. But he allowed himself to be a pimp for ABC/Disney in exchange for cash money. That is a fact. Of course he feels guilty. Ted Koppel, I believe, is a moral man. He was, ironically, the best that American TV had to offer. So take responsibility, Mr. Koppel. You will further contribute to the return of quality journalism to free people by doing so. You will be able to look yourself in the mirror without flinching at what you see. I can, mostly, now. As can you. But mostly isn’t good enough for you or me.

Musician’s Protest Goes Viral: Corporations offer no payment in exchange for “exposure”

8 Nov

Musicians say Enough is Enough for being asked to work for Free: One mans strongly worded refusal goes viral on social media

A Familiar refrain: “They consistently offer musicians nothing for their work, instead suggesting ‘exposure’ as a form of payment.”

The issue of for profit companies trying to increase their profit margin by refusing to pay creative artists for their work has once again gone viral, creating a debate which has metastasized on social media. Today it is by musicians. The similarities to the debate and discussion sparked in march of this year on the issue of writers and journalists facing the same problem are almost identical. See  https://natethayer.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-freelance-journalist-2013/

Whitey, aka Nathan Joseph White, a musician from London, is the latest creative artist to put his foot down and publicly confront for profit companies asking to use his work, but refusing to pay him for it. The latest request by a major corporation to do just that prompted him to write a strongly worded, resounding no, and then post the message on both his FB page and twitter.

“I want a loud dialogue started in the music press about this shit. I’m sick of these people. I propose a collective blacklist of companies that play this shabby angle, enough. I donate music all the time to indie projects, students and those who need it but cannot pay. But these people… ugh,” Whitey wrote on his Facebook page today

Letter from Musician Outraged One last Time at being Asked to Give His Music for Free to For Profit Company

Letter from Musician Outraged One last Time at being Asked to Give His Music for Free to For Profit Company

This approach is becoming standard, I see an epidemic of these cheap manouevres. The income of musicians has already been decimated by file sharing- and smelling the blood in the water, there is a cynical trend for companies to play upon that struggle for survival. They consistently offer musicians nothing for their work, instead suggesting ‘exposure’ as a form of payment. Well ‘exposure’ only worked when the masses actually bought music, or if it is attached to a prominent cultural event. This kind of exposure… might as well pay me in Monopoly money,” he wrote on his FaceBook page.

In 2004, Whitey released The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Train which was lauded as a critical triumph, recognized on numerous Best Of Year lists worldwide. In 2007, his album Great Shakes was leaked onto the internet, and as a consequence was never officially released, resulting in Whitey losing several mainstream licencing deals. Whitey’s work has been featured on Grand Theft Auto IV and on episodes of The Sopranos, House, One Tree Hill, The O.C, Kyle XY, Entourage, Breaking Bad, and CSI.

In May 2012, Whitey condemned”….ludicrously one-sided offers, arrogant A&Rs and hammering on closed doors”.

In December 2012, Whitey successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his seventh album as well as making physical releases on CD and vinyl available for all his back catalogue.

Yesterday, Whitey rejected a Betty TV request to licence his music for free and reposted the email online to begin ‘a public discussion… about this kind of industry abuse of musicians.’ The post has gone viral.

British musician Whitey has had it with being asked to donate his music for free to big for profit companies. After the latest email from British company Betty TV, Whitey, aka NJ White, responded. Here is his letter, which has now had thousands of retweets on Twitter and thousands more on FB. The beat goes on……..:

“I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget. so you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week – from a booming, affluent global media industry.

Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are.

I am a professional musician, who lives from his music. It me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard-earned property. I;ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on Earth; form Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, from Coca Cola to Visa, HBO to Rock star Games.

Ask yourself – would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resume like that – and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing? Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.

Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not. Because, culturally, we classify that as theft.

Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession, leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot – from the caterer to the grip to the extra- even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.

Now lets look at you. A quick glance at your website reveals a variety of well-known, internationally syndicated reality programmes, You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows. Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt. You have real money, to pretend otherwise is an insult.

Yet you send me this shabby request – give me your property for free… Just give us what you own, we want it.

The answer is a resounding, and permanent NO.

I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to re-blog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians… this was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.”

Here is the email on Whitey’s Facebook page.

As I did with a request by the Atlantic Magazine in March this year, in an almost blueprint equivalent of his case, Whitey makes clear he does not object to playing music for free. He told DangerousMinds.net today

I don’t want payment for everything. I don’t even care that much about money, I give away my music all the time. You and I live in a society where file sharing is the norm. I’m fine with that.

But i don’t give my music away to large, affluent companies who wish to use it to make themselves more money. Who can afford to pay, but who smell the file sharing buffet and want to grab themselves a free plate. That is a different scenario.

Has the news biz come to this? Freelance journalists required to sign document forbidding writing anything negative about employers or advertisers?

21 Aug

Has the state of the news biz come to this? Freelance journalists required to sign document forbidding writing anything negative about employers or advertisers before being payed unlivable wage.

Freelance journalist not only asked to work for unlivable wages, but now required to sign away constitutional rights and fundamental ethical journalistic obligations, forbidden to say or write anything negative about their employers or advertisers?

August 21, 2013

An email exchange today between me and a freelance journalist requesting advice, comment, and suggestions after receiving the contract terms for her to write, still on a freelance basis, for a major U.S. news outlet which demanded she sign an agreement which demands she “cannot criticize, ridicule or make any statement” that “which disparages or is derogatory of XXXXXXX, or any of its officers, directors, agents, associates, consultants, contractors, clients, customers, vendors, suppliers or licensees.”

All comments from anyone who has had a similar experience or thoughts on its legality, ethics, precedence or suggestions on how to respond are welcome.

Below is the email exchange in its entirety, with the name of the news organization and journalist redacted at her request.

Dear Nate,

I am one of the folks who attended your panel at the AEJMC. Since you’re attuned to the freelance world, wondered if you’d heard of media outfits making freelancers sign non-disparagement agreements. A former editor who’s now working with XXXXXXX (a major, national politically oriented news site that is ramping up its breaking news section) contacted me to see if I’d write regularly for them on things I am expert on; but when their HQ in XXXXXX (A U.S. city) sent me a contract for work-for-hire, I was amazed that I had to agree I cannot criticize, ridicule or make any statement “which disparages or is derogatory of XXXXXXX, or any of its officers, directors, agents, associates, consultants, contractors, clients, customers, vendors, suppliers or licensees.”

   I informed XXXXXXX’s attorney that this could be several hundred people and that either I need a list of all these folks or they need to change their contract. She told me that this is standard in the freelance world which is nonsense in that I’ve written in the past 18 months for WaPo, the WSJ, CNN.com, the Economist and a bunch of other biggies and I’ve never had to agree to anything like this.

   Before I email her to say she’s quite mistaken, wanted to check with someone who also writes for big markets. I know you do not know me, but would you mind telling me if you’ve ever heard of this?

Sincerely,

XXXXXXX (Freelance Journalist)

 

 From me:

Hi XXXXX,

I have indeed never heard of such a thing, and I am guessing I would have. But I could be mistaken.

I can have your question answered, I think quite readily, as one of the side effects of the Atlantic kerfuffle is I have acquired a lot of new freelance friends who follow these issues quite regularly, religiously, and passionately.

My guess? It is XXXXXXXX’s corporate–or more precisely–legal side, that wrote this up on their own without precedent or forethought.

I am sure I can get the right answer and an informed one in a couple of hours if you want me to onpass your question to colleagues–other journos and freelancers. I can of course redact your name and, actually, even the reference to XXXXXXXXX, and I am sure I will have informed replies within a couple of hours.

It is of course, outrageous. The very premise of the function of a press is to not be censored from criticism, wherever it might lead to. Particularly not as formal policy of the news organization itself. And even more disturbing the requirement to write only approved propaganda regarding any advertisers or prominent figures associated in, it seems, any way whatsoever who have a financial or other vested interest in the news organization. Not to mention your own first amendment rights as a citizen, etc. etc.

 

It more than boggles and even more so disturbing, to say the least.

Let me know. And I hope you are well.

Nate

Email reply from the freelance journalist:

Dear Nate,

Would love to get any react you can. I had no idea who else to ask.

What is so crazy about all this is that XXXXXXXX first tells its writers it will only pay $200 per multi-sourced 800-word+ stories. I worked them up to close to $400 but that is still pennies. If they paid like $2.50/word, heck, I might say yes but for less than 50 cents a word? Really?

Yes, pls leave my name out for now. For XXXXXXXXX, feel free to say it’s a politically oriented news site that is ramping up its breaking news section but wants writers for cheap who are OK with signing away their First Amendment rights.

Thanks for your time,

XXXXXXX

 

Any comments, suggestions, or similar experiences and how best to respond are welcome.

“The ethics of not paying writers in exchange for ‘exposure’: A debate #paythewriter

14 Aug
Thanks to professor of journalism Kevin Lerner of Marist College for organizing a discussion on “The Ethics and Economics of Paying Writers with Exposure and a Byline” at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication held last week in Washington D.C.
A full transcript was made by Kevin Lerner and posted on his blog here: http://presscriticism.com/2013/08/14/free-lancing-the-ethics-and-economics-of-paying-writers-with-exposure-and-a-byline-an-aejmc-magazine-division-panel/
Some excerpts from Kevin Lerner’s blog are reproduced below.
AUGUST 14, 2013

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

Left to right: Kevin Lerner (Marist College), Matt Yglesias (Slate), Mike Madden (Washington City Paper), Kevin Stoker (Texas Tech University), Nate Thayer (Freelance Journalist); (photo by Elizabeth Hendrickson)

Left to right: Kevin Lerner (Marist College), Matt Yglesias (Slate), Mike Madden (Washington City Paper), Kevin Stoker (Texas Tech University), Nate Thayer (Freelance Journalist); (photo by Elizabeth Hendrickson)

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.

Panelists:

  • Matthew Yglesias, business and economics correspondent, Slate
  • Nate Thayer, freelance journalist
  • Kevin Stoker, Texas Tech
  • Mike Madden, Editor, Washington City Paper
  • Kevin Lerner, Marist College, moderator

Excerpts of transcript of August 9, 2013 panel discussion in Washington D.C. (For full transcript see http://presscriticism.com/2013/08/14/free-lancing-the-ethics-and-economics-of-paying-writers-with-exposure-and-a-byline-an-aejmc-magazine-division-panel/#comment-734)

Kevin Lerner: Hi everybody. The double room makes this look like a sparse turnout, but I’m hoping people will trickle in. My name is Kevin Lerner, from Marist College, and this is a sole-sponsored Magazine Division Professional Freedom & Responsibility panel called “FREE-lancing: the ethics and economics of paying writers—although the online schedule says “exposures,” which makes it sound like photography—and a byline. But I was not responsible for copyediting that. We’ve got a blockbuster panel here, and I’d like to start by introducing our panelists, who are all to my left. So, directly to my left, we have Matt Yglesias, business and economics correspondent for Slate. To his left, Mike Madden, who’s the editor of Washington City Paper, the alternative newsweekly. To his left, we have Kevin Stoker, an associate dean at Texas Tech and part of the Media Ethics Division here. And finally to his left, at the opposite end of the table from me, we have Nate Thayer, who is a freelance journalist.

So very quickly about where this panel came from. Some of you may know this story, and it all started with the man to my far left, Nate Thayer, who inspired this. So in early March of this year, Thayer had written a piece for NKNews.org, which is a North Korean specialist site, and North Korea is one of his specialities in reporting. He has over 25 years of reporting experience. He’s covered Cambodia, North Korea, Iraq. So an experienced freelance journalist, and he had written the piece for NK News. It had come to the attention of an editor at The Atlantic, and she contacted him and NK News and said, we’d like to rerun this piece, could you do a version of this for The Atlantic. And the piece was timely. You may remember when Dennis Rodman had been to North Korea. The article was about the history of “basketball diplomacy” in North Korea. And like any freelance journalist, he said yes, I would be happy to have the opportunity to have my piece on your site. And he asked the three questions that a freelance journalist wants answered: When is it due? How many words? And, How much are you going to pay me? And the answers came back: End of the week. 1200 words. And… We get 13 million viewers a month, but our freelance budget is gone, so I’m sorry, we’re not in a position to pay you.

And Nate put that up on his personal blog, the email exchange between him and the editor. And it took off. It hit MediaBistro and all of the usual media gossip sites and it created a discussion in the industry about what’s right and wrong about paying a writer. Is it ethical to “pay” just by saying you’re going to get 13 million people to see this? Is that OK? Is that something that a freelance writer might want to do? Is it different at the beginning of your career or the end of your career? When do you give your work for nothing?

So that’s the topic of this panel. I’ve asked the four panelists to have a little bit of an opening statement, to put their positions out there. Then I have a few questions. Then we’re going to open it up to you in the audience.

I’d like to actually ask Nate to start, since he started this whole thing, and maybe say a few words about the life of a freelance writer, since the post he put up was just called, very blandly, “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer, 2013.” Because it seems like half the time, a freelance writer is negotiating pay, and the rest of the time doing copyediting for corporations and public relations firms. So I’ll start with Nate. Just say a few words. I appreciate it.

Nate Thayer: Thanks, thanks for having me. Yeah, I should probably give a little bit of context to this, because believe me, I was as surprised as anybody else. I’m actually a Luddite; I’m a tech idiot, and I’ve been a journalist for 25 years. I was just saying to Kevin that you know, it was actually under two years ago before I actually even used a computer to research an article. I probably should have beforehand, but I just didn’t. My own personal focus in journalism is longer, investigative journalism, and much of my career has been spent overseas, much of it in countries where I didn’t even have electricity, or even less a telephone. And if you’re in the middle of nowhere, the fact is, the story doesn’t happen until you get back and file it, and it can be a couple weeks later. I have to say that I acknowledge that I really am an idiot and behind the times on some of this stuff. So in the context of that, I do realize fully that the future is in this amazing, wonderful, borderless world of free flow of information. I’m not that much of an idiot. I do have a blog. It automatically puts it on Twitter and on Facebook, and that’s about as complicated as I get.

Anyways, the actual reality was that this conversation I had with The Atlantic was in fact a very civil, normal conversation. I’ve had the same conversation with several hundred people over the last decade, and every freelance journalist has. It’s the norm.

I wasn’t actually pissed off. I was, you know, mildly annoyed enough to take the six-email exchange, cut and paste them, put a headline on it that said “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist.” I think I put one line at the top, another line at the bottom, and I pressed send on my irrelevant blog, which had less than 100 readers a day, mainly family and colleagues, and which I never promote, and I went to bed. I woke up in the morning and I had 25,000 emails in my inbox, and I had made at that time exactly four tweets in my life. So I looked and I saw that within hours there were 100,000 people who had read this thing. It was a kind of odd day. In fact it kind of fucked up my day, and I really had no idea what really was going on. But I did find it fascinating. And 80,000 of these people came from Twitter, and another 50,000 from Facebook, and it took on a life of its own. But in fact it really had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t exactly a brilliant piece, in fact I didn’t even write it—it was an email cut and paste exchange. But it clearly hit a chord. Clearly, because by the end of the day, I had 500,000 people. I actually did the calculation: it was a 33,973% increase from the traffic the day before. So something had happened. But I really should say that was the full extent with The Atlantic. It wasn’t David and Goliath. I didn’t have some fucking beef with The Atlantic. There was no Nate Thayer jihad against The Atlantic. That was the sum total of my communication with The Atlantic. I hadn’t talked to them since eight years before when the then-editor actually hired me to go on staff for a considerable amount more than 13 million viewers reading my stuff. In fact it was $125,000 a year for six articles and I could write for anyone else. So I think the context of it is that the world has changed, as I think any freelance journalist knows. And I really don’t know how… I still get over 100 readers a day to that article six months later. And I’ve gotten well over 200 personal emails from other writers, including six Pulitzer Prize winners who said The Atlantic has done the same goddamn thing to them, many of them in the same week. So the idea that this was a mistake and it wasn’t their policy? They’re really full of shit. That’s one reason it took off. Because you know, they certainly had a budget to hire a PR firm, which may be part of the problem, so that they could lie about what their policy was, and then really piss off journalists. Because if you really want to piss off journalists, lie to them.

Whatever happened, I still haven’t really wrapped my head around it. But it is interesting, and it certainly resonated with me and really almost with everybody else I know who’s worked as a freelance journalist. This happens all the time. The fact is we are now in this amazingly positive new world of borderless information, but no one’s figured out how to make any fucking money out of it. So, you know, until they come up with a viable business model—which someone will, soon, because there’s a demand for quality journalism, and it costs money. So someone’s got to figure out a way to make that happen, and they’re going to figure it out soon. I just hope they do it before I starve to death and get evicted. Which would be a plus. But it’s all really positive. But I think we’re in this abyss period between the combination of the downturn in the economy, the downturn in the metrics of the print publishing industry, and the rise of digital journalism has made it really really difficult to make a living as a journalist. And not just as a freelance journalist. I mean the fact is, and I’ll finish this off by saying, the one really true reality is that you really can’t believe anything you fucking read anymore. You can’t. You can’t believe it on the Net because they’ve fired all the editors, they’ve fired all the fact checkers, and really, the motivation is to get as many clicks and hits on your web site as you can, regardless, really, if it’s true. And obviously, I’m exaggerating for the point of debate, to a degree, but that’s really the larger reality. So to me it’s a really serious problem. Obviously, it’s a serious problem because it’s making it hard to make a living, which frankly, three or four years ago, it never even crossed my mind. I spent 30 years, I’ve been very lucky, I’ve done well. It never was an issue. I never wanted to get rich, but I could always pay my bills. Now, that’s just not the case. So that’s one thing on a personal level, but on the, other, more important level, is the effect it’s having on the institution of the free press and free society. The quality of journalism that’s coming out now is horrific. It’s unacceptable. And the reason is because it costs money to do it. And some people are under the misimpression that people are going to accept substandard quality journalism in the stead of real reporting, and I’m absolutely convinced that they’re wrong, and that sometime, relatively soon, someone’s going to figure out how to create a model where everyone can make money in order to produce a quality product. So on that positive, I’m also ten days late on my rent.

Lerner: Mike, could you take this from the point of view of an editor? You’ve worked as a freelancer…

Mike Madden: …..Although, I wanted to ask you [to Thayer] you were talking about the traffic you got on that blog post, and I know you prefaced that by saying you were a bit of a Luddite, but were you able to quickly set up a Google AdWords thing and you could have made some money off of the exchanges.

Thayer: I have not made a penny off it. I did not organize advertising. Although, since this whole thing, I have also looked more closely at how you can make money. And there are all kinds of ways out there. One organization I do work for is called NK News. We have the same problem everyone else does: we’re trying to figure out how to bring quality news on North Korea to people who have an unhealthy interest in North Korea. And we haven’t been able to figure it out. We’re losing money on it. But everyone’s trying, and I have not succeeded………

Yglesias: Absolutely, but I think that is in a lot of ways the most promising kind of free content that you get is along those lines. You go to someone who is at The Center for Global Development and you say—I mean a particular problem that we have is that there’s not a huge amount of audience interest in foreign affairs. But there isn’t zero interest. It’s not a toxic subject, but it’s not a killer for us the way the Dear Prudence advice column is. And at the same time, advertisers don’t love Dear Prudence’s weird questions about bestiality, and they also don’t love articles about depressing famines in North Korea. For similar reasons. So if you want to get coverage of these super sad, medium traffic subjects, it’s difficult to turn that into tons of revenue. But we want to do it because we believe in journalism, and we want to do it because there’s some audience there, and when you can find opportunities to get people—it might have been that in the days of yore, they would have been the sources for articles—if you can get them to be the authors of articles, then that’s a real advantage. That’s an advantage to the world. And I think what The Atlantic does, where they’re just kind of propositioning professionals, professional freelance writers who are established in their careers, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. I wonder how much success they have getting anyone to actually agree to that proposition. I think we try not to say things to people that are going to be insulting or ridiculous for them to do. That’s common sense. But I think that the sentiment that I sometimes hear from writers—that people shouldn’t be doing stuff for free—well, who’s talking to you for these articles? It’s people doing things for free.

Madden: Yeah. We don’t get a lot of rewrites for $25 or $50.

Lerner: Is that different than writing for free?

Madden: It’s not that different, no.

Thayer: It is different. It’s fundamentally different, and I think it goes back to what several people were saying. To me, anyways, it’s the fundamental problem of for-profit media companies as a central business strategy eliminating paying the producer of the product which they sell so that they can increase their fucking profit margin. That’s really what it is. I write for free all the time. I’ve written for free for 30 years. I’ve written probably 1000 articles for free. Because, for whatever circumstances, for non-profits, or people where I’m interested in the issue. My blog is for free. I use Facebook copiously as a professional tool. That’s all for free. I don’t have any objection to writing for free. And depending on your circumstances, it’s true for a lot of people.

There’s a couple things that have struck me here. Slate still owes me $3000 for going to Iraq, for which they’ve never paid me, three years ago. Now this is not something new for any journalist anywhere. It happens to everybody. This idea of user-generated content, which I don’t know exactly what that means. There’s probably a more direct way of putting it. But the fact is that that, and the issue of, ok, people do work because they are going to be quoted or contributed to the article, I don’t buy that at all. They’re interested parties. Our job as a journalist is basically, I’ve spent most of my life sitting in a hotel room, waiting for someone to come down and lie to me. And that happens all the time in various degrees for all the information you get. And your job is to sift through it and come through with something that’s as close to what’s accurate and balanced and in the public interest as you can. One of the things that really bothers me about the new business model is that sure, there are people who will write for free. But most of them have institutional support. They have real jobs. They’re academics, they’re scholars, they have people who pay their rent, who pay for the bills to live. So they’re not actually journalists. They’re trying to sell a book. I mean I was a scholar in residence at Johns Hopkins at SAIS down the street here for a year. They gave me a full salary to sit in my office and think.

Madden: But you were still a journalist when you were doing that. You weren’t not actually a journalist just because you had some other way of paying your bills.

Thayer: No, I took a year off from my paid job with the Far Eastern Economic Review because I got kicked out of the country I was working in, and I needed some place to go, and they gave me this scholar in residence thing. And the thing that struck me was that all of these academics, if they could get quoted in the newspaper, that was really big for their resume. Or if they could even publish an article, that was really big. Now it’s standard but it’s being couched as legitimate news. It’s not legitimate news. They are an interested party, often, in the subject matter. And so I object to that being a substitute for legitimate, quality journalism. I read the stuff all the time. I find it interesting; it’s interesting source material. But I know that they’re not the internal standards of a news operation that has the whole sausage-making process that makes sure that when I send something in, it has to go through a very rigorous process to make sure that by the time it gets to print it’s not biased, it’s properly sourced, it’s corroborated, it’s accurate and so on and so forth. And that’s missing in so much, including the brand name former journalism outfits. There’s so much pressure to get everything out there quickly and to get page hits that the idea of quality news has taken a serious back seat, and that makes me very very uncomfortable, and I don’t think it’s a substitute for quality news.

And actually, on our panel here, both Slate and the City Paper, which I’m a big fan particularly of—I’d be a bigger fan of Slate if they’d pay me the money they’ve owed me for ten goddamned years—

Yglesias: That seems fair.

Thayer: But the City Paper is an excellent paper, and the fact that they each pay something means that what we do for a living is worthy, and I believe, I will go to my grave knowing that what we do for a living is not only worthy, it’s vital to a free society and it needs to be defended, and it costs money to produce, and someone’s got to figure out a way to do it. The fact is that people who own these publications—and they have to be private businesses; they can’t be government, otherwise we’d be Pravda, right—they really don’t care whether they’re selling toothpaste or news to free people. If they make more money on toothpaste, they’ll sell toothpaste. So I think the question everyone agrees with here is that someone’s got to come up with a way to first recognize the value of quality news, see that we’re not getting it now, and figure out a way to make money in the process so that we’re able to have it.

……..Thayer: You [Yglesias] mentioned an analogy earlier that people don’t want to read about bestiality, but in fact, I bet you, if the City Paper, which runs a wonderful column which often focuses on bestiality…

Madden: Oh, people love reading about bestiality.

Yglesias: No, I’m saying that advertisers don’t want to be on that page.

Thayer: I’m saying that the page right next to that probably has a higher advertising rate.

Yglesias: No, no…

Madden: It does, but only among a restricted pool of advertisers.

Yglesias: Chrysler doesn’t like bestiality………..

Audience question: Someone mentioned musicians. I’m with a group of harpists, and someone will say, “Oh, play for my wedding, you’ll get tons of exposure.” Well, you can die of exposure, too. But yeah, they feel this just as strongly, always being asked to do stuff for free.

Madden: That’s a particularly nervy pitch. How many people at their wedding are going to be in need of another harpist?

Audience: Exactly. And somebody mentioned before about profits, and it’s really true. These people are making obscene profits. I was at an organization where the top people were making $200,000–$300,000 salaries a year, and we were lucky to be squeezing $50,000 a year, which is not much in D.C. And if you look at a place like HuffPost, Arianna is just raking in the millions. So does anybody have an answer for—Huffington Post is a great example: they’re rich, they’re oozing money. There’s staff in New York, and you know they’re not there for free. But they won’t pay…

Thayer: I have an answer: Don’t fucking write for them. Arianna Huffington’s entire business model is based on not paying the people who produce their product, so that they can make money. She just sold her company for $317 million, based all on people’s writing. When the Atlantic article came out, I was kind of impressed by their hubris, they called me up and asked me to come onto the Huffington Post TV station and talk about this issue. And I said, “I’d be happy to, but you’d be under a profound delusion if you expect me not to bring up the fact that the Huffington Post is the poster child of this whole problem. And make sure that your bosses are aware of that.” And I got a call back about an hour later, disinviting me……

Thayer: But they also have what is a fundamental problem: most of their stuff is people who have an agenda, a political agenda, a financial agenda. And it’s being couched and presented as news. It’s not……

Thayer: Actually, for The Atlantic, and I actually do know this because I have literally gotten several thousand personal communications from people. The Atlantic policy is not to pay people. You know the line they said, “We’re out of a freelance budget, but we have 13 million readers”? I have exactly 412 emails from people who told me the exact same quote, verbatim. So it’s not a matter of them being out. So that’s an Atlantic policy. I think it’s part of their business plan—because it works. And I don’t hold it against them because their job is to increase their profit margin. That’s what they do, and if they can get that product and they think that readers will be satisfied with it.

But I think there’s a Ponzi game going on around this, that people are under the delusion that they’re actually getting the same quality news that they were getting prior to this wonderful, positive transformation that we still haven’t figured out how it’s going to work out. That they’re still getting the same quality news that the brand names produced before we entered this period. That’s just not true. It’s not true with TheAtlantic.com and what you get in print. It’s not true with the WashingtonPost.com and what you get in the Washington Post, and they’re saying that it is, that they’re using the same internal standards. And I think that part of that—to address your question—I used to work for Dow Jones, which owned The Wall Street Journal and the magazine that I worked for, called the Far Eastern Economic Review, and most of their people went over to Reuters, and a similar thing is happening with Bloomberg. And what they’re buying is people with a name. And I was approached by several people several years ago where they wanted to pay me more money than I needed or probably deserved because they thought that I had a name. The bigger thing that that translates into, and that’s really a big shift, which makes me uncomfortable with being trained—and I did not go to journalism school either, I started out with the Associated Press for several years and a number of other publications—and it makes me very uncomfortable to market myself. I’ve now kind of gotten over that, because that’s really where we’re going, where people have to individually market themselves in order to make a living. But what a lot of these companies are doing is that they’re putting the bulk of their money, and offering big salaries—and Reuters did this when they had the big turnover a couple years ago—they hired away all kinds of big name people for ridiculous salaries. And the journeyman workers at Reuters, who actually do very well because they have a very good union, get paid considerably less. So a big part of this money is going into the trend of people promoting themselves or where they think when people read the news, they look at who it is that’s writing the article—as opposed to what it used to be, and I’m more comfortable with, which is that when I pick up The New York Times, I know that there is an internal process, which means that whatever shows up in that paper has a degree of credibility. That’s why I buy that as opposed to, say, The Washington Times, or the National Enquirer. I know what I’m getting when I read it. And now I don’t know. And on the web you do not know what you’re getting at all. And in fact, a lot of what they say you’re getting, you’re really not getting at all. Because there is no vetting. There is no more internal sausage-making process.

I have a friend who is a Washington correspondent for a major news chain, who now pushes the send button when he’s sitting in Congress, covering a hearing. It doesn’t even go through an editor. That’s how much pressure there is to get stuff out quickly and what falls victim to that is the quality of news……….

Thayer: The Atlantic policy is—they’re actually on the record because they put out a press release after my ridiculous little post on my irrelevant little blog, saying that they do pay people and that this was a mistake by a new employee, and so on. That’s just not true. They don’t pay people. But what they do say is that what you read on The Atlantic, you can believe based on the credibility—and The Atlantic’s a wonderful magazine. I have no beef with The Atlantic. It’s a systemic problem. And certainly this poor woman, Olga—and I feel really bad because God knows what grief she got for this—she was just doing her job. But The Atlantic promotes itself as, when you read The Atlantic, you know what you’re getting based on their very high internal quality standards. My point is, in this new digital age, that’s all a lie. You don’t get that. The other transition period that we’re in is that people still believe that when you read The Washington Post online, or The Atlantic online, they’re getting the same thing that they got beforehand. And that’s just not true.

For the full transcript of the discussion with thoughtful, good arguments and points of view by Slate’s business and economics correspondent Matthew Yglesias; the editor of City Paper, Washington’s alternative weekly newspaper Mike Madden; Kevin Stoker, of Texas Tech University and a scholar of media ethics; Kevin Lerner, professor of journalism at Marist college; and excellent questions from an audience of journalism of scholars and academics, please go to Kevin Lerner’s excellent blog here: http://presscriticism.com/2013/08/14/free-lancing-the-ethics-and-economics-of-paying-writers-with-exposure-and-a-byline-an-aejmc-magazine-division-panel/#comment-734

A Peak In the Public Mailbox: Debate on state of journalism runs from supportive to, well, very not–with a dash of the amusing and odd.

14 Apr

A Peak Into the Public Mailbox: Debate on state of journalism runs from very supportive to, well, very not–with an entertaining dash of the amusing and odd.

Maybe the North Korean Ministry of Agitation and Propaganda are on to Something

By Nate Thayer

April 13, 2013

In the last few weeks I can’t help but to have the thought that this mass adulation of free speech, critical thinking, debate-the-issues-important-to-the-common-good-in- the-public-square shtick, might be a bit over-hyped.

I confess to fleeting feelings of sympathy for the approach taken by, say, the authorities of North Korea, whose citizens enjoy the warm serenity protected in the womb of The Mother Party, where the destabilizing consequences to the public order of expressing an opinion have been cleverly addressed by not allowing the Proletariat to say, well, just about anything. The masses are not burdened with such tangential tasks and can just concentrate on basking in the bounty of opportunity and human dignity provided for them by those in their halls of power.

Some elements of the entrenched Free Press would appear to better serve the interests of society under the benevolent supervision and guidance of the Ministry of Agitation and Propaganda.

But that sentiment I enjoy only in my fleeting twisted Walter Mitty moments. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: