I‘m a big baseball fan. I live in Oakland, California, home of the A’s, who have been a very interesting team for the past year. So I looked into the ad that Yahoo! Sports posted on JournalismJobs.com for MLB writers. Here is what they are looking for:
Yahoo! Contributor Network is looking for freelance sportswriters to write about MLB teams on Yahoo! Sports. We are looking for expert-level contributors to “own” blog-style coverage of one team…
YCN is looking for team-specific contributors — passionate, knowledgeable experts who can write about their favorite team….
Payment is provided on a performance basis, at $1.10 per every 1,000 page views.
Now, if I did my math correctly, this means that to make $110 dollars, a writer would have to garner 100,000 page views. Of course, YCN wants people with social media savvy, but unless you are Susan Slusser, the San Francisco Chronicle’s A’s beat writer with 22,592 Twitter followers, or an even bigger name like ESPN baseball writer Buster Olney (714,335 Twitter followers) or national radio and TV sports talk host Jim Rome (1,116,332 Twitter followers), it is going to take you quite a while to amass those 100,000 page views. Work hard, be an expert, but don’t mark your paydays on a calendar. If you are a writer who can amass 100,000 page views without breaking a sweat, you can look at a major corporation with a well-established sports department offering writers $110 per 100,000 page views and say something that rhymes with “Duck Fat!”. In fact, anyone who knows capitalist exploitation when they see it will yell that which rhymes with “Duck Fat!”
The Yahoo! Contributor Network is a news crowd sourcing scheme that, in my opinion, takes newsgathering out of the ranks of vocation and puts it into the same category as gossip over the backyard fence. We see this at CNN, which for years has taken citizen’s video and has set up a whole section on its website called iReports. (I wonder if they pay Apple royalties for that name?) It is a great way for CNN to get footage of natural disasters or major protests from the people who are caught up in them…for free. The citizen journalist’s only reward is the ego stroke of having a video on the CNN site and maybe a chance to see the video appear on CNN TV. Citizen footage of these often dangerous situations can indeed be compelling. Although CNN always warns its iReporters to stay safe, I can’t help but think that corporate bigwigs hope that at least some people with serious journalistic instincts will cover the danger without the network having to pay workers’ comp, as they would if one of their “real” reporters were injured by a baseball-sized hailstone or a passing Molotov cocktail. One of the first things a would-be iReporter does when establishing an account is to sign a statement acknowledging that they assume the risk of personal injury and equipment damage. This is the pattern in corporate capitalism in any field; acquire profitable work from contractors for whom the corporation is not responsible. Only in this case, the workers are not even getting paid.
Years ago, Infinity Broadcasting Corporation, now CBS Radio, Inc. owned a radio station high on the AM dial inSan Francisco. As podcasting was coming into its own, Infinity decided to broadcast only podcasts on that station. They had no trouble filling their program grid with 15 minute podcasts by hobbyists and unsigned bands. There was a waiting list.
The exploiters at Yahoo! Sports have the unmitigated gall to expect knowledgeable experts to line up for a pittance because they are counting on them to be “passionate” IF Yahoo! provides a press credential, the free admission and free food that comes with that and perhaps a chance to attend post game pressers will be the real reward. These fan-experts will look at the pay as gravy. It might pay for gas and parking at three or four games. But who is paying the mortgage while the writer is expertly blogging about a baseball team to Yahoo!’s specifications? Or is this one of half a dozen freelance (no benefits) gigs the writer takes to make ends meet?
Pay for performance is not about the quality of your work, but the quality of your self-marketing for the benefit of the corporation. There used to be a time when writing or broadcasting for a name outlet made the journalist’s reputation. Now the journalist has to make the outlet’s reputation. But who gets the lion’s share of the money? The outlet, not the writers.
Corporations count on people to write or broadcast for love or fame. Several months ago, The Atlantic Magazine told freelance writer Nate Thayer that they could not afford to pay him to “repurpose” an article that he had already written for someone else, but that he would benefit from the fact that the magazine enjoyed a readership of 13 million people a month. Exposure as pay? Tell that to the landlord! Mr. Thayer told The Atlantic in so many words what rhymes with “duck fat”. Over twenty years ago, a journalist I know online used to write feature stories for The Atlantic for thousands of dollars a piece. Now they pay $100 for that type of work WHEN they have a freelance budget. Why does a magazine with a monthly readership of 13 million not have money to pay writers?
The big corporations rake in the money while professional journalists go begging because the corporations have no compunctions about taking advantage of citizen journalists and the improved technology of smart phones and high-speed Internet access. But what does the news receiver get? I don’t think citizen journalism is all bad. It has a place in local and hyper-local news, watching out for crooks at city hall and covering local business and nightlife. But is this what you expect when you turn to Yahoo! Sports or CNN, perhaps even paying for a subscription?
And what of the citizen journalists? Many will be happy with their fifteen minutes of fame. But those hoping to parley a blog or some footage of a fire or a riot into a regular journalism job have another thing coming. Unless, of course, they have some mad iPhone photography skills and a love of the wind off LakeMichigan.Then they might find a place at the Chicago Sun-Times. But most corporate media outlets are looking to promote that journalism major who interned for little or no pay and who has toiled in the boonies for two or three years before knocking on the door of the home office.
Journalism is one of the canaries in corporate capitalism’s coal mines. But pay for performance is one of capitalism’s latest tools to lower the circumstances of workers everywhere, so that more money goes to the top. For example, pay for performance is a way to cut the pay of teachers and destroy their tenure systems. If pay for performance meant an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, it would not be the impecunious freelance writers and already underpaid teachers who would suffer under this policy, but rather the CEOs and other executive types who propagandize people into believing that pay should revolve around some sort of merit system that, in fact, does not exist.
If capitalism were a meritocracy, instead of the naked aggression against workers that it is, would Walmart’s US wages be so low that many associates have to rely on government programs such as Section 8 housing and Medicaid to survive, while founder Sam Walton’s heirs are among the wealthiest people in the world? For what performance did they receive their wealth? For being born into the right family?
The source of change must be the workers who now fight each other for capitalism’s crumbs. Worker must learn to disengage from the system. If you want to blog about your favorite baseball team, start a free blog on the Internet. I had a blog for four years called Down the Left Field Line: Life, Baseball, and Eric Byrnes. It started on MLB.com but I moved it to it’s own space. An SI.com columnist interviewed me and Byrnesie even gave me an interview for it. Some bloggers have managed to make a business out of their blogs. I wasn’t one of them, but I tip my cap to those who have been able to do it. At least they’re are not creating profits for a mega-corporation that doesn’t really appreciate them. Duck Fat!
Kellia Ramares-Watson is an independent journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of the e-book Eating Poison: Food, Drugs and Health. Her next major project will be an e-book called Demonetization: Ending the Cult of Commodity. She can be reached at theendofmoney[at]gmail.com.