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Sep 21 / Dan Levy

Why “Don’t ever write for free” is bad advice

Dan Levy

Dan Levy

In my first piece for Bleacher Report, I touched a little on my own career path, including a small part reflecting on the necessity to work and write for free. I wanted to get a little more in depth. This is that.

It was almost four months ago when Rick Reilly made huge waves across the industry for telling the graduates of Colorado’s journalism school that they should never work for free, including advice like this (via Romanesko):

When you get out there, all I ask is that you: DON’T WRITE FOR FREE! Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride! What you know how to do now is a skill that 99.9 percent of the people don’t have. If you do it for free, they won’t respect you in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. You sink everybody’s boat in the harbor, not just yours. So just DON’T!

That from a guy who went from the back page at Sports Illustrated to the cushiest of jobs at ESPN writing columns and “a blog” while popping on TV in his awkward interview show, during major golf events or on the occasional “PTI” episode to justify the ungodly amount of money the Worldwide Leader dropped on his doorstep.

It’s not to say Rick Reilly isn’t good at what he does. Anyone who has gotten to his level of success—he’s been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times—certainly got there with the right combination of talent, luck and hard work. I am no chemist when it comes to mixing together those ingredients in hopes of figuring out Reilly’s formula. He’s got the patent on that.

The thing is, past accolades or not, ESPN made a mistake giving Reilly a reported $17-million over five years. They know it, he knows it and everyone reading and watching knows it. Do you know how many writers could be employed at $30,000 a year for Reilly’s salary? One hundred-thirteen. ESPN could employ 113 writers at $30,000 for what Rick Reilly reportedly makes in a year.

The debate about writing for free on the internet is much bigger than just Rick Reilly. Other respected writers—really good writers—started blaming bloggers (and ostensibly people who write for free) for ruining the business. Back in February, Dave Kindred wrote a hit piece on the unprofessionally professional writing community, taking direct aim at Bleacher Report. Funny thing is, back in February, I probably agreed with most of what he wrote, until he brought up Fanhouse.

It wasn’t the fuzzy Fanhouse math that upset me most about the article. It was the “woe is AOL” attitude of his piece, centered on the notion that good writers were going to be losing their jobs because AOL couldn’t figure out a way to make Fanhouse profitable in the current economic climate.

Fanhouse, a site that was built on the backs of writers making almost nothing to cover their favorite teams and get some professional writing experience, was tanking because the site got top-heavy, not because too many people wanted to write for free. The company couldn’t justify the enormous salaries given to the likes of Jay Mariotti anymore, and AOL decided to throw the Fanhouse brand overboard.

Rather than lament the loss of jobs for dozens of writers who were barely making enough to scrape a living out of writing for AOL in the first place, Kindred quoted Lisa Olson, a very well-respected writer who had the unfortunate timing of being lumped into the group of high-priced scribes who were brought in to take Fanhouse to new levels (and, by popular opinion, ruined the site in the process).

A company obsessed with clicks quickly realized it would never be able to get enough to pay for all the big names it brought in. Whoops. (Note: it’s not lost on me that Fanhouse was dumped by AOL to make room for Huffington Post, which gets maligned more than any site on the planet for exploiting writers who work for free.)

Fanhouse was sold for spare parts to Sporting News—a move that still feels like the first little pig scurrying for shelter from his straw house to the second little pig’s house made of sticks—leading Olson to regrettably tell Kindred that she and her fellow writers “were all experienced and qualified, not some 25-year-old bloggers,” she said. “The motto was, ‘Go, go, go. Grow, grow, grow.’ And we did. Then, this. It’s devastating.”

If you follow me on Twitter you’d know that I am part of a group hosting the First Annual Untitled Sports Media Awards Project, with the public voting on 15 categories to determine the best in all of sports media at a huge event in New York City this weekend.

You can credit Olson for one of the awards: Best Sportswriter Under 25, a category created directly in response to her quote, pointing out that being young doesn’t mean you are unqualified to write. Shoot, being young no longer means you’re inexperienced, either. Some of the best writers and reporters on the planet are under the age of 25. The playing field has been leveled.

I’m sure we can find thousands of writers and reporters telling aspiring journalists they shouldn’t give away their work for free. Back in June, Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, one of the most respected voices in sports media coverage in the country, asked Brian Grey, CEO of this here site, if the B/R model is exploitative to the writer:

SI.com: Old school media types would say there is an exploitative factor in using people to produce cheap content. You are not the only place that does this, but your writers are not paid, right?

Grey: We have evolved to where when we see contributors who perform and become experts in certain topics, that is another opportunity we want to make available, paid opportunities.

SI.com: Let me be direct. Why is this not exploiting a labor market?

Grey: We look at this as an opportunity for a lot of people that have never had a chance to get into where you sit. It is a chance to go on that path. And a lot of people want that. For us a great outcome would be our contributors to be hired by Sports Illustrated or ESPN.com or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We have had a handful of people who have become full-time writers at other outlets. That is something we really embrace and we think we are giving a platform for them to go down that path. But there are a lot of people that just do this because they love the game and love sports. It’s at their discretion. They own their content and they are free to take it and go sell it to someone else.”

Even today, one side of my brain is screaming “NO NO NO NEVER NEVER NEVER,” when I think about the idea of writing for free. But the new media side of my head keeps reminding me how antiquated I sound.

You should not give work away if you feel the company you are giving it to is taking advantage of you. Get everything in writing, even at places you that don’t pay you, and protect yourself from being exploited. Most companies make you sign a contract, even if you plan to write for little to no money. Read the fine print. Pay attention.

If you go into a deal knowing the terms, why wouldn’t you want to write for sites that get great traffic? For more than a year I wrote for the biggest sports blog in Philadelphia for nothing more than exposure. Eventually my goal of getting paid to write prevailed, leading me to pursue other opportunities; offers I never would have seen if it wasn’t for all the work I did for free.

I began contributing to WashingtonPost.com, sharing blog space with well-respected WashPost writers, former players and NFL analysts from around the country. Was I paid? Not a dime. I never even got the mug they promised! Heck, I did an entire three-part behind-the-scenes series on ESPN’s Monday Night Football that had video, audio and writing for nothing. Looking back, I totally could have sold that idea to any number of online outlets.

But I was building a name for myself. I could tell people that I had a legitimate by-line on WashingtonPost.com. I made friends with some great editors who have helped me so much since then. I’m pretty sure at one point I wrote something that made Dick Vermeil cry. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Those two unpaid gigs certainly helped me get my foot in the door at Sporting News, where I also started writing for free before I proved to be a valuable asset to their team and got a contract to be a blogger and sports media writer.

When Sporting News blew up their blogs and fired all the writers, I found myself out on my ass, working again for free. This business is hard, especially for someone trying to make a name out there and scrape together a living. Working for free is just part of the deal sometimes. Think of it like an internship on the internet. An internetship!

If you are a good enough writer, someone will find you and someone will pay you to write for them. You have to believe that. Every single day you wake up and sit at your keyboard with the goal of writing the next best thing you’ve ever written, you have to believe that someone will read that and want to pay you for the one after that … and the one after that, too.

Until it happens, working for free isn’t so bad, especially if you are given the chance to get your work in front of far bigger crowds than you could do on your own. Don’t you want as many people as possible reading your stuff? Wouldn’t you rather write an article that 1,000 people read—or 10,000 people—than 100 or 10?

Don’t feel exploited by the system. Exploit the system back. If you do it right, writing for free can become pretty lucrative.

  • http://krmcguire.me Kevin McGuire

    Amen!

  • Brandon Galvin

    Great read!

  • Anonymous

    This holds true for photography as well. Too many freelancers approach things as black and white as a matter of pride or in the false assumption that all free work dilutes the market. I personally just took a gig on barter, and I can guarantee it’s going to benefit both the company I’m shooting for and my career without damaging the income of anyone else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Schottey/96100010 Michael Schottey

    The “don’t ever write for free” mentality just supports the notion that the old: [graduate->internship->small newspaper job->success!] formula actually still works. Meanwhile, small newspapers are shuttering and big newspapers are doing more firing and furloughing than hiring.

    I’ve always found it staggering that covering prep volleyball for the “Eastern Podunk Gazette” is supposed to be advantageous to someone who loves and wants to write about the NFL.

  • Tim Lewis

    This was a great read Dan, very inspiring to someone like myself…thanks!

  • Macguru

    You sound kind of like the NCAA defending the exploitation of college football players for free while raking in millions on TV deals for the NCAA and the colleges.

    Sure the exposure is nice, and some of the editors are actually helpful. One can hone a skill for short writing while getting a bit of exposure. That is the good side.

    But I’ll bet the number of Bleacher writers that now earn a living writing can be counted on one (or maybe, stretching it), two hands.

    The bad side is writing for Bleacher puts no groceries on the table.

    The raw fact is that no one has figured out how to make good writing pay on a per reader basis. In this day of computers that can calculate the dollar (or cents) value of every reader this is simply laziness on the part of management.

    If iTunes can make money on single songs, why can’t I make money on single articles?
    If Apple can figure this out, why can’t your IT guys?

    A per reader payment system would attract writers by encouraging popularity. The writers that get the most reads would make the most money. The writers (like myself), who get few reads for well-written articles will eventually tire of the exercise and drop out voluntarily, perhaps to try their luck in another venue. (I’m already shopping my articles, written for Bleacher, to other venues that do pay, as proof of ability.)

    The business model that pays a few writers good wages while not paying the many writers a cent is a failed model. It is dangerous because any downturn in income will affect the core paid writers.

    But the per reader model takes that danger into account automatically. If readership declines, revenue and expenses both decline, and at the same rate.

    Check this logic out, then rethink your article.

    • Dan Levy

      You’re writing this to a guy who worked for an NCAA school for a decade. Your reference to the NCAA makes no sense in this model.

      Yes, B/R now pays for my groceries, and I didn’t start at B/R, but the model is still the same. The guys at The 700 Level didn’t make money for years before they got some through ads, never not enough to live on. Then CSN bought them. Now it’s a career.

      I haven’t read your work, so I mean no disrespect, but maybe the editors don’t think it’s as good as other work that’s submitted. While I don’t think all of the internet is a meritocracy, I feel like B/R is as close as it can get it. Do good work and people will see it and promote it. Once it’s promoted, you get a certain level of points based on readership and engagement. The more articles you write and the more reads and comments you get, the more you get noticed.

      If you get to certain thresholds, you can qualify to be paid for your work. If you never reach those thresholds (for lack of quality or simply the editors are missing your good work and promoting stuff that’s not as good) you still have a catalog of writing samples you can use to land another gig.

      I’m not saying it’s the perfect model. It sure as heck wasn’t for me. But it can work for others. And to be honest, the path I took doesn’t exist anymore.

      But that wasn’t the point of the article anyway. I’m talking about the idea of writing for free to make a name for yourself. If you hold out for only paid gigs, you’re only hurting yourself by limiting your own exposure.

      Back to your point of the NCAA… If you want it to be like the NCAA, think of it like a walk-on program. Other kids get scholarships to play, but walk-ons work just as hard, rarely get to see the field on game day and have to pay for school in order to wear the jersey. They do it because they love to play — or love to write, in this case. And the system is in place where a walk-on can shine, and eventually earn a scholarship, become a starter and maybe even make the pros.

      I think you should shop your ideas. I’m sure the people at B/R’s offices think you should shop them too. If you got a start (or a boost) here, then went on to get paid, the system works. For everyone. I think you need to re-read it if you’re seeing something different.

      • Anonymous

        I’d just like to add one thing to Dan’s excellent reply, an answer to this:

        “If iTunes can make money on single songs, why can’t I make money on single articles? If Apple can figure this out, why can’t your IT guys?”

        It’s because it’s not an IT problem, for one thing, but more importantly, you’re talking about two different things here. iTunes works because people are willing to pay money for single songs, and there is little or no evidence that people are willing to pay for individual articles. In my own experience, I am sometimes willing to pay money for a song because I want to listen to it multiple times. Rare is the article I want to read multiple times—or dance to.

        It’s not a technical issue that B/R (or anyone else) hasn’t figured out the answer to. It’s an economics issue, involving supply and demand and what the market will bear.

        Your statement that “A per reader payment system would attract writers by encouraging popularity” indicates that you don’t understand that issue. A system in which readers pay for content can work, and does work for some sites. But it does not work by encouraging popularity. Those sites that charge for content sacrifice traffic (and the advertising revenue that follows traffic) for the revenue they get directly from readers/users.

        • http://twitter.com/StephStradley Stephanie Stradley

          At FanHouse, everybody got paid. You got paid more if you wrote more. For a while, you got paid more if your articles got a lot of page hits or if you wrote a special feature they wanted or produced a video. Eventually, they got rid of that model and then hired a bunch of *name* journalists who didn’t write for the medium and didn’t write enough and interesting enough to justify the revenue for their salaries/travel expenses. That wasn’t the journalists’ fault, it was just how it was set up.

          The most sensible time at FanHouse was in the middle of its life. At the very beginning, there was too much low quality content, not much direction and not enough editors and standards.At the end, they got too top heavy with too many high salary/low production journos who required more editors to help them put the stories on line and put pictures on each story. The bloated organization resulted in too many good stories just not getting covered, a lack of direction and unrecoverable costs.

          At its best, FanHouse hired people who wrote for the medium, and had a number of good editors who could edit for the medium. The writers got paid based on their timeliness and hard work. Most of the people had non-blog jobs too, and the majority of our payment was making each other laugh or think and taking pride in working together to create something cool and different.

          Issues with the free model are usually not a problem for the writer but more of an issue for the reader and the website. (And working journalists who want to get a living salary from the work that they do). There is little way to discern as an outsider which authors know what they are talking about and which ones don’t. If you run into enough articles that you know are bad, then it tends to taint the site and people associated with the site.

          Worth mentioning in this blog post are the times you write for free to collaborate with other bloggers on a topic. That sort of sharing can result in some very interesting posts.

          • Anonymous

            Another thing worth mentioning: Here is a good writer named Stephanie Stradley writing 370 interesting words — for free.

          • http://twitter.com/StephStradley Stephanie Stradley

            Ha thanks. If I had my old editors, it would be 180 and less lawyerly.

            Yep. As I said, writing for free can be good for collaboration. Also agree with Dan, it can be good for getting fun experiences and meeting people you would have never otherwise met. Had I not wrote for free for a short time, I would have never wrote for pay at FanHouse.

            Just clarifying some on the FanHouse bit, and how some authors do get paid page hit bonuses. Page hit monetization has its own perils, but I suppose isn’t too different than “it bleeds, it leads.”

            As an off-topic aside, I like your commenting software better here than at your main B/R website.

        • Flynn

          I just want to point out a flaw in your logic.

          Any successful business has a supply of product to sell and a demand for that product which serves as a revenue source. In B/R’s case that product is member made sports content and the revenue source is paid advertising. While B/R has certain costs in doing business – not the least of which is paying for editorial content review and management of their website – they mostly generate their product for free.

          I concur that a per-read revenue source would limit readership and is not an optimum business model for a sports news site. However, collecting revenues through paid advertising does not necessarily preclude payment to writers on a per-read basis.

          To reiterate, just because a business does not collect revenues on a per-read basis does not prevent them from paying their suppliers on a per-read basis.

          In the case of B/R’s business model, revenues are collected by selling advertising space. These revenues are directly based on readership – the more hits that can be promised, the more the advertisers are willing to pay and the greater the revenues for B/R. There is a direct correlation between reads and revenues, hence a per-read revenue can be calculated. When the per-read cost of doing business is subtracted from this, the company’s profit (or loss) per-read is derived. What differentiates B/R’s business model from pay sites is that B/R “employees” are rewarded with points in lieu of dollars. To say that writers posting articles on B/R could not be paid on a per read basis is simply false. It is a choice, a business choice to increase profitability, that keeps writers from being paid on B/R, not the economics of supply and demand.

          • Anonymous

            Flynn, you’re right, or at least it’s reasonable to assume you’re right, that I read too much into what macguru wrote about per-reader payments, and that s/he is talking only about paying writers per reader, not about readers paying per read. I apologize for that. And of course you’re right that content that’s free to readers does not preclude paying writers by the reader.

            About this:

            “It is a choice, a business choice to increase profitability, that keeps writers from being paid on B/R, not the economics of supply and demand.”

            Sure, it’s a choice, but it’s definitely the economics of supply and demand at play. You could say, “It is a choice, a business choice to increase profitability, that keeps the grocery store’s price for Product X at $5 rather than $3.” And it is. But businesses are in the business of increasing — or attaining, first — profitability, are they not? That price is what the market will bear, which is a product of supply and demand.

            There is a large pool of writers who are willing to make the deal of writing for Bleacher Report, and many, many other for-profit websites, for no money, or very little money, because they derive some other value from doing so. That might be exposure, education, fun, community, a professionally designed platform for their clips or who knows what else. But just like the person in the store who says, “$5 for Product X, yup, I’ll pay that,” the deal works for them. It’s what the market will bear.

            Any person who doesn’t believe that they are getting enough back from Bleacher Report in exchange for providing content should absolutely not write for Bleacher Report, just as anyone who believes they aren’t getting $5 worth of value from Product X shouldn’t buy it. If enough people say “no thanks” to what Bleacher Report offers in return for writing, Bleacher Report will have to think of another model. At the moment, though, in the application process, for every writer B/R approves for the site, there are three and sometimes four would-be writers it turns away. So the value proposition must be good for a large number of people.

            It’s also worth noting that Bleacher Report does pay some of its writers.

          • Flynn

            I just want to add that I hold nothing against B./R for their business model. I agree that the supply of “free” content that drives B/R is completely legitimate as no one is forced to do so. It is, in fact, a very good business model, if you ask me.

            I was merely pointing out that the method of collecting revenues has little bearing on the payment to suppliers. I had felt that point was missed from earlier comments.

            In fact, my B/R experience may be very typical. I originally came to this site looking for new content about my favorite teams. I was a solely a guest reader for quite a while but eventually made an account and started to comment. After a while, even that was not enough and I began to write my own articles. After even more time and many more articles I applied for and was accepted as a featured columnist. My profession has nothing to do with journalism and my climb up the ranks at B/R was solely based on the enjoyment I found in doing so. Not once did I ever feel like I needed to paid for my work (though my wife thinks I do spend too much time doing it for no compensation). For me, writing for B/R is a hobby and while some may be fortunate enough to be paid to perform their hobby, most would agree that a hobby is done for fun and not for profit. That said, if I were a professional sports journalist, I might have a different view.

      • Macguru

        My point on writers being paid per read was easily misunderstood. It was a response, a comment, and not an edited article.
        I meant that since Bleacher Reports makes its income from ads, that income could be distributed among writers as well as among the staff.
        It is not a bad idea. Such a distribution, as little as it might be, would create its own meritocracy without the smell of exploitation. It is that odor that bugs myself and others.
        I have not been turned down by other editors, except once at a weekly mag. No offense was taken.
        I have done the writing for BR simply because I enjoy my NFL team (in spite of their failures) and enjoy writing about it. That personal situation does not mitigate the internet culture biased toward justifying the use of free labor with “It’s good for the writers.”
        If the analogy of the NCAA using free labor hurts your position, I am sorry. No personal message was meant there.
        But one cannot deny that it is an almost ancient, entrenched and yet deplorable situation where such labor is used for profit without paying for it.
        It is also analogous with the situation that NFL team cheerleading squads find themselves.
        This discussion, in my often ignored opinion, is about a corporate cultural tenet that is onerous and deserves to be criticized and satirized.
        That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

        • Anonymous

          Macguru, I’m sorry for misinterpreting what you said, and drawing the conclusion from that misinterpretation that you didn’t understand the issue. My fault, not yours, and I apologize.

          A couple of point-by-point replies to your latest.

          “I meant that since Bleacher Reports makes its income from ads, that income could be distributed among writers as well as among the staff. ”

          Bleacher Report does distribute some of its revenue to some of its writers. We do have some full-time writers, some of whom have risen from the ranks of contributors, and also the top level of our writer ranking system is paid featured columnist, and I believe all of our paid FCs have risen from the ranks of contributors.

          “Such a distribution, as little as it might be, would create its own meritocracy without the smell of exploitation. It is that odor that bugs myself and others.”

          Well, if it bugs you, there’s nothing I can do about that. All I can say is that I don’t agree that there is exploitation. Every single contributor at Bleacher Report is free to stop writing for Bleacher Report at any time. We love having each and every one of them, but if anyone doesn’t feel he or she is getting value back from B/R, then it’s only logical to leave.

          And I want to make it clear that by that I don’t mean “If you don’t like it, scram.” I realize it can be taken that way, but I don’t know any other way to say it but “We think this is a good deal, but if you don’t like it, best of luck elsewhere,” and we really mean that.

          “If the analogy of the NCAA using free labor hurts your position, I am sorry. No personal message was meant there.”

          Nothing personal taken. It’s just a bad analogy. If you’re an 18-year-old NFL prospect and you don’t like the terms the NCAA is offering, what are you going to do? You’re out of luck. Take it or leave it, and leaving it means you’re screwed. That’s exploitation. If you are a sportswriting prospect and you don’t want to write for Bleacher Report, you have all sorts of options. You can start your own blog, you can write for another blog network, you can try to write for SBNation, you can try to get an internship or a job at any one of hundreds or even thousands of publications, with pay scales all over the map.

          That’s what I mean by “If you don’t like it, best of luck elsewhere.” There are LOTS of elsewheres. Show ‘em what you got, person who doesn’t like the deal for B/R contributors. We’ll be rooting for you. For real.

  • Randy Chambers

    Good stuff.

  • http://www.legionpost50ny.com Ken Kraetzer

    For me writing is a hobby, I earn a living in other areas. My wife reminds me of this. I like to contribute to B/R because the the stories of the athletes and coaches especially in college are often compeling. Sometimes they get posted by the schools on their Facebook pages. After a while, considering the time investment, you may feel you have made your humanitarian contribution.

    Have had the “Writing for Free” discussion with a professional writer friend who is underemployed. My suggestion is to go after more pr jobs with the schools and teams we are covering. It helps to have your work be seen and used by key people. If you are professionally good they will call and pay for important assignments. Have suggested, write one article for a school, a team, or an organization and say if you like this one, the next one you pay for.

    The challenege as I belieive King was pointing out early this week is if most paid writing or even access is granted based on the say of subjects rather than media organizations, the role of outside critic is severely diminished. I have seen that already, when problems come up, do we write about them, or even ask about them? When you are essentially freelance, it could lead to being outside the door.

  • Brian Geraghty

    Being fairly new to sportswriting this was very inspiring for me. Very encouraging article, with many valid points throughout. Thanks for this, great read Dan!

  • http://twitter.com/thomasmcdonald Thomas McDonald

    Keep up the good work, Dan. Cheers!

  • Colin Means

    Not to crash the party, but The Sporting Rave Network is currently looking for writers, who will be paid. If you see this and are interested, email me at colinmeans@thesportingravenetwork.com.

  • Moke Hamilton

    I might as well jump in here. Found out about this post on Twitter… I’ve been writing heavily on BR since March and have a pretty good story to tell. Without bragging and boasting about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and what jobs I’ve gotten, I’ll just say this…

    In life, #WINNING requires investing. Period.

    Most people invest by going and getting Bachelors… Others, trade school. The way I see it, when you’re starting out in any field, you have to invest. If not school, an apprenticeship.

    I consider everything I’ve done (and will do) here at BR an investment. I have no formal writing training. I have very few “sources” in the game, and–sadly–I don’t get recognized when I go to the supermarket or to the movies… At this point, why should I expect to get paid?

    The bottom line is that writing on BR and becoming a Featured Columnist has given me a platform and has enabled me to have my work read by thousands of readers with whom I interact. There’s no way I would otherwise gotten into this world. That’s something that I appreciate.

    Kenny “The Jet” Smith says the Cream rises to the top. I believe that. Invest, work hard… Anything can happen. Hopefully, there will come a day when you can charge for your insight and talent, but that won’t happen overnight.

  • Anonymous

    This is a really interesting debate. As a Bengals FC, I love being on top of the latest team news and having people look to me for opinions/evaluations of all things Bengals. The fact that I’m doing something that some are paid to do, rarely enters my mind.

    I’m a Journalism student embarking on a Masters in Sports Journalism and B/R not only gives me experience in all aspects of journalism from breaking news/opinion to live-blogging, but also provides a big back catalogue of my work.

    Let’s not forget that the ever so wonderful B/R audience are quick to criticize your work, and that really helps an aspiring writer to be extra diligent in their information gathering. I’ve learnt some really fundamental skills through B/R that have helped to hone my craft, and received some advice, that I feel I would even have paid for.

    At this stage in my life, I feel as though I am the one exploiting B/R. Through this website, I can reach an audience that I would otherwise be unable to communicate with. B/R has bolstered my cv tremendously, and the skills I’ve learnt such as working to strict deadlines, live-blogging, editing etc etc have all served me really well in securing work experience, internships etc.

    I understand why more established writers might deride writing for free, but B/R is about giving those who wouldn’t normally contribute, a platform and a voice. We all have the opportunity to get a fair crack of the whip with B/R, and the likes of Matt Miller are a testament to the theory that hard work gets noticed.

    We all have to remember B/R is still in its infancy, growing by the day. There’s no telling what opportunities might arise within the company in future, and there’s no doubt that hard work will continue to be rewarded. But, even if that isn’t the case, everything I have learnt through being a part of B/R is reward enough. Like everything, B/R can be frustrating and downright ridiculous at times, but that’s life.

    You may not have the 125k views that slideshows about WAGs have, but if you keep the quality up in your work, B/R is a great platform to showcase your ability to whatever employer you’re trying to impress.

  • Andrew Garda

    I worked in Hollywood for almost a decade – you start out giving your work (be it writing, time or labor) for free or near free to get in the door and you earn your way to earning.

    Does there come a point – in writing or acting or digging ditches – where you no longer take long term jobs for free? Yes unless 1) it’s pure passion and a hobby or 2) you get something in trade be it exposure, experience or something else you value.

    However, there comes a point where what you’re doing and your experience is worth more than ‘free’. That threshold is different person to person. Sometimes WILDLY so.

    In my opinion, this comes down to a matter of old school vs new school. I’ve seen it before in industries going digital many times (most recently newspaper vs webcomic comic strips believe it or not). The old school guys (or gals) complain that the work is devalued because it’s free – and some will cop to the ‘you didn’t earn your way into this like I did’ attitude if they’re truthful. The new school says ‘dude things aren’t what they were when you came up – I’ll earn my stripes in a new way’ and point out that they have found ways to earn money and sometimes a living in new and different ways not beholden to the ways things were done, just because they ALWAYS were done that way.

    There is merit to both arguments and points of view. Web journalism/blogging/hammering at a keyboard is still in it’s infancy and as we all try to find how to squeeze some cash out for what we do, it’s going to change and become clearer.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. Money isn’t the only currency in this business even if it is the most important one. There’s recognition, potential to reach thousands of readers, making contacts, improving one’s writing and more. All of these add value to the writer’s name and brand.

  • richlor

    This is an absolutely superb summary about the “worth” of writing for free. Back in the day, oh, about 30 years ago, before bloggers and websites and such, you could get a job interning at a magazine or being a copyboy (or girl) at a newspaper. That is where and how you learned the ropes and if you were lucky you were thrown a bone. It could be that you were asked to cover an event or make some calls to get more info on a story but it was doubtful your name was used anywhere. Freelance writing gigs were available but you needed to show work before they would hire you and how could you show work if you were never allowed to work…oh, you get my point. The “free” writing actually happened in high school and college. If you wanted to be a professionally paid sports writer you better have written about it in school so you at least had something to show those grizzled editors who were going to hire you.
    Today, it is much, much different and pluralistic. Yes, it seems that anyone can “write” about anything via their blog, and, yes, it is really disturbing to those who “paid” their dues, went to journalism school, trod the boards, etc., to see a bunch of wanna-bes actually being.
    BR is actually one of the few places that recognized the need for fans to write and allowed them to do so regardless of their journalistic chops. Did it take advantage of the labor pool or just acknowledge a willing pool of people who wanted to do more than just shout from the bleachers? The technology changed everything when it came to writing for money. It also has allowed those, like you, to write, write and write some more so that when the paid job appeared, you were primed and ready.
    Good for you and good for BR and all of those fans who get the chance to contribute, paid not so much in money but satisfaction.

  • Wleivenberg

    I’m 21. My parents are in their 50s. When I began writing for B/R as an unpaid contributor three years ago, I hadn’t seen them so disturbed and in uproar since I mentioned rooting for the SF Giants (we are die-hard Dodger fans). They gave me — in their typical, traditional journalism arrogance — a classic guilt trip, which they just believed was a dose of reality. While they whole-heartedly advocated the ‘you have to start somewhere’ mantra, they couldn’t support my unpaid writing with a clear conscience. It didn’t compute.

    Then, when I wrote an article for B/R that racked up a few thousand reads, over 25 comments, and was syndicated to a variety of online publications, ranging from CBSports.com to USAtoday.com, they couldn’t help but think I was building an audience, my portfolio, my skills, and my confidence as a writer.

    Fact: I wrote for B/R for more than two years without seeing a dime.
    Fact: I parlayed my wide and diverse contributions on B/R into writing gigs with Yahoo!, freelance work with local newspapers/magazines, my college newspaper, and ultimately an on-camera position and a radio stint.

    B/R is offering an invaluable service. With B/R you get what you give. I gave, they gave back and it is a truly, mutually beneficial relationship.

  • Dseymour

    Writing about sports has been a long time dream of mine. I found myself out on college with a kid to raise. Recently a friend told me about B/R and I’m hoping to hear back soon on my application. I also write for free on a smaller site called sports-gloty.com. I feel so much less stress now that I am doing something I absolutely love. Granted I eventually would love to get paid for my efforts but just taking the chance and getting my name out there is of great importance to me.

  • Blue

    Just because you lucked out with your free gigs doesn’t mean everyone else will. And in the grand scheme of things, one person working for free undercuts everyone else. If you are out for yourself, fine.

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  • ECR

    Honestly, “exposure” on a “big” site is over-rated. I’ve had more than a few pieces published by the NYT, up on the site, and never once has an editor (or anyone other than a reader) approached me to offer a piece, or even to solicit a pitch. Noting that I write for the NYT has probably bolstered pitches ….or maybe not, bec I’ve had pitches accepted when I cite articles for other, less prestigious pubs, as clips. But the point is that “exposure” is not going to get you a job. Were you hired ** because ** you blogged for WA Post? Or were you hired because you write well and your WA Post blogs read well? Do you really believe an editor would say “Well gosh, he blogs for the WA Post, this pitch of his must be fabulous and he must be a great writer.” I don’t think so.
    If you want to write for free spend time building a kick-ass website and write for free — for yourself. Build your own brand. Write for exposure on your own site, which will get notice bec of the time you put into it.
    Oh, now that I think of it I *have* actually been solicited for pitches by and been offered writing jobs by writing for free. For “exposure” my own blog.