Who knows if I’ll ever again have as many comments as my “Freshly Pressed” article on freelance journalism (reblogged again, today, as one of the three best from the 40 that ran this week) brought in. But at least for this week, I’ll make a feature out of recapping (and perhaps rethinking) some of the things I wrote about, read about, and responded to in the time that’s passed since their original run.
So, appropriately enough for an article about the merits of writing for exposure (as opposed to pay), here’s the change brought about by having my article mentioned on the front page of WordPress:
The previous spike, if you’re interested, came after I posted a positive review of the play Clown Bar, which was, I’m assuming, reblogged or linked through on Facebook by members of the cast/crew. One of the dangers of a writer not being paid, as I’ve mentioned before, is that those with questionable ethics might write to the traffic, throwing positive reviews — or negatives ones — so as to stand out from the average and thereby draw the more curious readers who are looking for a devilish advocate. I should also add that I’d only just taken this site from Blogger to WordPress; on the strength of its archive of content–dating back five years–it still manages to get about a hundred hits a day, even though I no longer post there. I just want it to be clear that while traffic can be driven by any number of factors, the stats you’re looking at here are almost without exception due to this post about freelance journalism.
In an ironic twist, I learned that despite me writing it for free and making no profit off of it, advertisements did actually appear at the bottom of this “heavily” trafficked post, on account of the fact that I have not opted into WordPress’s “NoAds” Freemium service (which costs $30.00/year). In the event that I was actually making money from this blog, I’d actually invest in a bunch of WordPress’s pay-tier services, but it feels a little chintzy that this is even a policy at all. In theory, it’s reasonable: they host blogs like this for free, and I understand that they aren’t a non-profit. Had they told me up front that they were going to be running ads because my traffic had gone over a certain threshold, I’d have probably given it my blessing. Still, my only real complaint is that having a mysterious ad pop up at the bottom of my post devalues some of what I’ve actually written, and at the very least, they ought to differentiate between users who choose to participate in the WordAds program (so as to earn money) and those who are simply being called upon to cover the costs of operating the site.
So now let’s talk about the benefits of this exposure. I have received 141 likes, 96 follows, and 61 comments, of which at least 20 are probably from me, “engaging” the audience that I’m supposed to one day “ask” for donations. It’s too early to tell how many of these users will continue to actually read articles on the site (many of the likes/follows appear to be spammers who hope that I’ll click through to their sites, having seen that they’ve clicked through to mine), but from the fact that the next two posts have comparatively generated 0 comments (OK, my celebratory Veronica Mars: The Movie: The Kickstarter post got one reblog) and a dwindling series of likes: from 4 to 3. Mind you, this isn’t me whining — I’m honored to have been “Freshly Pressed” — and I know that we’re talking stats within a very limited window of time and with a sample size that doesn’t compare to the traffic that The Atlantic was offering (a supposed 13 million eyeballs, which, even if The Atlantic is being slyly literal and only means 6.5 million people is still on an entirely different order of magnitude). But if I were to extrapolate data and say that my 650 views in a day were scalable to 6,500,000 (multiplying everything by 10,000), then writing for exposure for The Atlantic would net me a pool of roughly 100,000 followers, of which maybe 2% would become regulars, or 2,000 readers.
Thanks to Nate Thayer actually stopping by to comment on my post (and to update a few things), I know that the math I’ve done isn’t entirely off-base. Writes Thayer, “The day before my blog averaged less than 100 readers a day. Within a few hours, 150,000 people had checked into read, almost all from Twitter followed by Facebook.” Admittedly, he didn’t use The Atlantic to get exposure, but he did go viral, much of which was spurred on by sites like The Atlantic‘s reblogging his original post. None of this actually clarifies that benefits, however, of having my mathematically plausible 2,000 earned readers, because how do you monetize them and, more importantly, when? The tip jar I mentioned earlier is brought out only on occasion; in my comment exchange with paulaptr, who asks “whether we consider our paid work to be art — and if so, are we willing to ask our patrons to support us?” I noted that they occur rarely; they key is that when they do, it is an opportunity for you, the reader, to actually give. In another exchange, rolark suggests that “the industry has come down to publish for free and get “exposure” or become your own marketer… I’m definitely choosing the latter,” but as I replied, I’m disinclined to invest in an entirely parallel set of skills — marketing — that would eat up the time I need to actually generate content. As kawaiitimes notes, “I’ve had much better success working with a small group of professionals who recognize that my time has value.” We’ve sort of glossed over that in our discussion of freelance journalism so far, but time is extremely important; we don’t get paid for the overtime we spent trying to hit a perhaps unrealistic deadline — even when uncontracted “additions” are thrown in — and a set rate doesn’t necessarily cover the incidentals that go into research. Having someone else handle issues regarding to timing is a huge benefit; I know, since I’ve worked as a project coordinator before.
Then again, perhaps I’m wrong to look at the vast majority of readers — perhaps you really only need that mythical monied 1% or those who can afford to Kickstart at the higher tiers. On her site, freelance designer Kari Ryerson writes that success depends on continuing to work and making that work available. (My paraphrasing is butchering this: go to her site and read the post yourself!) Perhaps I really only need this pool of 100,000 to followers to chip in an average a penny each; that’d then be the $10,000 I use to get by (not for long in New York, so perhaps I should relocate), continuing to produce and share my work while looking for that mythic salaried position.
One final point that I’d like to reiterate, courtesy of Zac Davis‘s point that while “offering ‘exposure to some[one] who has already held a job in a field sounds like an insult,” he understands the prospects of “taking an unpaid internship at a local paper this summer.” They may not be promising exposure — which as we’ve already determined is difficult to analyze from a monetary perspective — but they are promising the chance to “be edited by a professional,” and that’s a value-adding experience. I’m sure a true statistician could give a precise value, much as they do for the amount of money you’re projected to make based on level of degree, but from personal experience, I know that being edited not only gives you more awareness and growth in your own writing, but also better material for the portfolio you’ll eventually be using to get work. If you’re not being paid and your editor sucks, you need to leave that position immediately, regardless of the exposure, and if possible, you ought to find a way to spread the word so that nobody else winds up being used in the same fashion. Nate Thayer brought my attention to the “Who Pays Writers?” site; perhaps there ought to be a RateMyEditor.com out there, too.