Proof that ESPN's Rick Reilly is a divisive figure in the journalism community: Even Reilly's speech to CU journalism school graduates is being picked apart by critics. Reilly believes journalists should never write for free, arguing that "nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride!" But at least two of his peers disagree.
As noted by Poynter.org's Jim Romenesko, Jason Fry, a Brooklyn-based freelancer and consultant writing for the National Sports Journalism Center, thinks writing for free can launch a career. Here's the crux of his take:
If you're truly being asked to write for someplace that will give you not only no money but no byline, no valuable association, no help and nobody interesting to meet, that's a bad deal -- don't write for them. But a lot of writing you'll do for free won't be like that. Find enough situations where there is something in it for you, even if it's not monetary compensation, and pretty soon something else will happen: You'll get an email, phone call, direct message on Twitter or something else from someone who thinks you might be perfect for something they want written. And they'll tell you what they can pay you.
Do well on that assignment and there will be others, which you'll be paid for too. And pretty soon you'll only write for free if you really want to, and most of the time people won't ask -- because you'll be experienced, and you'll be known. When that happens, you'll look back at the days you did write for free, and realize they were your digital-age apprenticeship -- for which you were compensated after all.
Fry's viewpoint is echoed by Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports' Hardball Talk. He writes:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
You don't work for free forever because, hey, ya gotta eat. But most people do have to either take unpaid internships or blog and otherwise hustle to make it in the media these days. Advice that says "NEVER DO THAT!" is useless, because most of those graduates will be asked to do it. The key is to know what unpaid writing gigs could lead to the development of one's career and, ultimately, into paying jobs and what unpaid writing gigs are essentially slave labor offered by a company simply looking to get something for free.
Someone who could help would-be writers figure that out would be a really useful commencement speaker. Reilly? Not so much.
That's rough treatment for a graduation speech. Wonder if Reilly got paid for writing it up -- or if he did it for free...