Inside Pacific Standard Interview where I swear like a sailor


A week or so ago Noah Davis, who writes a column for Pacific Standard called How Do You Make a Living, noticed the posts that I’d been doing about the broken model for freelance writing in this country. The series explores career paths as diverse as taxidermy to puzzle makers, but very few industries are as coercive or just plainly unfair as freelance writing.

One thing, however, did surprise me when I read this interview. Apparently when someone asks me about the freelance business I can’t help but to swear like a sailor. It’s not something that I realize that I’m doing, but I guess this really does get under my skin.  Below are a few excerpts. Or hell, just read the full interview here.

When I first started writing, I did a lot for free. Even getting paid $0.10/word felt like a victory. That’s part of the problem, yes?


“. . .We need to look at stories as works of art instead of as a raw commodity. Magazines, however, buy articles as commodities. The $2/word rate, which is the standard at most major magazines, is essentially saying that the war correspondent who went to Afghanistan, got shot at 500 times, and came back with this killer narrative should get paid the same amount as someone who sat down with Katy Perry for two hours and wrote something really bubbly. It’s a completely fucked up way to think about the value of writing.”


So are the economics of writing going to keep getting worse?

This depends on writers getting a spine and standing up for their work. It’s already pretty clear that writers can’t make a living in the current system. It’s apparent that you can’t actually survive by getting paid $0.60/word or whatever people are getting paid on the Web these days. If you feel like it’s an honor to get published on,, or, hell, even the New Yorker, you’re not going to be able to put food on your plate. Honor doesn’t have any market value at the grocery store.

1 Comment

  1. TCWriter   •  

    It’s not just the editorial world.

    I’d suggest there are ten times as many copywriters today as ten years ago, but only 1/4 as many making a decent living at it.

    It’s almost nice to see the editorial guys suffering alongside us — except a shortage of ad copy will not harm democracy, but a lack of investigative reporting probably will.

    I appreciate the challenging posts. When Nate Thayer outed The Atlantic for their attempt at a free reach around, I was astonished the response from so many online outlets (writers and editors included) was so subdued.

    I’m equally surprised that your posts haven’t started more smaller brushfires; I guess freelance writers aren’t much for revolution.

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