Blog: The Educated Reporter

Real journalism costs money.

When I moved back to D.C. this fall, I subscribed to the Washington Post. It had been a while since I subscribed to a paper, since I never fully integrated into Baltimore and before that worked at the Post and read the paper in the office. I was happy to subscribe, to do my part to support the product and my friends. But by the time I get the paper in the morning, I have usually read everything I want to read online.

In most things I am flush with nostalgia. I am trying to recreate my Playskool puzzle collection for my son (if you have any you want to get rid of, let me know), and I cook with my grandmother’s orange enamel saucepan, using her cookbook. But about this pile of paper that lands on—or at least near—my doorstep each morning I am simply indifferent. If I could, I would pay the Post, tell them to refrain from printing my paper and continue reading it online.

When people ask me about the future of journalism, I tell them what a lot of other people are saying too: it doesn’t matter what format the news takes, as long as the journalism persists. I am worried, though, about whether that can happen, when publications expect people to write for free or very close to it, and plenty of people are willing to answer that call.  People who will give away their labor over the long term are not usually the kind of expert journalists we need to be doing the work. Today’s downer comes from James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times, who writes about the race to the bottom in the freelancing industry.

For years I have been asked to write online for free and always, always say no; sorry, Huffington Post, “a platform for ideas,” as you once offered me, won’t pay for reporting trips, long-distance bills, document fees, gas to get to interviews or potatoes for that orange saucepan.