Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Ottawa Citizen: Ghosts of writers past



This Sunday will mark the end of the Ottawa Citizen's Sunday edition.
It won't be missed.
There never seemed to be any effort put into it and I could read it in about 10 minutes. It takes me two hours to read the New York Times on Sunday. I mean, if you're going to put out a Sunday paper, why not make it the gold standard of journalism with thoughtful pieces by insightful writers?
Instead, for nearly thirty years, The Sunday Citizen published drivel and breathlessly long features about people and issues that I really didn't care about.
It was like all the editors hit the snooze button when it came to Sunday. Reminds me of the radio stations that play John Tesh all weekend long.
I sort of knew something was up when The Citizen started running obituaries that people sent in to commemorate the passing of loved ones or friends. Like somebody thought, 'hey, how can we put this newspaper out without actually spending money on real writers?'
Sadly, with the end of the Sunday Citizen came more layoffs -- 19, I think -- with a lot of good writers taking the voluntary package so they could then sell their stuff back to The Citizen for $200. Today, there are more double dippers at The Citizen than at a Superbowl party.
The paper isn't any better for it.
It makes it difficult for freelancers and journalism rookies with fresh takes to break in when the paper is still being written by the old guard, people who still have friends on the inside waiting for their titanium watches.
The news game isn't much different these days than the federal government where people take buyouts then get hired back by their cronies to do exactly the same job for way less pay. When I started as a freelancer at The Citizen 30 years ago, I got $35 for a column. Today, people get $200 or less, which might seem like a gigantic leap except that PostMedia makes freelancers sign agreements basically allowing the host to use their copy for free inperpetuity.
It's sort of like Motown in the 60s when none of the writers or artists got royalties.
These are sad days for freelancers. Newspapers and websites of other news organizations are chock-a-block full of stories and photographs turned in by amateurs looking for their fifteen minutes. Other places pay their freelancers by clicks -- so many clicks, so much money. I've worked for a few of these sites, including this one which has ads to the left and right. In spite of being prolific and not badly read, this blog has netted me only $95 for six months writing. Not that I'm complaining. At least Blogger and WordPress don't charge me to write my blog like some other sites.
The New York Times best-selling author Jon Katz wrote on his blog yesterday that he's never been poorer despite having written many best selling books. But he adds, he's never been happier.
Me, I'd like to be paid better. I've been published enough for free.
A girl's gotta eat.

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