Big Ideas, Delivered With Impact

How to Buy a Writing Career

In Writing on May 15, 2009 at 3:15 am

By Tim Beyers

Have you been waiting for your big break as a writer, suffering through what seems an endless pile of rejections? Well, wait no longer: it is now officially possible to buy yourself a writing career thanks to The Huffington Post.

Source: The Los Angeles Times

Source: The Los Angeles Times

On May 5, the $100 million blogger agreed to auction off a zero-pay internship to “jumpstart your career” as a blogger. The details from charitybuzz.com:

Includes: a two-three month internship at The Huffington Post in NYC or D.C. Must be at least 18 years old. NYC is the main office and D.C. is the political office. Winner can choose which location they would like.

Oh goody. BYORM — bring your own rent money because you aren’t going to be paid a dime — for a gig in a sprawling metropolis where a cardboard box sometimes qualifies as a studio apartment.

Welcome to thew era of checkbook journalism. Instead of paying sources, we’re paying publishers. For a desk.

To be fair, The HuffPo is donating all proceeds from the auction (at least $13,000 as of this writing) to the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Good. Human rights is an eternal issue and it’s good of Huffington to add her voice to a still-far-too-small chorus calling for change.

But a good cause doesn’t make a bad idea any better and auctioning a media internship is a really bad idea. “What this says is that media is now a playground for the rich,” says longtime freelance writer Erik Sherman.

He’s right. The HuffPo’s offer implies that there is no minimum skillset for thoughtful reporting and commentary.”You don’t have to know anything,” Sherman says. “All you have to do is pay your way.”And once you pay, you’re in. It’s like politics. The once-cloistered Halls of Media are now passable, just so long as you tip the bouncer.

Writing is a craft that I believe anyone can learn — but it does have to be learned. Only after millions of needless words die from the slashes of a red pen or the oppressive tap-tap-tap of a delete button does a writer’s prose begins to take shape in a form that’s saleable, or at least strong enough to merit a national byline like The Huffington Post.

No longer. A PR stunt orchestrated in the name of charity has given heft to a new, more insidious form of checkbook journalism, one that writer Nichole Robertson says is in bad taste. She’s right, but it’s also worse than that. Auctioning access is reductive in that it discourages would-be writers whose bank accounts are barely rent-worthy, let alone bouncer-worthy. How is that good for the ailing publishing industry?

Answer: It isn’t. You’re in the publishing business now, Ms. Huffington. You should know better.

© Copyright 2009, Tim Beyers.

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