Why Freelance Pros Should Care About Media Outlets Not Paying Writers [Podcast]

All Freelance Writing Podcast Episode 17 - Media Outlets Not Paying Writers

The All Freelance Writing Podcast officially re-launched yesterday with Episode 17. Lori Widmer stopped by the show again to serve as my guest co-host, so a big "thank you" to Lori.

Some of the things we touch on in this episode include:

  • The Huffington Post, and Stephen Hull's stance that he's "proud" to not pay their bloggers;
  • Why freelance professionals should care about (and keep speaking up against) large media outlets when they implement these policies;
  • An important difference between media outlets not paying writers vs publishing content on social networks for free;
  • How HuffPo stacks up against content mills (not terribly well);
  • The myth that small clients (like solopreneurs) can't afford to pay professional freelance writing rates, and why it's your own fault if you aren't finding more than low-paying gigs in those markets;
  • The difference between writing that should be paid for and writing for marketing's sake (and how your scheduling is important so you don't fall into a low- or no-pay rut);
  • Why you shouldn't follow just one coach or mentor's advice (and why you shouldn't parrot their bad or inapplicable advice to other newer writers);
  • Why more experienced freelancers speak out against these things (and some of the benefits newer writers are seeing today because so many of us have);
  • Why you shouldn't take personal offense when someone criticizes a publication you choose to write for (hint: it's not all about you).

You can listen to the episode below or check out the show notes for more details and related links. (If you're reading this post through your email subscription, you can listen to the episode by visiting the show notes page linked here.)

Next Friday's episode will cover simple tricks you can use to keep yourself motivated to write (a topic suggested by Dann Alexander -- I'll be covering two of his questions in episodes 18 and 20). The following week I'll be joined by Princess Jones to talk about fear and confidence issues writers face. Remember you can preview two advance clips from that episode before its release.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

Subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter to get freelance writing updates from Jenn in your inbox.

10 thoughts on “Why Freelance Pros Should Care About Media Outlets Not Paying Writers [Podcast]”

  1. I think Huffington Post takes advantage of freelancers by offering so-called “recognition” or the notion that even if you write for them for free, having them on your resume will look good to future employers.

    I just think it’s gross that “HuffPo” is allowed to be a respected news source while refusing to pay people who take the time to write for them.

    • “I just think it’s gross that “HuffPo” is allowed to be a respected news source while refusing to pay people who take the time to write for them.”

      Exactly. Agreed completely Toni. Fortunately in this industry these things have a way of correcting themselves, even if it sometimes takes a while.

  2. Fantastic episode! Hopefully the wise words you both speak will have an impact on some of those new (and not so new) writers who are too focussed on the perceived ‘exposure’. It’s surprising to me the number of freelancers who say they ‘won’t work for free’, but then don’t consider writing for HuffPo as falling in the writing for free category. That really makes no sense to me. Maybe some of those writers will listen to this podcast – off to share now! 😉

  3. Jenn, I love the point you made about “writing for free” being viewed as part of your marketing. If you think of it in that context, ask yourself, is the total time I’m spending on writing for free a productive use of my marketing time? Would you consider a schedule consumed by marketing time versus billable hours productive?

    I am a big believer in the individual doing their own thing. However, there is another aspect to this. It’s building business relationships. Relationships should be a two-way street. Both should be supported by the business relationship. For me, a model relying on free content from its writers that rakes in plenty of profit for the owner of that model and none for the writers is not an equitable partnership.But that’s me.

    I had a similar experience. I wrote for free for an industry magazine. This magazine has several magazines with specific niches in the industry. All of its content is provided for free by industry experts. I wrote the one article and did receive actual clients from that article. But when the magazine owners came to me to write a chapter of a training course for free, I declined. They charge hundreds (if not more)for the course and I should give away my expertise for free? This same organization makes most of their money from conferences where they get huge employers to attend for thousands of dollars. It’s the free articles that put them on those employers’ radar. It could be argued, they have since established themselves through the conferences.

    For me personally, I can see the sense of articles to promote your business in the industry as someone who knows what they’re talking about. Like you said, part of your marketing efforts. But, as a writer, what makes sense for me, is ghostwriting those articles for the industry experts and getting paid by those experts. Just sayin’ 😉

    • You definitely understand this issue better than most freelancers Cathy, and that comes from your corporate background I suspect. A lot of this problem stems from the popularity of guest posting which, to steal a phrase from Lori in the podcast, has become a bastardized version of the old PR tactic of trade publishing by industry execs. This is actually a complex issue, and one I’ll be covering over at Words on the Page next month for Writers Worth Month (just pitched the topic to Lori yesterday actually!).

      Sadly it became skewed by marketers and adapted by groups who aren’t the best fit for it (people who build a career being paid for their writing — and don’t try to feed me bullshit about “paid guest posts” — if you understand real guest posting vs freelance contributions, you know there’s no such thing and that’s generally a claim by people who either don’t want to advertise that they hire freelancers or who try to use the “guest post” label to distract from the fact that they’re offering shit pay for freelance articles).

      As for ghostwriting these kinds of pieces (and getting paid by the client who pitches them for free)? Totally with you. For those who aren’t familiar with this, I’ve covered it at the link below here on the blog before. It’s a very lucrative type of freelance gig if you’re experienced in public relations writing or feature writing. And just so there’s no confusion, this is very very different from you getting an account on a site like HuffPo and then charging people to write about them or link to them in your blog posts. That’s generally not transparent and totally unethical (and yes, I’ve actually seen writers say this is how they make HuffPo pay off for them — disgusting — and precisely why it’s so laughable for HuffPo to call unpaid work more “authentic”).


  4. Sorry for being so late to respond. I wonder why no one talks about Social Media Examiner. They say they don’t use advertising so they’re not profiting off free writing but they are. They use their blog to grow their vast mailing list which is then used to market the conference and webinars. That blog and its popularity was created from unpaid writers. When every post is a guest post, you’re building your business off the unpaid backs of writers.

    When someone needs a social media “expert” for a quote they call in Michael Stelzner who doesn’t even write for his own blog. He became a “social media expert” by aligning himself with the write people and getting them to write for free while he gets all the credit.

    • Hi Karen,

      I’m actually with you to a degree on SME. While there is a difference between genuine guest posting (and group blogs) and something like HuffPo for the writer, what you’re talking about is becoming a bit of a plague in the blogging community.

      Basically people are building blogs on their own reputations and then whoring that reputation out for massive amounts of free content while they personally take a backseat. It’s a pretty f*d up way to treat loyal readers who are there because they trusted you. And you’re absolutely right. Even if they aren’t taking in ad revenue, they’re usually monetizing that content in other ways. It’s kind of a reverse “exposure” issue — the blogs use mass guest posting as a way to maintain their own exposure and visibility while the main blogger does other things. Yet they’ll tout exposure for the writers as a reason to contribute (said exposure coming thanks to the guest posters themselves).

      I’ll be talking a lot about guest posting over the next month or two both here and at WordsOnPageBlog.com next month for Writers Worth Month. Unfortunately it’s something most freelance writers get very wrong, and something many use as a crutch when they should be focused on paying gigs (and the myth that there’s any such thing as a “paid guest post” will also be covered).

      I have other reasons for not being a huge fan of Mike Stelzner (used to be). I won’t get into the details here but suffice it to say I have very little love for bloggers who use “top” lists as linkbait and who engage in censorship just because people disagree with them in comments (not talking about trolls here). If you want to know more about the history, you can read about it at the link below (formerly from NakedPR.com).


    • Hey Karen,

      Thanks for your comments about Social Media Examiner. First, only half of our content is written by free writers. Second, we have about 10x more requests from folks who want to write for us for free than those we actually accept. These is a strong case for guest blogging on a site that has your audience. I did it for Copyblogger back in the day and was never paid.

      Second, I am not a social media expert and am almost never called for commentary on social media.

      Third, these days I focus on my time on my weekly live show and my weekly podcast. On the podcast it is me interviewing experts and on the live show it is news analysis.


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