Writing Is Work. And Only Saints Work For Free.

Ad Age’s “Media Guy,” Simon Dumenco caught up with New York Times media critic David Carr via Skype recently.

Dumenco has known Carr since 2001 and he wants to help him move some paperback copies of his book, The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.

But the book is not the only item the two entertained. They also discussed the rapid decline of the newspaper business. Here’s some of Carr’s insight into the changes now underway:

…as recently as four or five years ago, to be a member of Manhattan media, you weren’t rich, but you lived as a rich person might. You went to the parties that a rich person would go to, you ate the food that a rich person would eat, you drank the vodka that a rich person would drink, and you’d end up in black cars, and you’d end up sometimes on boats and in helicopters. We lived as kings, and it convinced us, I think, that there was a significant underlying value to what we did. And I think we’re finding out now that the real, actual value of journalism in the current economy is not that high, and that what the dot-com bubble did and Tina Brown and others did to boost the value of journalism and writing to the point where some people were being paid $5 a word — well, I think there are a lot of people right now, really talented people, who are working for 50 cents or a dollar a word, and you know what? It’s pretty hard to make a living doing that.

It is shocking how paltry journalism wages can be. When I was hiring freelance journos to cover Camel events from 2006 to 2008, I made it a point to use Big Tobacco’s money to fairly compensate our writers and photogs. We still didn’t pay all that well (about 50 cents a word), but I found that many of our writers were receiving much less to write similar pieces for their city’s alternative newspaper.

I feel like I’ve been at a crossroads in my own writing career ever since the inception of AdPulp. Everyday I become more of a journalist, but I can’t see letting go of my copywriting practice. Big companies pay big money for ad copy because it moves their products and services. You’d think the same rules would apply to journalism–news consumers sure as shit aren’t buying newspapers for the ads.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. At $.50 per word, this post comes in at around $210. Not too shabby. 🙂

  2. Jimmy Olson says:

    “-news consumers sure as shit aren’t buying newspapers for the ads.”
    Um, news consumers sure as shit aren’t buying newspapers. Period.
    As others have already noted, the Web has further decimated the journalism profession. After all, anyone with a blog can become a journalist.

  3. I’m sorry, but “anyone with a blog” can not become a journalist. In fact, I’d say about 1% of the people who blog daily would dare describe themselves as such.

  4. Sorry, you took me too literally. Didn’t mean to say everyone with a blog thinks of themselves as a journalist. Rather, many people with blogs view themselves as journalists, or at least journalistic — many THINK they can be a journalist. That’s partly why journalism has taken such a hit. Consider even of our own industry, where so many are going to blogs for information versus the traditional trade journals. Do you think the douche bag at, say, Agency Spy is a journalist? He likely does. There are many more out there just like him. Covering every field and subject category imaginable.

  5. The thing I’m continually surprised by is how few journalists there are on this beat. The marcom industry is huge, it has a major impact on pop culture and on THE culture (how people consume and what they consume). You’d think there would be many pubs/editors/reporters covering this beat, but no. Why is that?

  6. Probably money. Adweek was decimated once Nielsen bought it. No different than the greedy agency holding companies. Plus, why pay for “news” that people probably feel they are receiving through free online sources. It also goes to my own personal contention: The industry is not as interesting as we think it is. Besides, most marketing/advertising does not influence pop culture—it’s usually ripping off pop culture.

  7. The industry is not as interesting as we think it is.
    Agreed. But either is banking, government, auto manufacturing and so on; yet, these topics are well covered by every newspaper and many other sources.
    There’s something else going on here. One thing I believe is at work is the shroud of mystery ad people have managed to cloak themselves in. Generally speaking, people have no idea where ads come from. Ads, unlike films, painting, poetry, drama, journalism, and so on are totally anonymous creations.

  8. Perhaps. But industries like banking and government have bigger and more direct effects on the economy and people’s welfare. And folks always love cars. I’m not completely convinced the “shroud of mystery” is at work, although it might have a small effect. Think of advertising like package design. That craft doesn’t receive a lot of press either. People are interested in our end product – as evidenced by the “Funniest Commercials” programs. But no one wants to read about it. The “business” side of the industry is only interesting to those in the industry. And barely that. Forget the mystique. We’re rock stars in our own minds only. What’s killing the potential interest is the reality that agencies are growing increasingly generic. And so is the work. Finally, we’re not like real artists. Painters paint their paintings. Poets pen their poems. Musicians play their music. Most of us delegate others to produce the end product. We hire directors, photographers, music people, etc. It’s not an individual artform. And we care rarely take sole and direct credit for the final product.

  9. And we can rarely take sole and direct credit for the final product.