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

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.