Rick Reilly's Advice To Journalism Students: Please Don't Compete With Me And Undercut My Salary
from the that's-not-advice,-that's-fear... dept
Simon Bodger points us to a story about how ESPN’s Rick Reilly — who has been described as the highest-paid writer in the country gave the commencement speech for journalism students at the University of Colorado, and told them never, ever to write for free:
When you get out there, all I ask is that you: DON?T WRITE FOR FREE! Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride! What you know how to do now is a skill that 99.9 percent of the people don?t have. If you do it for free, they won?t respect you in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. You sink everybody?s boat in the harbor, not just yours. So just DON?T!
Thankfully, folks like Craig Calcaterra are pointing out that this is absolutely “horrible, horrible advice.”
Writers need to write. A lot. Indeed, the only way anyone gets better as a writer is to just ? do it. Your credential as a J-school grad is nice, but it is insignificant compared to experience. And, as the media world progresses further and further into the digital age, it becomes increasingly insignificant in an absolute sense.
Furthermore, Calcaterra points out what Reilly is really saying here, which is “don’t undercut me, so I can keep my super high salary”:
What Reilly is really doing here is not giving advice to graduates. He?s giving them a warning: ?Don?t take my job! Don?t take my friends? jobs! They make a good living writing, and if you come in and undercut them with your blog or your contributed piece, you may screw with the system, so cut it out, will ya??
Also, I think Reilly is wrong. Plenty of people ask doctors to doctor for free and professors to profess for free — just not all the time. I assume that people also ask strippers to strip for free as well, and my limited knowledge of stripper employment suggests that they make most of their money from tips, rather than salary, anyway… But the point — which seems to go right over Reilly’s head — is that doing something for free is not the same thing as not earning money. No one is saying “write everything for free.” What people are saying is that writing some things for free can have serious benefits, in terms of exposure, or recognition, or the ability to improve your writing. And, for many, it becomes a way to make money. I wrote Techdirt for free for many years, and now it makes me a good living. If I had followed Reilly’s advice, I never would have started Techdirt in the first place.
“Free” isn’t the enemy.