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.

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Comments on “Rick Reilly's Advice To Journalism Students: Please Don't Compete With Me And Undercut My Salary”

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Jay (profile) says:

” Doctors to doctor for free”

Doctors without Borders – an international medical humanitarian organization working in nearly 70 countries to assist people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.

“Engineers to engineer for free”

Engineers without Borders – EWB-USA helps create a more stable and prosperous world by addressing people’s basic human needs by providing necessities such as clean water, power, sanitation and education.

I could do this all day. However just these two examples far exceed Reilly’s paycheck in terms of societal benefit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Check this out:


According to the annual accounts, its total budget is of ?4,000,000, which is mostly financed by sale of photo-albums (of which the authors freely grant copyright, and which are freely distributed by the Nouvelles Messageries de la presse parisienne, NMPP[7]), as well as extras such as T-shirts, etc.


umccullough (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ok, I felt bad after that, because I do the same thing…

I *hate* telling people to pay me money to simply help them clean a virus off their machine or whatever.

But, after a couple times, I do remind them that I don’t have unlimited spare time after work to help others with their computer problems – and at that point, one of two things usually happens:

1) they offer to pay me
2) they decide to buy a new computer and give me their old POS (which I then reformat and put to good use somewhere)

Steven (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hehe, yeah. Basically the same.

The only thing I really hate is when somebody is having problems some software I’ve never used:

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how this works.”
“But, you know computers right?”
“Well, understanding how computers work doesn’t mean I know how all software ever written works.”

1) “Fine, if you didn’t want to help you could have just said so.”
2) “You must not be all that good at computers. If my nephew were here…”
3) “Okay, but can you just fix it?”

Thankfully all my worst horror stories date back to when I was actually tech support/computer builder for a small white box computer chain.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a real bad experience.

Someantimalwareguy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Same story here, but I just don’t have that kind of time anymore so what I do is simply to tell them that it will take me about 2 to 3 weeks to get to their system in my free time.

1) “Ok, I will pay you…”
2) “Why so long?”
3) “Come on, be a good neighbor…”

The last always has me just look them in the eye and tell them: “Look, the time is still going to be the same whether you pay me or not and further, if you get help from a certified and insured tech with an actual repair business, you would have a real possibility of redress should the “fixing” have unexpected results…”

This usually has them scampering off to the local tech for help to get their box back up and running quickly. Saves me a hell of a lot of time and helps support my local tech…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I actually enjoyed helping coworkers fix their PCs for free. “Just bring it in and I’ll fix it, no worries. All I ask for is a mocha or latte :)”

I did this for a decade during idle time at work, so it was no problem for my work, either.

Until I was threatened angrily by a coworker because I spent “too-much-time” on bringing to life a virus-infected system (had rootkit installed.) I had the sense she was on the border of suing me.

So now I charge a fee, and I have a boilerplate piece of paper all legalese’d up saying I can’t be responsible for delays or data loss (I always attempt a disk image like dd or Acronis first.) Sad, the world used to be much more simple.

umccullough (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yeah, if I’m super busy at work and in the evenings, it can take me a couple weeks before I get around to fixing that machine someone “dropped off to get fixed”…

So I always warn them beforehand that it might be a while before they get it back…

It’s a “get what you pay for” situation, and people better understand that going in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I *hate* telling people to pay me money to simply help them clean a virus off their machine or whatever.”

Not seeing what is simple about it. What is simple is making money off of need or ignorance. If X can’t figure out how to get the virus off and asks Y to do so, X should pay (be it money, coffee, or something).

Time is money.

NullOp says:


Mr. Reilly is 100% correct. If you start doing what you do for free you have announced the official cost of what your work is worth! Really! This is absolutely true. Do you think for any small portion of a second the CEO of your company would work for free? OH HELL NO!!!

Working for free is the worst thing anyone can do!(and don’t be stupid and say “Well there is murder…”)

umccullough (profile) says:

Re: RIGHT!!!

There are plenty of CEOs that actually do “work for free” – often in the capacity of participating on the board of a non profit corporation or even a colleague’s company as an advisor.

Everyone can have a hobby – and if that hobby includes helping others, or inspiring others, what’s the problem with that? If it just happens to overlap with what you do for a living, that’s awesome!

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: Strippers

What are the odds of both of us thinking of strippers–I mean thinking of the fact that strippers don’t just dance for free they actually pay for the privilege? :-> I wonder if our sports writer wonder boy knows that people often pay for the privilege of working–including paying to have their own website or business which may work at a loss but provides experience and exposure which can pay off in other ways, including in the long term?

But you get extra points for tying it back to TechDirt with one of Mike’s favorite phrases, “reason to buy” 🙂

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