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: DONíT 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 donít have. If you do it for free, they wonít respect you in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. You sink everybodyís boat in the harbor, not just yours. So just DONíT!
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 Ö 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. Heís giving them a warning: ďDonít take my job! Donít take my friendsí 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?Ē
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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 1:33pm

    " 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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Pickle Monger (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 1:37pm

    Idea - pricess. For everything else there's MasterCard

    [...] and my limited knowledge of stripper employment suggests that they make most of their money from tips,[...]

    ATTENTION ALL TECHDIRT REGULARS:
    Can we get a Kistarter project going to pay Mike Masnick a lap dance? :))))

     

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  3.  
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    Billy Wenge-Murphy (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:19pm

    is a skill that 99.9 percent of the people donít have


    Only 1 person in 1000 can put words together in a coherent manner according to a formula?

    Actually he may be right about that....

     

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  4.  
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    umccullough (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:21pm

    Re:

    What he really meant to say is: "is a skill that 99.9 percent of people didn't pay tuition to have."

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Good thing there are no lawyers out there doing pro bono work - nobody would respect them in the morning.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    John Doe, May 6th, 2011 @ 2:25pm

    "Freenemy"

    Free is the enemy. But free can be beat. The problem is, most people don't want to learn how.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Steven (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:27pm

    Re:

    Does anybody respect them in the morning anyway? or the afternoon for that matter?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Steven (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:30pm

    I can't count the number of times I've met somebody, told them I'm a programmer, and the next thing I hear is:
    "Oh, you know computers? I'm having a problem with..."
    And yes, I usually try to help.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 2:30pm

    Re:

    Check this out:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reporters_Without_Borders

    According to the annual accounts, its total budget is of Ä4,000,000, 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.

    HOW DARE THEY!!!

     

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  10.  
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    umccullough (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    Re:

    Good for you! You're *not* ruining it for the rest of us, because you're the sucker they go to every time now :D

     

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  11.  
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    umccullough (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:36pm

    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)

     

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  12.  
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    Steven (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

    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.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Idea - pricess. For everything else there's MasterCard

    I'd rather pay mike to give me a lapdance. RtB indeed.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    NullOp, May 6th, 2011 @ 3:06pm

    RIGHT!!!

    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...")

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Blatant Coward (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 3:19pm

    Re: Re:

    Depends on how good their lapdancing is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    el_segfaulto (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 3:22pm

    Re:

    Let's not even get into the Open Source software movement. I have donated countless hours on projects that I deem to have a value to society. I'm a programmer who does indeed program for free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    el_segfaulto (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 3:24pm

    Re:

    The last time I had a family member ask that, I told them that my current research was utilizing multi-ARM servers as a dynamic load bearing cluster, and that I really don't know much about Windows XP drivers.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Scote, May 6th, 2011 @ 3:27pm

    Strippers

    I believe Mike is right. Strippers often work for tips. And not only do they give a way their work in hopes of tips, they actually **pay** the strip club for the privilege of performing as independent contractors. So Simon Bodger's arguments are bunk.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Someantimalwareguy, May 6th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: 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...

     

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  20.  
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    Travis Miller (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 3:48pm

    Stripper tips

    At some clubs, the strippers PAY the club for the right to dance. They give customers a "reason to buy" through paying more attention to better tippers and the general understanding that without tips these people won't continue stripping.

     

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  21.  
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    Xris (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 3:50pm

    Re: Re:

    Can it also be employed in conjunction with a drawn reciprocating dingle arm to reduce sinusoidal depleneration.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 3:50pm

    so...

    Was he paid to write the commencement speech?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 4:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: 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.

     

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  24.  
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    Kaden (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 4:08pm

    Re: RIGHT!!!

    Are you being sarcastic or dim? It's really hard to tell.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Travis Miller (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Strippers

    Dang it. Apparently we had the same thought, but it takes me way too long to type on the PS3's on-screen keyboard. (Must pick up batteries for wireless keyboard tonight.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    el_segfaulto (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 4:25pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    It can be, but only if used in conjunction with a low-voltage memory regulator or potentially some infrared LEDs in a cylindrical array (for safety's sake).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 5:11pm

    Re: "Freenemy"

    free is the enemy of what exactly?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Simon, May 6th, 2011 @ 5:38pm

    Re: Re: Idea - pricess. For everything else there's MasterCard

    I've heard the first one's free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    umccullough (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 5:41pm

    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!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 5:41pm

    Re: Re:

    That's a looooooooooooooooooot of t-shirts

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Scote, May 6th, 2011 @ 5:42pm

    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" :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    umccullough (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 5:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 6th, 2011 @ 6:42pm

    Re: RIGHT!!!

    If you start doing what you do for free you have announced the official cost of what your work is worth!

    And if you start your profession by not doing any work because nobody will pay you you have announced the official position of how productive youíre going to be!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 6th, 2011 @ 6:43pm

    Re: RIGHT!!!

    If you start doing what you do for free you have announced the official cost of what your work is worth!

    And if you start your profession by not doing any work because nobody will pay you you have announced the official position of how productive youíre going to be!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 9:06pm

    Re: Re: "Freenemy"

    A lawyer's hourly rate?

     

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  36.  
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    misterdoug (profile), May 6th, 2011 @ 9:46pm

    You're right, Mike

    Doing things for free or "pro bono" is commonplace and hasn't destroyed any profession that I know of. Reilly either lives in a completely different world or has a huge stick up his ass.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2011 @ 11:18pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    The eejit (profile), May 7th, 2011 @ 1:54am

    Re: You're right, Mike

    Why can it not be that there's a huge stick up his ass that took him to Earth-626?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 7th, 2011 @ 4:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You must be a joy to have around as a friend... "can you give me a hand with this?" "yeah, but I want $100 up front, my time is money and I don't understand the concepts of favours or charity".

     

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  40.  
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    The eejit (profile), May 7th, 2011 @ 4:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And seeing as everything these days is about money, and money is the root of all evil, everything is evil, given your logic.


    Nah, I'm just messin' wit'ya.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Chris in Utah (profile), May 7th, 2011 @ 5:43am

    Amusement for a social studier.

    If you don't study society please disregard this message as it will likely pass right over your head.

    I just have to point this out the stripper pole analogy dam near had him side-tracked. I think its the first time (here anyway) that I've seen a Freudian slip of sex pervade Mikes writing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Jay (profile), May 7th, 2011 @ 9:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Strippers

    There's other benefits since most strippers actually get money from clientele in other ways. Kind of a reason that strippers don't tend to be over 40 without serious work.

    And we're going to keep this PG-13 and let you, the reader, connect the dots.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    DannyB (profile), May 7th, 2011 @ 1:06pm

    That's the secret.

    I always make clear I don't know much about Windows and I don't want to know much about Windows.

    I use it at work where it is provided and I'm not responsible for maintaining it nor two thousand other desktops. The same development and other tools I use at work (all FOSS) run on my Linux at home.

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2011 @ 7:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You're right - an ass like you wouldn't get my "free" service in the first place :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    misterdoug (profile), May 8th, 2011 @ 8:39am

    Re: RIGHT!!!

    Giving away goods and services for free to good causes is a very common practice in the business community, and it doesn't drive people out of business or lower the going rates. There's no need to argue this, it's just a plain fact.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Eric, May 9th, 2011 @ 11:19am

    Working for free..

    Working for free got me my current job. The place I worked paid me w/ experience and contacts. Working for free is almost needed at times to build up experience and a resume. Working for free paid off big for me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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