Only If It’s Free

will not work for free

On the weekend I was reminded of ways in which people will try and get you to work for free. I was relaying the story of pitching to an editor a feature piece. It was a 1500 word article and with my pitch I sent him my body of work with the same word count.

To be rejected because the idea was not strong is fine.

To be rejected because they had already covered that subject, I get that.

To be rejected because “….space is limited in coming issues. Too limited for me to commission first-time contributors, I’m afraid. That said, I would consider anything sent in on spec.”

So you think the idea has merit, but only if it came for free?

Well, yes.

This kind of exploitation was akin to a piece Eleanor Robertson wrote on The Guardian recently. While it was a timely reminder how internships are a means of free work under the guise of ‘experience’. She actually went further and did the maths. What she revealed are large corporations and broadcasters actually accumulating tens of thousands of dollars a year in savings in their labour force.

Even the film industry is encouraged to take interns to assist with their low budgets and work flow. At this year’s Australian International Documentary Conference an Australian producer suggested if you need help with publicity and marketing take on an intern to help you with the ‘grunt work’.

While that opportunity does provide experience, there are still skills an intern brings in to a work place that we do utilize. Whether they are contacts, an enthusiasm for social media, ability to write or just plain passion. They are things that we would and should pay for.

The media, for all its wealth is appalling at valuing work. Whether it is expected for free or at rates as low as 0.02c per word, there is a long held belief that we are all so passionate about what we do, we would do it for free. Forgoing any need to earn a living, accumulate wealth or just be valued, as we should.

However while I lament at how little is paid to freelancers or students and graduate exploitation, I will leave the last thought with Kylie.

Kylie has been accused of trying to hire dancers for free for one of her film clips. Apparently there was no budget to pay them, so instead of coming up with a new idea, they sent a call out for professionals to work for free.

Oh dear, only in the media and only in the arts.

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