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July 30, 2009

The exploited writers’ anthem; sing to the tune of “Born Free”

From my friend and colleague, Erik Sherman, a little ditty to remind writers where writing for nothing will get them:

Here’s a snippet. Sing along to the rest on his site at this link:

Write free
As free as the grass grows
Who cares where the cash goes?
Write free, and follow your heart

Work free, and readers surround you
Exposure astounds you
Although you live in a car …

How dumb do these “Dummies” think we are?

I’ve written before about companies that ask writers to write for free or nearly free. Add another would-be exploiter to the list: the ” … for Dummies” folks.

On a writers’ email listserv, someone posted the following forwarded email:


Date: July 21, 2009 1:21:07 PM PDT

Are you a subject area expert who would like to write for Dummies.com?

Because consumers look to Dummies.com for answers on nearly every part of their life, we’re looking for expert authors on all kinds of topics from iPhones to investing. If you’re a topic expert with excellent writing skills and would like to contribute articles to Dummies.com, please visit us.

We’ll review your credentials and writing sample. If there’s a match, we’ll contact you. Unfortunately, we can’t send feedback to everyone, so only the authors that we think are the best match for Dummies.com will be contacted.

I found it curious that Dummies.com mentioned nothing about pay. I know, from a number of writer friends who have authored Dummies books, that the company doesn’t pay well but the work is easy and some books earn out their advances and pay royalties. So I thought these authors might be interested in picking up gigs for the website if the pay were halfway decent. Checking further, here’s what I found:

[You] grant us and our parent, affiliates and licensees the right to use, reproduce, display, perform, adapt, modify, distribute, have distributed, and promote the content in any form, anywhere and for any purpose without compensation

There’s more but the above is all you need to know. Do not write for companies that want your labor and talent but offer nothing in return. This is a profit-making venture for them but it won’t be for you. Give away your knowledge and talent, and you’ve established its value at $0.

Leave the slave labor to a real dummy and keep looking for a paying gig. And, if you’re so inclined,  politely let the Dummies.com folks know that you don’t think much of companies that exploit writers.

– Anita Bartholomew

July 29, 2009

Off topic: Racism and the arrest of Professor Gates

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 11:34 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I never questioned that race was a factor in the arrest of Professor Gates. I’d read about the incident before it made the national headlines and immediately downloaded the police report.

Having read numerous police reports over about 15 years of reporting on crime, accidents, and other issues involving law enforcement, I was immediately struck by the fact that the police report didn’t refute Professor Gates’s key complaints: that the officer entered his home without permission, warrant or probable cause (the police report noted that Gates appeared to be the resident); and that the cop didn’t claim he presented ID when Gates demanded it.

Instead, Sgt. Crowley, the cop involved, told Professor Gates that he would answer Gates’s questions if Gates stepped outside. Since the only question anyone claims that Gates asked was, “who are you?” and Crowley could only arrest Gates if Gates stepped outside, it seemed obvious that Gates had told the truth.

Yet, this became a he said/he said controversy where everyone accused everyone else of racism.

A friend was troubled that I insisted the cop’s arrest and other actions were racially motivated because, she said, Sgt. Crowley had previously given a black sports figure mouth-to-mouth. Therefore, she concluded, he’s not a racist.

No one is claiming Crowley is a Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh, frothing at the mouth about white people being the real victims of racism brand of racist.

But racism is, like almost everything, something that must be viewed on a continuum. Understanding black and white in this country means recognizing all the shades of gray.

So, sure, Sgt. Crowley would give anyone mouth-to-mouth without regard for race. But when he wants to be (you’ll excuse the expression) a swinging dick, he measures his power against that of the other guy.

He didn’t see A) a man in his own home. He saw B) a black man in his own home. And history/practice informed the cop that there were different limits on his behavior when dealing with A vs B. He could swing his dick and assure himself he was the big man — and no one would question him. He could claim that this black man made the kind of comment that Sgt. Crowley believes all black men make and nobody would doubt it.

And when the black man resisted being treated like a lesser man, he could escalate the situation until the black man acquiesced.

None of that makes Crowley the kind of racist we think of when we use that term (although it outs him as a bully). Crowley will never see himself as a racist and has almost certainly solidified his rationalization for his own behavior in his own mind as have all those who support him.

One thing that I find particularly troubling about this incident is mostly unrelated to race although due to the power imbalance between any non-white and any cop, it’s more likely to come to the forefront in such encounters: the kneejerk assumption that cops have the right to push you around if you talk back.

If people insisted it was unwise for Professor Gates to protest, it’s because they assume that cops will violate our rights when we protest, not because cops have the authority to violate our rights.

– Anita Bartholomew

UPDATE: Here’s another story of an arrest of a black man for “disorderly conduct” that was later thrown out. This man’s only real crime? He took too long in the bathroom. Because he’s deaf, he didn’t know anyone was knocking on the restroom door. Oh, and they pepper-sprayed and tasered the man.

If this is indeed a “teachable moment” for America, one lesson that Americans must learn is to stop assuming that all those arrested are guilty until proven innocent.

July 21, 2009

Vanity Fair presents Sarah Palin’s resignation speech, the edited version

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 1:18 pm
Tags: , ,

Yes, Governor Palin’s speech on July 3, 2009, was incoherent. But that’s because she wrote it herself, something that politicians should probably never attempt.

Vanity Fair‘s literary editor along with members of the magazine’s research and copy departments have now edited the text, so readers may finally learn what the heck she was trying to say.

– Anita Bartholomew

July 9, 2009

Two disconcerting tidbits of publishing news

These come via Publishers Lunch, which is emailed to subscribers, so I can’t provide a link:

1. Announcing the sale of: “seven zombie books from Permuted Press in a co-publishing deal.”

I was wondering when we’d finally move past the era of a vampire in every novel. This wasn’t exactly the evolution I’d hoped for.

2. “Portland, OR-area bookseller Stephanie Griffin closed her store Twenty-third Avenue Books in January and then became homeless. ‘Startled neighbors discovered this in June’ as ‘Griffin had started panhandling outside her old store,’ Willamette Week writes. Neighbors have set up a relief fund.”

– Anita Bartholomew

July 7, 2009

Journalism’s access scandal — bigger than WaPo’s pay-to-play “Salons”

Filed under: Commentary,journalism,News — editorialconsultant @ 12:43 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Several media town criers were shocked, shocked that The Washington Post planned private dinners at its publisher’s home to bring together journalists, industry leaders, and government officials to talk off-the-record about the pressing issues of the day. From Politico’s reporting on the flyer, advertising the “salons”:

“Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate,” says the one-page flier. “Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. … Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less.

None of us wants our journalists to get so cozy with sources that the stories they write are altered by that access.

Except, that’s already the reality of much that passes for journalism, isn’t it?

Exhibit A is The Today Show interview done by Andrea Mitchell with Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who quit because, she says, she’s not a quitter. Or, something like that. The so-called press conference Palin held on July 3rd was so incoherent, the world was left scratching its collective head.

We needed a real reporter to do some real reporting on the background of the decision. What we got was Andrea Mitchell, acting as a public relations flack for Palin.

After a few softball questions about the governor’s resignation, where Mitchell lets Sarah Palin spout unrebutted drivel, contradiction and falsehoods — sort of a mini-repeat of the July 3rd presser — what does Mitchell ask the Palins?

If she and Todd are instilling the values of fishing for salmon in their kids.

This is the problem with valuing access to sources over actual reporting. The latter is sacrificed for the former. Obviously, Mitchell knows enough about her subject to demand actual answers but she wants to be able to maintain access to the diva of Wasilla. But what good is access if this is what we get?

Matt Lauer’s most probing question for Mitchell, post-Palin interview was this:

“What time of day was that because, at this time of year in Alaska, it stays light until midnight?”

He ends with a comment that pretty much sums up the way Today handled the segment:

“We all want to know where you got a pair of waders, but that’s for another day, Andrea.”

Yeah, right, that’s what we all want to know.

A few years back, I resigned from the ASJA First Amendment committee because a slim majority wanted to give Judith Miller a “Conscience in Media” award. Miller was refusing to reveal her White House sources for bogus information about the leaking of a CIA operative’s name and had been jailed for contempt. Was Miller exhibiting courage and adherence to First Amendment principles? Or was she protecting her access to high-level sources — access that she valued despite the obvious: her high level sources hadn’t told her the truth?

My opinion then, as now, was that the real issue was access — and that it was valued more highly than accuracy.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. Access is a commodity in Washington, D.C.,  and other places, and media bigwigs and their sources trade that commodity at the expense of consumers of news.  The Washington Post salons were a natural outgrowth of that reality. As long as we’re shocked, shocked by a flyer that tells it like it is, but we shrug at the actions of Miller, Mitchell, and hundreds of others, we won’t get real news. We’ll get warped public relations extravaganzas, stage-managed by those being reported about.

– Anita Bartholomew

July 1, 2009

Is it worth publishing? Then it’s worth paying for.

Kim Komando, in her cyber speak column, chirps about sites where you can “sell” your writing:

“A growing number of sites will help you turn your writing into cash. You don’t need to be a professional writer to use these sites, but your writing skills should be above average.”

She then goes on to detail the sites she has in mind and points out that aspiring writers are paid about 50 cents at one of the sites, about $1 at another. No, that isn’t per word. These sites pay 50 cents for an entire article.

Why on earth would Komando promote “selling” your work for so little money, it won’t even buy you a Hershey’s bar?

Surely, she’d be insulted if someone offered her just 50 cents to write her USA Today column.

And you should feel insulted, too, when you read about sites that want you to provide your writing so cheaply, you might as well write for free.

Even if you’re an aspiring writer with no credits, you deserve more. If your work is publishable, it’s worth paying for at the going rate.

This is exploitation. Period. And Komando should know better than to promote the exploitation of other writers.

Apparently, though, she doesn’t know better — nor even, what she’s writing about. She includes Scribd in her list.

Scribd is a site where traditional and self-publishers can sell copies of their electronic documents and ebooks. In other words, it operates much like the Kindle store. There’s a big difference between selling copies of your work to consumers for $1 or more per copy, and giving away the rights to someone else to profit from your writing for $1, total.

Someone, please enlighten Komando.

– Anita Bartholomew

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