Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Read Now, Pay Later...

Brother Can You Spare A Dime?Image by Doug Greenberg via Flickr
Time was when magazine journalists fretted about "bingo" or "idiot" subscription cards falling out of magazines and annoying subscribers when readers opened the periodical to peruse their painstakingly detailed articles.

Nowadays, magazine writers  are more concerned about finding a forum for their lengthy works and getting paid for their efforts. "The News Frontier" Jan. 11 column featured on the Web site of  the Columbia Journalism Review offers a prime example, or a cautionary tale, depending on your viewpoint, of this phenomenon, in the case of "Finding Dolly Freed," written by award-winning author Paige Williams, currently executive editor of Boston magazine.

Freed achieved notoriety in 1978 when she published Possum Living: How to live well without a job and with almost no money, a "how-to" guide that tracked the lifestyle she and her father lived in rural Pennsylvania. Freed dropped out of the public eye following multiple tv appearances and an award-winning documentary about her.  The re-issuance of her book caught the attention of Williams, a former Nieman fellow and National Magazine Award winner, which resulted in a 6,000-word profile of Freed and her philosophy. Williams flew to Houston to meet with her subject in preparing the piece.

Here's the rub: despite her pedigree, Williams was rejected by one publication after another, including The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and Texas Monthly, which led to her self-publishing the piece on a Web site created for her, paige-williams.com, that archives other articles of hers as well.

Visitors to the Web site will find the following message in a sidebar to the article: "Finding Dolly Freed" is a piece of independent journalism that cost more than $2,000 to produce. To help the writer recoup her expenses and perhaps bank a small paycheck, please click here and pay whatever amount you'd like. Think of it as Radiohead journalism! Thank you in advance." Visitors so inclined are then led to a Pay Pal page.  Thus far, she has drawn 3,000 unique visitors, but received contributions from 34 readers totaling $423.

Makes it easier to understand why journalists ranked 184 on the list of the 200 worst jobs (see "TUOL" post 1/7/10). Incidentally, the devoted "TUOL" staff won't receive a plugged nickel for this post or any other illuminating tidbit, but that discussion is for another day, dear readers.

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