Monday, September 25, 2006

A rant against the Star (but not written by me)

Below is an e-mail from Paul Lima, vice president of the Periodical Writers’ Association of Canada’s Toronto branch, contrasting the Toronto Star’s sponsorship of yesterday’s Word on the Street festival with how the Star treats its freelancers.

Always a tough go, freelance magazine writing has become an even grimmer business (if you can call it a business) in recent years, thanks to tightening editorial budgets and the demand for shorter pieces. How can you help? Pay attention to bylines (that’s the technical term for the writer’s name on the story). If you find a magazine you like, drop them an e-mail and let them know. Buy a subscription. If a writer you like puts out a book – buy it. Here’s Paul’s rant:

RUMINATIONS ON Word on the Street

Another Word on the Street has come and gone, and once again I feel elated and humbled. And just a tad cheesed off.

Why elated? WOTS draws 150,000 people. And they are all there for one reason. They like to (love to) read.

I write. They read. We write. They read.

You just have to feel elated to see so many people in one place because they like, admire, appreciate what you do. (And many of them even aspire to do likewise, which is pretty cool too.)

Heck, even if 99.9+% of them have never ever read a word that I have written, it's still wonderful to see all these readers gathered in one place at one time. It is also humbling. It's like, oh my gosh, people actually read.

For some of them, gauging by their enthusiasm for the written word, the need to read comes right after the need to eat and sleep.

Think about it. Somebody out there might laugh, cry, get angry, take a stance, change his or her mind, or act... based on... words. The written word. Maybe even words written by me. Or you. Truly humbling.

It makes me get the meaning of "In the beginning was the Word." Words are powerful tools. Or weapons. And we wield them. That
responsibility is humbling.

So why cheesed off?

Well, WOTS is sponsored by The Toronto Star, Canada's great liberal paper. And The Star (admittedly, like so many other newspapers and magazines) treats its freelance writers like crap, relegating us (them; I no longer write for The Star) to the bottom of the monetary food chain. It's as if The Star (and other publications) resents the fact that we even dare to want to be fairly compensated for our words. They want to keep our rates down (when was the last time a publication offered you a raise?*), and pay nothing for additional rights - electronic rights, in particular.

A buck a word was the holy grail of freelance writers in the 1960's. And guess what? Almost without exception, that is still the case today. (And The Star pays nowhere near that.) Is it any wonder that so many periodical writers are leaving periodical writing and looking to crack the corporate market?

I find the stance taken by The Toronto Star particularly galling because it is Canada's great liberal paper -- looking out for the little guy, and all that, all based on the Atkinson Principles ( that guide its editorial policy. But I guess when it comes to the bottom line, The Star is nothing more than just another voracious corporation hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to enhance shareholder value -- guiding principles be damned.

But let me conclude by saying this: I sure as heck don't let that cheesed off feeling ruin my day (let alone my week, month, year or life). When I am WOTS, I am mingling with readers (and writers). I feel elated and humbled. So much so that I worked a double shift at the PWAC booth, and stayed even longer. It's like I didn't want to go home and leave all those readers behind. But home I had to go, where a pile of corporate work awaits!

- Paul Lima
Freelance Writer
& VP Communications
PWAC Toronto
& NetWords Editor

[* Full disclosure: The Globe and Mail recently raised the rates it pays for Tech Quarterly articles. However, the gist of my assertion is, unfortunately, all too true.]


Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah. Welcome to the market economy. If you don't like the rates, then you, too, have choices. You can become a welder. You can organize the freelance writers to stop writing. You can stop buying the TO Star. Whatever.

You choose to write for a living? Well, then the TO Star can choose to pay you whatever the next writer of equal calibre is willing to accept.

Anonymous said...

to the poster that made the first comment... ahhh annother free market type going to college and living at home with the parents..

I hope your experience with the freemarket and the cheap backstabbers that run the RED STAR puts you on your knees in the future.

Anonymous said...

Going to school and living with my parents? Hardly. And when I did go to school I most certainly did not live with my parents. I chose to accumulate debt and pay it off later. Yes, I could have chosen otherwise, but I didn't. That's the beauty of our system. We can make choices.