We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month

Thursday, 7 March, 2013

“Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!”

So writes Olga Khazan, the Global Editor of The Atlantic, to Nate Thayer, journalist. Their exchange is documented by Thayer on his blog at A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist — 2013. Backstory: Khazan had read Thayer’s 4,300-word story for North Korea News about “basketball diplomacy”, and she was thinking of running a shorter version of the piece in The Atlantic. What makes Khazan’s offer of zero so shocking is that there was a time, and not so long ago, either, when The Atlantic was offering Thayer $125,000 to write six articles a year for the magazine.

In a damage-limitation action, James Bennet, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, wrote about the Thayer incident saying “We’re sorry we offended him,” and Alexis C. Madrigal joined the debate with A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013, which clarifies the “reality” of the situation from The Atlantic perspective. Bottom line: “Anyway, the biz ain’t what it used to be, but then again, for most people, it never really was. And, to you Mr. Thayer, all I can say is I wish I had a better answer.”

There are no satisfactory answers anymore. As The Irish Examiner has just discovered, the old media model is broken and the rough contours of the new one are only now taking shape. Felix Salmon of Reuters put it best when he noted: “Digital journalism isn’t really about writing, any more — not in the manner that freelance print journalists understand it, anyway. Instead, it’s more about reading, and aggregating, and working in teams; doing all the work that used to happen in old print-magazine offices, but doing it on a vastly compressed timescale.”

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