Wednesday, February 09, 2011


By Liza Frenette

I feel so strongly about this subject there is a burn in my stomach! Would a carpenter regularly build houses for free just for the...exposure?

Would a chef prepare meals for years without pay while the restaurant makes money -- just so people can get to know the chef's work?

Why do artists swallow the belief that their work is not income-worthy?

That their time is not worth money?

That financial success does not go along with being a real artist?

Who first said that it was okay to ask artists (writers, photographers, painters, sculptors) to create for free while others make money?

Would you ask a financial planner to put together a plan for you that would save you money and improve your investments, but expect that planner to do the work for free -- just so YOU could earn money?

I once was asked by a newspaper editor to write a column on a particular subject that would have required a fair amount of research and interviews. I was flattered that the editor valued my opinion and my writing; that they had called me.

At the end of the conversation, I asked the question that has, for some reason

become almost taboo in this business:

What does it pay? There was a long pause,

then the editor said he could pay me $30 per column.

"But you'd be getting exposure," he said.

This was in the 1990s. $30, he had said. I thought surely I was not

hearing him correctly. At this time, a teensy classified ad in that

newspaper cost $25; one that took up about a quarter of an inch. My

column would have been about 500 words.

I didn't need exposure. I needed to feed my daughter. I needed to pay my rent.

I needed work where my worth was valued.

I declined the job. It was not okay with me. At all. It was insulting.

Another time I wrote a magazine article that turned out to be a SIX-page spread (with photos) in the magazine. It involved countless hours of travel, research, interviews; far more than I had been lead to believe when I accepted the assignment. I was paid $300.

I was supposed to be thrilled because I was getting "exposure." I was livid. I was, at that time, beyond broke. I was so broke that when I was asked by the editor, one more time, to make another trip for the article, I didn't have money for gas and tolls.

I was paid $300 and the magazine filled six pages with my work. Meanwhile, a tiny ad they sold in that same issue cost $250.

I never wrote for them again, though many others still do.

If I want to volunteer my time as a writer and author for a fundraising project, I will make that choice.

But don't expect me to write for free so you and/or your business can make money!

We all deserve fair wages. Not just the sellers and the ones who sit in the big swivel chairs.

Yes, we all deserve fair wages.

And here we are:

Artists. Writers. Poets.

Those who pick the beans for the expensive coffee at trendy coffee shops.

Adjuncts! They teach students who pay the same tuition whether they are being taught by adjuncts paid a paltry salary (usually without any benefits) or by a professor.

Day care workers. (Yes, the ones taking care of your children!)

Home health aids. (Yes, the ones taking care of your parents!)

This AOL takeover is just one more example of a company taking advantage of workers -- while making huge profits.

Liza Frenette is an Albany, New York-based journalist who writes feature stories and articles raising awareness about issues in education, health and safety, labor, union issues and literacy. Frenette was recently honored with the Mary Heaton Vorse award for humanitarian writing from the Metro Labor Communications Council in New York City. The award, named for an activist and writer, honored a feature story on how a school and community creatively responded to the abject poverty of some of its students. Frenette is also the author of three children's books, "Soft Shoulders," "Dangerous Falls Ahead," and "Dead End."


Kellie M. said...

Well said, Liza, thank you. As a visual artist I have trouble getting this point across to people, now i will use your article to do so!

david seth michaels said...

Yes!!!! Yes!!!!! Yes!!!!

I am so very happy that I am not alone in being enraged by the AOL-HufflePuffle news.

Thank you for writing this and being so clear about it.

PammyDesign said...

I totally agree with you but find your font variation very difficult to read.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Thank you so much for posting this. I am an intetior designer & I can't tell you how many times I had clients nickle & dime me or expect me to work for free.