Wieseltier on the Journalistic Proletariat

Posted on  

"Wieseltier on the Journalistic Proletariat"

As a writer, I fundamentally would like to see writers paid more money. So in that sense I agree with Leon Wieseltier that it would be nice if writers were paid more money. But his whole article on that subject is nonsense from top to bottom.

To pick one thing I thought was particularly egregious:

Leave aside the question of the relation of blogging to writing, of posting to publishing. I wish to emphasize what the love songs omit: the economic and professional consequences of the cheap entropy of the web–its proletarianization of the writer. I wonder if people outside the besieged walls of the profession understand how little is earned with contributions to websites. The sums are scandalous.

Wieseltier works at a print magazine called The New Republic and he knows perfectly well that the researcher-reporters at The New Republic are paid less than entry level bloggers at, say, Think Progress. Indeed, they’re paid so little that The New Republic (a print magazine, I hasten to add) seems to have recently decided to relabel the salary as a “stipend” presumably because if the salary were a salary it would violate minimum wage laws. I don’t really understand how you could muster the lack of self-consciousness to be a top editor at that publication and then turn around and say that the sums “earned with contributions to websites” are “scandalous.”

Beyond that, I just don’t know what there really is to say on this issue. People are going to get paid what other people want to pay them. The New Republic exists because its owners are willing to subsidize a money-losing magazine. When they become less willing to subsidize losses, there need to be cutbacks. And it’s been a money-losing magazine forever, just as The Atlantic has. On the internet you have some sites (like the ThinkProgress family) that are supported by donors, and others that are supported by ad revenue. The staff gets paid what they get paid—in a nonprofit context it’s determined by donors’ willingness to support things, and in a for-profit context it’s determined by the volume of ad revenue that comes in. I don’t really know what whining is supposed to accomplish.

I assume everyone in the business wishes they could get a Wieseltierian setup and have a rich friend purchase an existing magazine with a good reputation and then let them run a hefty slice of it for decades. I wish someone would do that for me! But if wishes were ponies then beggars would ride. The rest of us are, I think, going to try to do a good job and attract an audience and work in an up-to-date medium.

« »

By clicking and submitting a comment I acknowledge the ThinkProgress Privacy Policy and agree to the ThinkProgress Terms of Use. I understand that my comments are also being governed by Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies as applicable, which can be found here.