Rick Reilly Is Correct: Write for Money

Don’t write for free

,” Rick Reilly, the millionaire sports columnist, told the class of 2011 at the University of Colorado’s journalism school. (It was the last group of graduates before the J-school is disbanded.) Reilly said:

Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride!

The journalism world

got all flappy

about this, according to Romenesko. ”


,” NBC Sports baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra wrote. “Really, really


bad advice

,” wrote Jason Fry, a former Wall Street Journal staffer turned freelancer and consultant.

This is a changing world, the counter-advice goes. Get experience writing things on your own blog. Take unpaid work to get exposure. The 21st century rewards the bold.

Calcaterra wrote:

most people do have to either take unpaid internships or blog and otherwise hustle to make it in the media these days. Advice that says “NEVER DO THAT!” is useless, because most of those graduates will be asked to do it. 


And now, a word from the philosopher and career expert

Ol’ Dirty Bastard


Who the FUCK wanna be an M.C. / If you can’t get PAAAID / To be a fuckin’ M.C.?


Or, if you prefer,

Samuel Johnson


No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

In practice, Johnson spent a lot of time bogged down in badly funded startups, and he was frequently broke. If it were easy to get paid, he wouldn’t have bothered saying anything. That’s why that particular piece of advice has survived 200-some years.

A graduation speech is not the time to talk about practice. It’s certainly not the time to talk about practice as if it were principle. Plenty of people will be encouraging the new graduates to write for no money.


So: write a personal blog for free? Sure. Blogging is just the streamlined version of starting a magazine. When the J-schoolers were in kindergarten, people made their blogs at Kinko’s and called them “zines.”


But self-publishing a blog should never be conflated with an unpaid internship. Unpaid internships are for chumps. They are a disgusting scam that ensures that the pipeline into the industry is clogged with wealthy college kids. There was a time in living memory when media companies paid for entry-level labor—some

still do pay

, even now—so the people who are offering you the chance to work for free are actually aware that they are ripping you off.

Meanwhile, the Media Industries Project at U.C.-Santa Barbara just

polled unpaid Huffington Post bloggers

about how they feel about their work:

Ninety-six percent of those surveyed believe that their postings are equal to or more valuable than contributions made by paid editors and curators at HuffPo.
Sixty-nine percent believe bloggers should share in the $315 million payday.
A majority (54%) say HuffPo should develop a flat-rate payment schedule for contributors (based on words per post, for example).
Most respondents (54%) say HuffPo bloggers should press their case through some form of concerted action, such as online organizing or unionization.


Writing for free is not an awesome new paradigm. It is a crappy option that can seem passable in a world where most of the options are crappy. Don’t celebrate it.

Every writer needs a little voice—no, a big voice—asking the same thing, over and over:

are you getting paid? Why aren’t you getting paid?

Yes, sometimes there are opportunities to write great things for lousy or nonexistent pay. Sometimes, you really

believe in a publication

or a project before the market gets around to sharing that belief.

Writers will write for free. But whenever you write for free, or for below market rate, you should picture Samuel Johnson stooping over and scrawling BLOCKHEAD on your computer screen. You should hear Ol’ Dirty Bastard (right here, at the

1:08 mark

). Let Ol’ Dirty Bastard be your conscience. Work for money.