April 06, 2008

The Silent Killer: Death by Blogging

THE NEW YORK TIMES has published an article that suggests all is not well in the blogging world. According to the Paper of Record, some professional bloggers are working under sweatshop style conditions, being forced to toil for the modern equivalent of piece work, and suffering accordingly. Even worse, a couple bloggers have actually died -- a result, the paper suggests, of their blog-centered lives.

I would be more sympathetic to the Times story if I did not happen to know professional conditions for young journalists just starting out are not particularly lucrative. For instance, I was talking with a relative some time ago when she told me a young man she knew had just started out working on a weekly newspaper, located back in the Midwest. She told me all about his job and what he was supposed to do, and etc., and my reaction to this was: "Eighteen thousand?" Although the young man made more than that per year, it was not much more than that, and he was certainly expected to work hard for that money. (My relative, however, was appalled at how close I was to guessing the kid's pay).

Of course, once you get into the higher echelons of the field, you can and do make more -- in many cases, considerably more. For instance, at the New York Times, reporters' top minimum salaries are about $87,000 per annum. But starting out at the very bottom rung -- challenging in many fields -- is particularly challenging in journalism. It's simply a supply and demand function. A lot of people want to write, and there aren't that many jobs, so the pay is lower. This dynamic continues as you go higher in the field, but since the skills and experience required for those higher-level jobs are more demanding, it reduces the supply of available workers, who can thus demand higher wages for their services. Somehow, I'm guessing things are the same in the professional blogging world.

So for the Times to suggest that bloggers are working in some sweatshop-style environment is a bit much, because neither bloggers nor journalists do so. When you're a professional, you work hard, and when you're just starting out, you work hard for not that much money. It is the way of things.

Also, to be perfectly blunt about it, a journalist's life (or a professional blogger's life) is not equivalent to that of, you know, a hod carrier, or a breakfast waitress, or those of myriad other people who work very hard in physically demanding jobs for not all that much money. A journalist gets to talk with people and write about it. A professional blogger does much the same, and due to the nature of blogging gets to have more fun with his work. It's not like they're putting up drywall for a living. This helps explain why lots of people want to write for a living -- it is fun work and they enjoy it. It's not as if the professional bloggers -- or the professional journalists, for that matter -- are slaving away cooking bricks in an oven.

I would argue that for the vast majority of bloggers, blogging is -- dare I say it -- fun. For me, at any rate, blogging is a great stress reliever -- I get to write about things in which I'm interested, crack a few jokes here and there, and talk with other people about them. I don't make any money at it, and in fact, lose $71.40 per year to engage in my hobby. For me, it also carries the benefit of being able to improve my skill set -- the faster I can write and the better I can write, the better it is for me.

Could I make money at this? Well, perhaps. Certainly one of the reasons I blog is to have something I could monetize in the very unlikely event I find myself made redundant. But since at this point blogging for cash would require me to turn over about 40 percent of my profits to the Government, and could also open up a can of worms I don't want to open, I've elected to keep the non-profit model. I'm perfectly fine with that.

But I would imagine that nearly all the bloggers who are paid for their work don't rely on it for their full-time income -- and most of the top bloggers out there still keep their day jobs. Rather, they find themselves in the enviable position of being able to make money through a hobby -- and so I doubt the circumstances described in the Times' story would apply to them.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 6, 2008 01:34 PM | TrackBack
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