Terrible wage growth for writers

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

The first 70 years of the 20th Century saw big wage gains for almost all groups. But since then, things have gone downhill, and the era of the Internet has been an especial disaster. Writers have never been well paid, but their activity is a social and political necessity. At some point the government will have to subsidize this. This is the wrong way to handle an essential service:

My second internship was a much better experience, and I think it boiled down to being taken seriously by the people I worked with. It was at a print magazine, and I felt like they were teaching me things and giving me responsibilities instead of just dumping whatever crap someone else didn’t want to do. Even though I was still doing the job for free, the staff made me feel like one of them. Also, it was a bit more established, and most of the editors were older. I’m not sure if that made a difference in my outlook, but maybe it did. Most importantly, I got to do some writing and reporting, and build relationships with the people there.

Somewhat ironically, it was actually one of my under-the-table transcribing gigs that led to my first magazine job. I was doing transcripts for a writer and she put me in touch with someone for an editorial assistant position. I started at $15 an hour and no benefits or job security. But I was getting paid, and for that I was so grateful. I remember not wanting to go to the bathroom in case I lost that job. I was like, “I’m staying in this fucking seat.” Then I got a salaried position, which improved things so much. I still wasn’t secure financially, but at least I wasn’t so desperate and terrified. For about five years, I made $30,000 annually, and supplemented it with other writing assignments. I tried to pay back my student loans, but I wound up defaulting, so my credit is shot. I did get a promotion last year, though, which helped.

When you’ve been taught that your work isn’t worth money, you do internalize it. I watched a lot of my friends from journalism school, most of whom were the real 26 that I was pretending to be, write for free well into their careers. Often it was the case that the publication could pay so little that it was like, why bother asking? But it’s also a mind-set. I haven’t put as much energy and time into the writing I want to be doing because I have to focus on what pays. At the same time, it’s hard to reconcile it, because I do like my job and I’ve chosen my lifestyle for a reason; I get to do interesting work with interesting people, and I love New York even though it’s so expensive.The other day I was thinking quite seriously about taking a part-time job in retail. If I had about $400 extra a month, I could stop worrying about money so much.

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