I recently left KPFA-FM (Pacifica Radio) after eleven and a half years when I was told that, due to the need to make budget cuts, my hours as a news tech and general board op were to be cut from an already inadequate 11 hours a week (no benefits) to an unsustainable six. But I did not go quietly. I made a parting speech to the Pacifica National Board, which happened to be meeting in Berkeley two weeks later, in which I raised some pointed questions as to why this “progressive” radio station could no longer afford to keep me at what were barely quarter time hours.
I published the speech on my Facebook page and several other web sites. During the succeeding weeks, I further developed my thoughts into a longer essay that was published in Atlantic Free Press. Then, via Facebook, I discovered that the leftist magazine In These Times had an online blog for labor stories and it paid. (The other sites did not pay). I sent in the article, expressing hope that here would be some coin available, given the current situation. I heard back from an interested editor within 5 minutes. He said “this delves into one of the big dirty little secrets about progressive media, and I'm interested in running it, with coin involved.”
Unfortunately, he was about to leave for a week’s vacation, so he could not discuss the matter further, but he asked me to get back to him on Friday, August 20th. Later that day, it occurred to me that I should send another email telling the editor, as a matter of professional courtesy, that my commentary had been published by Atlantic Free Press and might be published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation, a Canadian website. CRG had published a long article by former Pacifica Executive Director Greg Guma, and he had quoted me, which had prompted me to respond. I had made a few minor changes in essay Guma had quoted from, so ITT had “the latest and best version”. (CRG never did publish my response to Guma).
When I contacted ITT again on August 25, I got the following reply. “Given that the whole thing is available here: http://www.atlanticfreepress.com/news/1/13595-pacifica-cutbacks-raise-questions-about-progressivism.html
I'm not so interested in it anymore, although the lower section is very interesting, and rarely said within the "progressive" world. Please do keep Working In These Times (and ITT in general) in mind for future pitches, though.”
In other words, he was saying that regardless of the interest level or importance of the information, if he couldn’t get it first, he didn’t want it at all. Furious at this editor’s shortsightedness, I immediately sent my rejoinder: “Just my opinion here, but I think everyone's emphasis on wanting to be the first and have exclusivity means that important stories and issues don't get the attention they need because they don't get repeated enough to engage the public mind. Advertisers say that things need to be repeated at least six times to get it into public consciousness.
Plus the fact that not everyone who reads Atlantic Free Press reads me (they had 353 writers when last I looked). And not all ITT readers read AFP. How do we raise public consciousness about an issue if we only mention it in one place? That is not how the Right gets its message across.”
I never got a reply.
Indeed, when the Right sinks its teeth into an issue, you hear it on all the talk shows. All of Fox Spews’ commentators bark about it. It becomes fodder for Tea Party rallies. The Right media presents a united front, saturating its air waves and its print organs with its message, which, no matter how outrageous, gets absorbed by the public consciousness (or is that unconsciousness?) by virtue of repetition. The Left media outlets, on the other hand, compete against each other to be “the first and only” and so the messages are not as powerfully and consistently presented.
Some outlets request exclusivity for 1 to 3 days, which means delay in spreading the message. That can be disastrous for the message in a world in which the news cycles a lot faster than it did twenty years ago. OpEd News, an excellent Left wing news portal to which I contribute, has the following notice on the bottom of its submission form.
“We submit articles to 400+ other websites and mailing lists. But we only guarantee we will submit articles that give OpEdNews at least a 48 hour exclusive from date of submission. How much of an exclusive (in hours) does this article have?”
Articles should be forwarded as quickly as possible, on based of their quality and importance of material, not on whether or not the forwarding publisher gets a period of exclusivity.
The Internet has changed the way we get news. Although it makes sense intuitively to have one place on the web for all of a journalist’s work (and it would certainly be easier for the journalist), the truth is that if you are not everywhere, you are not anywhere, especially if you are not a very famous name. A writer may have a strong web site, like Dave Lindorff’s This Can’t Be Happening, but he/or she also needs republication in as many places as possible to not get lost in the shuffle. As I told ITT, Atlantic Free Press has 353 writers and counting. After your piece falls off the front page, people don’t see it unless they are specifically looking for a certain type of article, such as a book review, or they are looking specifically for you. This is true, not only for AFP but for other “content aggregating” sites or “portals.”
We, as readers, tend to skim most sites, and jump ad-hoc from link to link. Given the links I have put in this article, you will probably do likewise. It’s a process that has some scientists looking into whether Internet use re-wires our brains. It makes me wonder if today’s journalism is feeding Attention Deficit Disorder.
With so many media outlets on the web these days, plus hundreds of specialized cable TV channels, competing for our ever-shrinking attention spans, exclusivity is folly for the journalist and for the message. And if a publisher cares about the message, it is folly for the publisher, too, because on how many messages will he or she get exclusivity? Better to be in the loop rather than out, eh?
Exclusivity is elitist; it is anti-democratic. And it is anathema to keeping the public well-informed, something that is desperately needed these days.
Another issue that’s related to exclusivity is journalist pay. This issue did not come up directly in my experience with ITT, but I had to wonder if the editor was in fact balking at paying for “old news.” All paying outlets should pay for work even if it is not an exclusive. Many people have cars of the same make, model year and color. Many people buy the same brand of jeans or soda. A shoe seller cannot stay in business by only selling one pair of shoes per style. But the freelancer is often stymied in making sustainable money by limitations on the resale of articles. I remember when I inquired with Womens eNews about writing for them and the first thing they tried to do was to saddle me with a two-year exclusivity agreement. And their practice then was not to show the contract to the writer until after the article had been accepted. I balked at that practice and a senior editor relented. After reading the contract, I declined to submit the article on the grounds that I did not believe in exclusivity. The editor wished me good luck in finding publishers who would not demand it.
If publishers want to offer a full-time job in exchange for exclusivity, that is one thing. But freelancers should not be forced to trade their much-needed flexibility for a sale. In a world where a writer is often paid on the basis of how many eyeballs he or she can bring to a web site, such limitation of exposure is indeed folly.