Should You Ever Write For Free?

“Don’t write for free” is very easy to say when you already have national bylines

If you were on Twitter on Monday night, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d found yourself in the midst of WWIII. My timeline was full of professional journalists with national bylines quote-tweeting teenagers and twenty-somethings, telling them by offering or taking unpaid writing and editing jobs they were being harmful and selfish.

I toyed with whether or not I should talk about writing for free in this week’s newsletter, because I already summarised my thoughts in a thread that gives the Iliad a run for its money.

Not only did I write for free when I was starting out, but I now run The Indiependent — a publication that offers unpaid writing and editorial experience to budding journalists from around the world. I’m proactively trying to monetise the site so that we can establish commissioning budgets and compensate editors for their time. But in the meantime, I still think we offer value to upcoming journalists: we function as a communal portfolio site where new writers are taught i) how to pitch ii) how to write to a house style and iii) given extensive notes on how to improve their writing. The brilliant, brilliant editors are super nice: they reply to all emails, even if it’s to say ‘no’, and they realise that everyone has to start somewhere.

Certainly in the early stages of your career, I think there is a lot more value in being ‘kindly’ edited than there is receiving an insubstantial sum of money for your work.

At the same time, I know that there are still a tremendous number of access problems in journalism. But I believe the change needs to come from the top down, and that until those changes are made, spaces like The Indiependent are a vital resource for young people to get writing experience (especially if those individuals haven’t gone to university and might not have student publications as an option).

The only reason I’m reigniting the ‘Should you write for free?’ debate here is to say that although the journalism industry can often seem like a hostile sector to try and enter — especially if you’re not white or middle class — there are a great number of brilliant organisations and individuals committed to improving the situation.

PressPad is one such organisation: they are a social enterprise that matches aspiring journos with affordable and subsidised accommodation from fellow journos to improve media diversity when undertaking internships and work experience.

As well as organisations like PressPad, there are a great number of individual editors and journalists who are willing to provide advice, support and guidance to early-career stage writers.

Since posting my original Twitter thread about unpaid writing work, I have been humbled by the number of people who reached out to show their support for The Indiependent. Many of them are journalists or editors who I have admired from afar for years, thinking that one day I would like to be like them.

There are some truly lovely people who work in this industry, and we should focus on these individuals rather than the negative Nancies who frame journalism as an elite club that only a fortunate few can join. Long story short: be nice. Kindness costs absolutely nothing at all.

My week

… in editing

You know how they say if you love something let it go? Yeah, well, I let someone else review Taylor Swift’s surprise album ‘evermore’ for The Indiependent rather than doing it myself. It’s a great record, and it’s a great review, too.

… in writing

Pitches: 1

It was a time-sensitive pitch about Matt Hancock pretend crying on TV that didn’t stick — I got the editor’s out-of-office and then when I emailed his colleague I spelt his name wrong. Epic fail 🤦‍♀️ (I immediately apologised, but like, I don’t blame him for not responding. I wouldn’t reply either…)

Commissions: 2 (£80 for 850 words and £40 for 2,000 words)

One was off the back of a pitch that I sent last week, the second commission was from someone who reached out to me directly off the back of a Twitter exchange.

Articles written: 3

Articles published: 2

I wrote a small news piece about the surprise Taylor album. I also wrote this opinion piece for The Indiependent: ‘ Women are shouldering unpaid domestic work: we can’t let COVID-19 erode feminist progress ‘.

… in listening/watching

I went to another of Terri White’s incredible FREE masterclasses this week — this time with Scarlett Russell (Entertainment Editor, The Sunday Times’ Style). I found it fascinating to learn about the complex relationship management that goes into the profiles and interviews you read in your favourite magazines and papers. A salient takeaway was: “ Never lie — even if you’re being lied to!”

I’ve been listening to the podcast ‘Views Our Own’ by Sophie Kiderlin and Mischa Alexander — it’s a young journalism podcast discussing all aspects of the media industry.

… in reading

Originally published at

The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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