Posted on | March 5, 2013 | 20 Comments
Olga Khazan, global editor of The Atlantic, was a junior in high school on April 3, 2003. You may not recognize the significance of that date, even if you’re a longtime Atlantic reader. Evidently Ms. Khazan didn’t either, nor did she recognize the name Nate Thayer when she saw his byline on a story at NKNews.org about Dennis Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” trip to North Korea.
Stick with me here, folks. This may seem tedious or trivial, but there’s a surprise ending that would make Paul Harvey smile.
Monday, Ms. Khazan e-mailed the edtor of NKNews, desiring Thayer’s contact information to solicit a similar piece from him:
Hi there — I’m the global editor for the Atlantic, and I’m trying to reach Nate Thayer to see if he’d be interested in repurposing his recent basketball diplomacy post on our site.
Could someone connect me with him, please?
The editor made the connection, and a phone conversation ensued in which, Thayer says, “no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her,” which he did:
Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.
Thayer received a brutal shock in Ms. Khazan’s reply:
Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.
Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!
Nate Thayer, a veteran professional journalist of substantial reputation, was insulted by this request that he write for free — merely for the glory of reaching those 13 million online readers — and a rather angry e-mail colloquy ensued between the insulted writer and the young woman who had insulted him.
Ms. Khazan, quite clueless about the man she was dealing with, tried to placate him and assure him how valuable the Atlantic‘s “platform” was to freelancers: “I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100. I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork.”
Finally, with the sort of diplomatic courtesy that requires gritted teeth and steely nerves, Thayer sliced the impudent whelp:
Hi Olga: No offense taken and no worries. I am sure you are aware of the changing, deteriorating condition of our profession and the difficulty for serious journalists to make a living through their work resulting in the decline of the quality of news in general. Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition. The then editor, Michael Kelly, was killed while we were both in Iraq, and we both, as it were, moved on to different places. I don’t have a problem with exposure but I do with paying my bills.
Oh, wait . . .
And now you know . . . the rest of the story!
This situation is, alas, partly enabled by people such as myself who have a day job studying and writing about public policy and are all to happy to publish their work gratis. It’s how we get our work out there.
And that’s why almost everyone writing short pieces for The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, National Interest, and other sites that publish foreign affairs commentary on a daily basis are professional academics, think tankers, or regularly employed journalists.
Exactly. One notices that arguably the most successful of conservative bloggers, Professor Glenn Reynolds, hasn’t quit his day job at the University of Tennessee Law School. Of course, the real money is in writing P.R. for authoritarian regimes . . .