The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Atlantic Editor to Freelancer: ‘We Unfortunately Can’t Pay You for It …’

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 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?
Olga Khazan

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.
Nate Thayer

 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 . . .

April 3, 2003


And now you know . . . the rest of the story!



UPDATE: Jehuda the Rhetorican now has a new entry for his “Journalism Is Hard” category, and James Joyner explains why writing about policy and politics online pays peanuts:

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 . . .


20 Responses to “Atlantic Editor to Freelancer: ‘We Unfortunately Can’t Pay You for It …’”

  1. Roxeanne de Luca
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    What on earth is with these people who think that everyone can/should run around not getting paid for their labour? (Aren’t these also the same ones who want to increase the minimum wage?)

    It’s particularly bizarre to ask grown adults, established in their fields, to do it.

    Related to the post: what a bitch-slap.

  2. rmnixondeceased
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

    “Where’s My Free Shit” is the watch-phrase of this de-evolved generation. No appreciation for what has gone before nor reward for effort, this generation is destined for the dust-heap of history.

  3. Adjoran
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

    We knew The Atlantic was circling the porcelain drain when Andrew Sullivan took his Dirty Dishes and left for the rosier prospects of pay-per-view on the interwebs.

    Heck, the staff used to line the staircase and do “Jazz Hands” and assorted Broadway musical numbers as Sully descended in his outlandish costumes. Someone like that gives up something like that, you know the place is going to the dogs.

  4. ThomasD
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

    It would appear that a “Global Editor” at the Atlantic is roughly equivalent to the “Vice President” at your local bank.

  5. JeffWeimer
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

    Ms. Khazan, that type of arrangement only works for Ariana Huffington.

  6. Journalism is Hard: ‘You Get What You Pay For (or Don’t Pay For)’ edition. | The Rhetorican
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

    […] Journalism is Hard: ‘You Get What You Pay For (or Don’t Pay For)’ edition. […]

  7. JeffS
    March 5th, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

    Or “Vice President of the United States”, Joe Biden edition.

  8. gvanderleun
    March 5th, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    We note the ownership of the Atlantic by a Washington knob who has close to a billion dollars but still can’t get head from Obama and pass on.

  9. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 5th, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

    Even Marx (and authority the youngsters at the Atlantic should know) said: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

    And as RSM can attest: a poor journalist needs dough to cover keeping the KIA operating, bar bills, fuel (both food and gasoline), and cigarettes.

  10. JAMed171
    March 5th, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    A noob gets learned, an “old guy” fights ‘the man’, someone dies in the story, money is involved? Type it, wrap it, print it, sell it!

    Or… thanks for the story. It’s a funner one. Hey, this wouldn’t touch close to home, ever, would it? Why aren’t you guys running the media, anyway? Never mind…

  11. rmnixondeceased
    March 5th, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

    Reminds me of a song lyric:“Our best still don battle-dress …” When (ever?) has Global Editor Olga Khazan EVER exposed herself to any possible injury greater than a paper-cut or incipient Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Thus, her actual (and relative) unimportance in the world …

  12. bet0001970
    March 5th, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

    These are the same idiots who are “waiting for Woodward to die.” They aren’t journalists. They’re petulant children.

  13. Bob Belvedere
    March 5th, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with approaching an established, professional writer about doing some writing for no monetary recompense. However, you must – upfront [key action] – offer something in return to make it worth [key word] his time and effort. This gal has no clue about how to barter and, perhaps more importantly, how to be diplomatic. Another product of our public and private school systems.

  14. G Joubert
    March 5th, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

    Why it’s this way is basic economics. Really basic economics. Econ 101 stuff. Don’t even have to do or know math. How many journalists spent time in the economics department while in college, let alone majored in it?

  15. Bob Belvedere
    March 5th, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

    If they do spend time there, they’re taught Leftist economics.

  16. rmnixondeceased
    March 6th, 2013 @ 12:22 am

    Yep. Spending other people’s money …

  17. Da Tech Guy's Blog » Blog Archive » CPAC 2013: Donald Trump but not Pam Geller?
    March 6th, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    […] no Nate Thayer and you likely won’t find me in Iraq any­time soon but like him I’m try­ing to eek out […]

  18. Esau's Message
    March 6th, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    I don’t know what Glenn’s arrangements are with USA Today, FoxNews, the NY Post, and others who publish his work or what he earns from book sales, but I suspect he could quit UT law and capitalize his moonlighting gig into a decent income.

    Not that he would ever do that. Not much beats being a tenured professor, in an endowed chair.

  19. John Farrier
    March 6th, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

    Exactly. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get a freebie. Just anticipate getting turned down a lot.

  20. Ed Driscoll » ‘The State of Journalism in 2013′
    March 10th, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

    […] the whole thing, and then check out these two posts by Stacy McCain for both more of the backstory of this exchange, and more on the future […]