by MIA FREEDMAN
The email arrived while I was in the middle of responding to some fairly hostile questioning on Twitter about Mamamia’s contributors and why we don’t pay them.
It was from a wonderful professional writer, who I know quite well and she was furious with Brian McFadden who has made some comments about women who stay with abusive men. He labelled them ‘pathetic’.
The writer was livid and passionately wanted to speak out, from the point of view of a woman who had been abused and who had chosen – for years – to stay with her partner. She wanted to tell her story, explain her reasons and push back against the ‘pathetic’ label. We have published her moving post on Mamamia today.
So when I’m asked on Twitter about our contributors and why people would want to give Mamamia their written work without financial compensation – 140 characters isn’t quite enough room to respond. The issue is a little bit more complex than that.
People want to write original pieces for Mamamia or have their existing work re-published by us, for many different reasons. We receive hundreds of unsolicited contributions each week, from bloggers, from working journalists, from politicians, from TV and radio personalities, from ordinary women – and some men - who have a story that they want to share.
Sometimes, we approach writers or bloggers because we have seen their work published elsewhere and we think that it is something Mamamia readers would enjoy or find interesting. We ask the writer if we can republish their work and 99% of the time they say yes and are thrilled with the additional exposure. Occasionally, they say no, which is perfectly fine.
We employ 4 full-time writers on Mamamia and 2 part-time writers. We have 2 full-time writers on iVillage.
Some in the Twittersphere would have you believe that these writers live in cages on under my desk and when they get cold in winter, I set fire to a pile of $100 notes so their fingers thaw out enough to keep typing. What can I say, it’s just good business. Keeps them mean and hungry, which is how journalists should be.
But in all seriousness, this great team of people create 70% of the content that you see on our website. And of course they are paid for the work they do. They work incredibly hard, and they are enormously valued – just like our contributors are also valued.
We also have a hardworking team of around a dozen interns. These devastatingly bright young women are university students – mostly studying journalism or media – who volunteer their time in an equitable exchange for the opportunity to work with professional editors, gain valuable online experience and have their work published on Australia’s leading independent lifestyle websites.
I am not saying money is irrelevant. It would be disengenous to suggest that Mamamia is a charity or that we only do it for the greater good of humanity. While we love what we do and are passionate about making a positive difference in the world and entertaining and informing our readers – of course we have a business model.
And yes, we are able to sell advertising space on our website in order to generate revenue. That revenue allows us to employ around 30 people, including the on-staff journalists I mentioned above.
Our other contributors – those who aren’t employed by Mamamia – provide us with their work on a voluntary basis.
This is not unusual.
The reality is that the vast amount of the written work you read on the internet is unpaid. Whether it’s on a huge national opinion site like News Ltd’s The Punch or the vast majority of independent blogs that you read, there are very few websites who pay for opinion and first-person writing.
Some insist that every contributor who appears on a site such as Mamamia or The Punch should be financially compensated. The missing piece of the reality puzzle is this:as a consumer, would you be prepared to pay for every piece of writing you read on the Internet? The 70+ posts we publish each week across Mamamia and ivillage – and the thousands and thousands of archived posts that live on our sites are available to you, our readers, for free.
So until someone can make pay walls or subscription models work for them – that makes paying external writers for their work pretty difficult.
But it’s not just online where these issues occur. The same is true of print media. I have written many unpaid op-eds for Fairfax and I believe News Ltd operates the same way. Over the years, I have often been asked to write or do other work for free. Including by The Walkley magazine which does not pay journalists for their contributions (this was indeed the case when I was approached, that may have changed).
When these requests are made, just like anyone else, I have to consider the value proposition that has been put to me. Is it worth it for me to be involved? Is the benefit I will receive (monetary or otherwise) worth it for the time and effort and creativity that goes into my writing?
This is the same for our contributors.
Nobody is forced or coerced to write for a website.
Over the years Mamamia has grown from a small living room blog to a website that reaches hundreds and thousands of Australian women each month. That is not a small audience. That kind of exposure is valuable. And valuable for many different reasons.
What are some of those reasons? Well, sometimes it’s an author who wants to promote their new book, or a mother who has lost a child and thinks sharing her story might help others in the same position. Sometimes it’s a social justice campaigner who wants to draw attention to an issue they are passionate about, or a politician who wants the opportunity to help people better understand their policy position. Sometimes it’s a young wannabe-journalist who wants to get their name out there, or a blogger who wants to boost their own website’s profile.
Now this value proposition isn’t going to add up for some people. And that is totally and completely fine.
It’s a free market and there are different exchange propositions on offer for people who have a story to tell. Ours is one of them. But we are not going to apologise for offering literally hundreds of previously unpublished writers the chance to share their work with our large and influential audience.
As a direct result, many of those contributors have gone on to land new opportunities – paid gigs, book deals, columns, big jobs, different careers based on the exposure they’ve received on Mamamia. We’re incredibly proud of their success and excited that we got to play a part in making it happen.