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Writing for free 1

Recently I was invited to write a column for a local newspaper. This excited me no end. I daydreamed about it day and night, thinking of titles, topics, and photos to include. The publishers wanted the column to have lots of photos, so this to me was a great opportunity to inflict my visual anthropologeek self on an audience in a more structured way than this blog.

In moments of insecurity, I wondered whether I could manage to squeeze out a column a week. I can't even be as regular as I'd like to be on this blog, and I have a dissertation that I've been neglecting for ummm, er, months! I'm more used to writing articles on intermittent waves of inspiration. So it would be good practice for me to work "under the discipline of a weekly deadline". I felt a rush of excitement when a columnist for a national paper told me that writing an article a week taught him to write fast and to sieze every column topic that came his way.

In my practical moments I asked myself whether, really, I had time for another commitment? Shouldn't I just concentrate on finishing my dissertation before jumping at the next exciting thing to do? And besides, I already had (have) too much on my plate: Motherhood, the new teaching post, the Baguio Writers Group, the Baguio Market Citizens, the diss, the diss, and the diss!

In my more vainglorious moments (haha!), I pondered the kind of response I might get from readers, and even imagined having "a following" which many columnists and established writers seem to enjoy. I thought of the column as a platform for my ideas about the Baguio market which I love no end, about the wonderful quirkiness of our city and her characters, about public art (and Baguio's lack of it), about the environment and how we interact with it, about the artsy-fartscene in Baguio, and maybe even about cooking!

As I planned for the column and discussed it with the publishers we eventually came to the question of remuneration. To my surprise, there was none for columnists, not even a pittance.

I didn't know -- still don't know -- what to make of this. So I took a small poll by sms among my friends who write for either spiritual or practical sustenance (impractical as the latter may seem), or both.

The question I asked was: How would you respond to an invitation to write a weekly column for a local newspaper, without remuneration?

Two of my friends said they would be happy to do so. One said he already does. One said why not, the pay would be low anyway.

The others, who also asked not to be named, had these thoughts on it:

"Value must always be put on work, especially intellectual work. Even if columnist a zillionaire, effort must be compensated. Unless it's a not for profit paper."

"Ay! Di ah! Dapat professionalize journalism. Kahit minimal lang, dapat may bayad. Kung wala, that's when envelopmental journalism begins! And you may quote me on that!" -- quoth my friend Martin, recently published in Book: the Sequel.

"If I was 20 years younger I would. But I'm not and have to conserve energy, so I won't. Besides, that's a big commitment. There should at least be honorarium, or what I call taxi money."

"I think it depends on the restrictions. It could be interesting to write if one had free reign over choosing of subject matter and the way it's presented. I also think that it's rarely the case when writing for a paper though, so my answer would have to be no. I always say 'value for value' even if it's not monetary compensation. If you're getting something out of the experience, it's still good but probably not the most ideal thing."

"I've always believed that writers should be treated professionally therefore she should be compensated. But I respect one's own decision if she prefers to volunteer her services."

And the last two I keep turning over and over in my head, because they both make very strong points and they both ring true for me.

"That kind of attitude belies rationale of paper existing for much loftier and nobler goals and reveals the true motive for being. We all know that their gains come greatly from ads and legal notices but using writers to provide fillers for spaces not consumed by paying clients is inexcusable. They should cut the hypocrisy, just fold up instead of taking umbrage in 'service to the community and public.' Papers, to be relevant at all, need writers."

Tarush! I love it!

"Not me, I'm doing it already... They used to pay when I was in staff. When I resigned they gave retirement. I can give column when able. No need to be paid. It's an opportunity to keep dialogue with public."

Trulily -- from some one who has been writing a column for decades! I love this too!

So now what?

NEXT in Writing for free 2: On the Baguio Writers Group and our "professionalize writing and writers" policy, on conversations with friends on how we earn our keep and how we value our own work.

Writing for free 3: My decision.


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