Tom Hodgkinson: 'Respect don't pay the rent'

Share
Related Topics

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, as my mother never tires of reminding me, journalism was a very well-paid job. My parents started with nothing and ended up with boys at private school, a Morgan in the drive, and a Georgian house in Richmond, all thanks to the Sunday People, the Daily Mail, The Sun and the other papers they toiled for.

Naively, my brother and I followed our parents down the journalistic route, but the money's simply not there any more, and certainly not for the impecunious freelancer. Non-hacks are often amazed when I reveal the pittance I earn. Not that I'm complaining, of course: I've made my own bed, and what's more I know how lucky I am to have this particular column on this wonderful newspaper.

I remember being tempted, when I was starting out as a journalist, to offer to write for less than the going rate. But I never managed this because that sort of practice was strictly frowned upon at the time – the reason being that such undercutting would undermine the whole system. Even though the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) had lost much of its power by that point, remnants of a guild-style approach survived.

The guild was a medieval invention; it was a brotherhood of craftsmen, and one of the principles they held dear was the just and fixed price. There was to be no undercutting because this would damage the livelihood of your fellow linen-dyer or stonemason or apothecary.

No such brotherly feelings remain today. Not only have freelance rates tumbled over the past few years – as in other so-called "creative" industries – but a tribe of bigmouths called "bloggers" has appeared on my particular patch. That memorable Grub Street toiler Dr Johnson once said: "No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," and he was right: the problem is that the blockheads have taken over.

In the old days, journalism was a craft that had to be studied. There are some excellent blogs out there, to be sure. The problem is that any idiot can call themselves a blogger and start pouring rubbish into the ether. There are no editors to weed out the dross.

The avatars of this "write for free, it might lead to paid work" system tend to make sure they themselves get paid. One such would be the Greek-born, Cambridge-educated Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, the US news website which recently launched over here. She built a huge business by using the work of 8,000 unpaid bloggers who were desperate to get their names out there for the "prestige". In February of this year, she sold the company to AOL for $315m. Lately The Huffington Post has been the target of a virtual strike: America's Newspaper Guild and National Writers Union have called for freelancers to withhold their services. The Californian Freelancers Guild produced a poster which read: "Hey Arianna. You can't eat prestige. Pay your contributors. Because freelance doesn't mean free." Or as the punk poet John Cooper Clarke once put it: "Respect don't pay the rent."

I don't suppose the anti-Huffington strike will be successful. Freelance strikes are notoriously tricky. I myself tried to call one last year to protest against The Daily Telegraph having slashed its freelance rates. I sent a note out to my London Freelance NUJ group saying that I was taking a day off work and instead would spend the day in a Fleet Street boozer and asking whether anyone would care to join me. My phone rang. It was the NUJ telling me that I was not allowed to call a strike and would I call it off? I sent out another message, telling people this was now not a strike but a "strike meeting", the wording suggested to me by the NUJ. By this time the heat had left the idea and it struck me that not only had the NUJ had its balls cut off in the 1980s, but that now it had just committed a further act of self-castration by cancelling a strike.

In the end, my freelance strike comprised three people: me, my mum (who was going to be in the pub anyway for a book launch) and Ian Bone of Class War magazine. Bone loves any sort of strike or demonstration. He is a brilliant and witty troublemaker and his latest project is a tabloid newspaper called The News of the World. So thanks to Bone for turning up, but I think it's safe to say that my strike had little impact on the evolution of media business models.

Who knows what will happen in the future. The Huffington Post may look fluffy and liberal compared with a Murdoch paper, but at least the Murdoch papers pay their freelance hacks. But now that particular edifice is crumbling. Are we looking towards a future of bloated new-media executives and poverty-stricken scribblers? I think, brothers and sisters, that we urgently need to seize the means of production, and produce and sell our own small magazines and papers.

Tom Hodgkinson's new book, 'Brave Old World', is out now, published by Hamish Hamilton, priced £16.99

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?