A Writer’s Woes: Virtual Ethics

Jonna Jerome

Warning: Today I am blowing off steam. I, like any writer, do like to get paid for my work when it is being commissioned or used. However, this is becoming more and more challenging. For example, during a recent consultation, I discussed targeted ideas with potential clients in their office. Instead of awarding me the work, they asked their in-house assistant to take my suggestions and execute them as best she could. Ouch. This instance occurred after a face to face in an honest to God brick and mortar office. It’s even trickier when you are being interviewed virtually. It’s a sad fact that ethically people feel even less invested to engage in fair play without a face to face encounter. It’s a hindrance to have to exercise caution when pitching yourself for a job – no one wants to have to hold back the creative idea that could land them the gig!

The internet phenomenon has offered up both opportunity and challenges in this arena – a virtual extension of the ethics gap.
Many want their content for free, and they will find those willing to provide it in order to see their work in print, regardless of monetary compensation. I would guess that these writers have another strong source of income. Many may not have the experience of a more pricey writer, but an astonishing amount of employers don’t seem to take this into consideration, unless their campaigns fail and they need a scapegoat. Sometimes companies will ask you to write for them on spec, and if they use it with good result – then they will pay for it. That’s rather like asking the grocery store to give you food for nothing because you’re hungry, and if it tastes good, you might do them a good turn on Yelp. While I love the barter system, you can’t always sustain yourself on Yelp reviews.

The Barter System
Life has become one giant swap meet. Our society is set up to overprice everything, with the expectation we will be bartered down. We see how well this has worked out for our health care system and medical insurance. Should this have to apply to all professional services? Can’t a quote be an honest representation of the value of the work? As a matter of fact, I think I’ve just found the answer to the world’s economic issues: Pay people what they are worth.

I know I sound pouty right now. Keep in mind I just saw my ideas written poorly by someone else. Regardless – these situations has turned me into a stellar detective. Will this writing assignment bring future work that would make doing it for pennies now worthwhile? Is this a cause I don’t mind donating my time to? Will it give me a nice sample for my portfolio? Does this company’s director know my mother? Don’t misunderstand, there are quite a few times I am happy to work pro bono, on spec, or as a favor to someone who has given me a hand. I’m just asking – is it ethically right to expect such things from writers – or any professional?

There is absolutely no shame in bargain hunting, I do it all the time. Yet, as I look around and notice my broken toaster, steam cleaned rug that has stitches pulling out of it, and the dog scratching after a bath with the bargain flea shampoo, I understand that you do usually get what you pay for – pretty much across the board.

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