The new sweatshop.

Since we’ve all decided this recession, the Great Recession, will leave a wide and deep footprint in our national soul, journalists have begun sketching it out. Yesterday on “Talk of the Nation” they were discussing this story in the Atlantic, which I haven’t read and don’t intend to, because it’s February and I’m coping with my usual winter subclinical grumps, and who needs more?

This one, from Sunday’s NYT, sort of snuck up on me, hiding as it was in the Styles section; I thought Sunday Styles was the place you went to avoid reading about strife and misery, but maybe this doesn’t count, although it does to me:

In 18 months, Ms. Lentini went from editing one daily newsletter to still editing that one, as well as the 10 weeklies that generated new ad revenue at no extra cost to her company. Of course, there was a cost: her free time. “It’s, ‘How many plates can I keep going?’ ” she said. “You’re giddy with hysteria.”

She now starts at 7:30 a.m. instead of 9, and works Saturday and Sunday mornings. The night of the Super Bowl, she finished at 11. When she was first hired, she had money to pay someone to fill in during her two vacation weeks. That ended with the recession, so now she doubles her workload the week before vacation. Holidays? “I work most holidays,” she said.

Even while driving one of her daughters to an after-school job as a hair salon receptionist, Ms. Lentini works. “Bridget holds the laptop,” she said. “She’ll say, ‘Mom, you got an I.M. from the photo editor.’ She’ll read it to me, I’ll say, ‘Just put ‘O.K.,’ and write ‘tx’ for thanks. So I can work and drive.”

The story was about the new way we do more with less, and then some more, and some more on top of that, and wondered what might happen when the recession ends, if it ever really does — will we still work this way? My own experience says yes, of course we will; that’s certainly the way it was in newspapers during our long slide, which presaged the general economic collapse. I used to liken it to starving to fit into a two-sizes-smaller dress by prom night or your wedding day or whatever. Diet-diet-diet-celery-water-diet, keep pulling everything in and then comes weigh-in day (quarterly numbers) and whew, you just made it to your goal! Yahoo! [Pause.] Now lose 10 more pounds.

I wonder because I heard from an editor yesterday, pointing out several sloppy goofs in a story I’d handled, and not only was he right, I knew why I made the mistakes: Because I’d edited that story at 1:30 a.m., after a seven-hour shift on my other job. I was still working because I knew I’d have trouble sleeping that night (even though I was exhausted). Why? Because I’m stressed out at how much I have to do. It’s a loop.

I’m not complaining. I’m just wondering. I wonder why we tell our friends story after story about work, its miseries and occasional joys, and yet, so few of our entertainments are about work. (Except for the usual venues — police stations, hospitals and forensics units.) The answer is obvious, I guess: Why pay for a novel or movie about something I live every day? A few years I noticed something: How often the people I met in the pages of a book were independently wealthy, either through family fortunes or early-career windfalls that left them with the means to have novel-worthy midlife crises uncluttered by having to show up at work every day.

One of the many things to admire about “Office Space” is how well it captures the existential misery of life in a cubicle farm, from the chirpy receptionist to the passive-aggressive boss to the ritual of the office birthday cake. You can almost taste the cheap frosting. My favorite sequence in “Up in the Air” is when the three main characters sneak into another company’s Miami team-building party; there’s something about the way the m.c. greets all the members of the best! sales staff! in the southeast region! that sent chills down my spine. (Not that I’ve ever been to such an event. In journalism they just bark, “Back to your oar, 42.” The Miami sojourns for Knight-Ridder were known as Prick School.)

And yet, existential misery is preferable to unemployment, isn’t it? The new normal will be no Miami at all. And no health insurance. The new model for freelancing is Crowdspring, which puts a high gloss on the feeding frenzy. It works like this: You post a project, saying, “I will pay $300 for a logo for our start-up business. It should convey the idea of “bookishness,” but be really smart and sorta techno and have blue in it. Show me what you got.” And then dozens of starving designers (or writers, if that’s the project) do the work and submit it. You pick your favorite and pay your pittance, and everyone else goes home hungry. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

If you have a job, you’re grateful. If you have a job you like, you have rubies and diamonds. Pause a moment to appreciate it.

The Daily Telegraph asks a number of writers to list their Top 10 rules for writing. Part one here, link to part two in part one. Will Self made me laugh:

Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.

Now, I must go to work. (Which I like very much. I only wish it paid better, especially when there’s eight inches of snow atop my aging roof.)

Posted at 9:56 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' |

56 responses to “The new sweatshop.”

  1. Linda said on February 23, 2010 at 10:11 am

    The gradual cutting away of money for everybody so that it can be funneled more efficiently to the rich (in the form of tax cuts and bigger bonuses) is now a crisis because it’s happening to educated people, who work at desks. When public assistance got cut, blue collar and white collar workers agreed that it was because they were bums. The, when blue collar workers saw their jobs leave, and the jobs left behind become lower paying, white collar workers agreed that it was because they were lazy, entitled bums with no skills. If they had a college degree and skills, like us, they would be fine. And now??? We bend over and take it. When we are angry at giant bonuses for bankers, we threaten to punish…politicans.

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  2. Linda said on February 23, 2010 at 10:12 am

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  3. crinoidgirl said on February 23, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for bumming me out, Nance, as I start working on my five different freelance projects today. 😛

    I had a bad week last week. Extremely depressed about working for a pittance with no health insurance. Then this showed up in the NYT yesterday. The new normal (and almost certainly the new normal for me for many years to come, though I’m only [only!] 53):

    Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs

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  4. nancy said on February 23, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I saw a story about a freelance outfit similar to Crowdspring — in the sense it pays nothing, or a smidge above — called Demand Media. It pays in the three-cents-a-word range. I told someone I would happily scrub toilets in a prison before I’d work for that kind of money. And I will. If the prison is hiring.

    Demand Media buys content for something called eHow. Here’s a portion from an eHow article on “items to buy for a new puppy:”

    New puppies need food and water bowls or dishes; the Partnership for Animal Welfare in Washington, D.C., recommends that dishes be stainless steel or ceramic, as plastic can absorb bacteria and smell.

    The “article” goes on to state puppies also need a collar, a bed and a chew toy. It’s surrounded by Google text ads for dog bowls, beds and chew toys. The other thing I read about eHow is that it’s looking for a sugar daddy to buy it, with the price in the usual ridiculous eleventy-jillion-dollars-cash range. For what? FOR WHAT? Nothing about the internet makes anything resembling sense to me.

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  5. Bob (not Greene) said on February 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

    OK, I am ready to jump off the roof now. In the land of community newspapers, it has always been thus, but it’s gotten worse in the past couple of years as layoffs have meant doing more work while getting your pay cut. That is very irksome. Working for free ain’t my idea of a career path. Yet, the new journalism model seems to be just that. It makes me so not happy.

    I also get a kick out of readers who call to point out typos or the occasional misspelling. In apologizing, what I don’t tell them is that what I write has to be goddamn near perfect because we don’t actually have the money to employ actual copy editors and if the person scanning my story is so rushed they only run it through a spell check (or not), then you get what you get.

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  6. crinoidgirl said on February 23, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Yeah, Nance. I refuse to work for that kind of money, and I refuse to churn out that kind of content. There’s so much of it out there. There are also offshore “boiler rooms” that produce a lot of this dreck. Needless to say, the grammar and spelling can get pretty iffy. What’s the point of all this content, if 80% (underestimating) is crap?

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  7. Heather said on February 23, 2010 at 11:03 am

    The woman in that NYT story seemed suspiciously even-tempered about her lot. I suppose juggling a ton of jobs or tasks that result in more time working for less money is better than being a slave or a serf, but you’re still being screwed. Part of the reason I got out of freelance writing was because I decided journalism was not my vocation, but it was also because the constant stress and scrambling for fewer dollars was not acceptable to me. Maybe it is for true journalists–but at some point, it can’t be. It just ain’t right.

    I have a copywriting job now that I like–it’s not my passion, but believe me, I know I’m lucky.

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  8. coozledad said on February 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I’ve been sent to eHow when looking for stuff like how to construct a solar panel or a wood-fired hot water heater. It’s always some infuriating gloss that makes you wonder why they bothered.It’s life imitating Monty Python’s “how to play the flute”: Blow on this end and run your fingers up and down the sides.
    Someone ought to put together an eHow Kama Sutra. Here’s my audition for the section on penis enlargement:
    First, capture a jar full of wasps or bees or other stinging insects.Shake the jar vigorously, but not so hard as to injure the insects: you just want them angry, not injured. Remove the lid of the jar and insert Lingam (Penis).
    It should now be enlarged.
    This site not responsible for anaphylactic shock or other trauma.

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  9. Deggjr said on February 23, 2010 at 11:25 am

    That’s a nice summation by Linda. I was a hiring manager around the turn of the century. In go-go 1999 we paid recruiter fees (10% of annual salary) and candidates would receive a signing bonus (maybe 10% of annual salary) plus maybe a 20% salary increase as an incentive to join us. In late 2000 qualified candidates would mail their unsolicited resumes and follow up with phone calls. They would be grateful if they could maintain their pay level. I don’t see any systematic incentives for full employment.

    Key statistic: 2+ billion people in the world live on $2.50/day or less.

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  10. del said on February 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Drifting through the post and feeling guilty about not doing my work I come across, “the existential misery of life in a cubicle farm,” and dwell on that. Rich. It reminds me of my brief stint in a cubicle farm and a manager who would emerge from his private cubicle on occasion, with, I think, “a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.”
    To cure the February grumps Nancy you should’ve been downtown at St. Andrews Hall on Friday night to see Patti Smith. She was great and sounded great. It was an interesting crowd, something of an otherworldly feel to it, I saw a 60ish woman wearing a Ramones T-shirt at the bar and there was a bit of irony as I stood next to the CEO of a very prominent law firm as Smith sang, “outside of society, is where I wanna be.”

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  11. Sue said on February 23, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Linda @ 1 hit it right on the mark, and her argument when applied to health care is one of the reasons I’m so surprised that it does not appear that health care reform will come to pass. When people were assuming that those without health care somehow deserved their lot – you know, because they didn’t educate themselves properly or choose the right profession – people could hide the fact that the numbers of those losing health insurance were increasing to critical-mass level. Poor people in another part of town are easy to ignore; your neighbor who just lost his job, or your kid who can’t get insurance at any price because she’s no longer in school and has a pre-existing condition are not so easily dismissed.
    And yet they are. Still. They are not as important to the people making the decisions as the noisy, ill-informed townhallers screaming about death panels and socialist/nazi/fascist dictators. The recent increases (or attempted increases) in the cost of private insurance plans (35%!) are coming about because companies have to make their profit somewhere, folks, and since they’ve shut out everyone who might actually need the coverage and still can’t rake it in fast enough, it’s time to go after those who are still paying. The increases will drive that many more people out of the market, and the companies will have to find the next profit engine. What’s left? Group coverage.
    By the time this is finished, three groups of people will be able to get coverage in the US – the last seven people who qualify for medicaid after the cuts are made, government employees (including all the elected officials who have vowed to kill health care reform in any capacity), and anyone Bill Gates is willing to cover out of his own pocket.

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  12. Julie Robinson. said on February 23, 2010 at 11:50 am

    For those usual winter subclinical grumps, have you ever tried light therapy? After being depressed every single winter I bought a full spectrum light box a few years back. It’s a simple and effective fix for me; I sit in front of it while eating breakfast and it works its magic on me in a way that no anti-depressant ever did. I still long for spring and sun, but I can get through winter now instead of feeling hopeless.

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  13. coozledad said on February 23, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Sue: If the recent renewed support for a public option in the senate is any indication, internal polling is telling Democratic incumbents what should have been obvious all along: the whole teabagging* thing was just white punks on dope, and television journalists got paid handsomely to give them disproportionate airplay.

    *as one commenter at LGM aptly put it .”That’s one they got right, cause it’s nothing but nuts in your face.”

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  14. adrianne said on February 23, 2010 at 11:54 am

    The Crowdspring and Demand Media “models” for free-lance work are chilling. When did the work of writers and designers become so devalued?

    Cooze’s eHow Kama Sutra made me laugh, though!

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  15. Sue said on February 23, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Cooz: I’ll believe it when I see it. This whole awful thing has been so up and down, for so long, that even with the recent public option support I am not holding my breath. My senators are both on board with reform and I’ve still contacted them several times. I’ve called and emailed the White House. I’ve contacted my congressman, not that it will do any good. The Public Policy poll that came out last week indicating that those opposed to health care reform wouldn’t vote for a Democrat in any case does seem to coincide with a certain sudden growth in backbone in congress, but this day-to-day, will they or won’t they bullshit is driving me nuts.
    If we do get reform, it will end up being some kind of equivalent to the recent credit card reforms. Thanks, people, for strongly bringing the banks in line by forcing them to tell me how long it will take me to pay off my balance and making them wait a month or two to raise my interest rate to whatever the hell they want. That’s real reform, I tell ya.
    Bought and paid for.

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  16. James said on February 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I didn’t think it was “crowdspring,” but rather, “crowdsourcing.”

    Whatever you call it, it amounts to is spec work, and it is pure evil. See No Spec for details.

    Here’s a recent example, and the culprit appears to be Sesame Street.

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  17. Bob (not Greene) said on February 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm


    Part of the reason the work of writers is so devalued is that the people publishing those products contribute to its devaluation. In Chicago, the Tribune has concocted something called “Trib Local” (so far with not much success) where they’re looking to create online community newspapers filled with any crap anyone cares to post — press releases from politicians, notes from the local PTA. They don’t want to pay for content, just sell advertising around it. Meanwhile, people in these towns that have newspapers struggling to survive look at this shiny new object and think it’s an actual news source. Hell, they even put bylines on press releases

    And then there’s the financial pressures on the small papers. It gets to the point where you can’t afford to pay freelancers, so you cut back on that, which either limits the breadth of content or forces reporters to work longer hours for either the same or decreased pay. Then you get the word that columnists will no longer be paid.

    And you wonder why someone else thinks free is the future model? Newspapers themselves think free is the model.

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  18. beb said on February 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Many years ago, perhaps around the time of the “Joint Operating Agreement” between the News and the Free Press, the CEO of one of those two companies was in town to give a speak about what he saw as our brave new future. People would work only when and where they wanted to, working two or three part time jobs at a time, selling themselves to the high bidders and, obviously, rolling in the dough. That didn’t strike me as some happy utopia but as a nightmare.

    How can you sell yourself to the highest bidder when there are two or three million people with skills as good as yours? Part-times don’t have any advantage of picking when and where they work, they work when there’s work. The bosses will continue to call the tunes And when you have so many part-time jobs you end spending all your free time hustling for that next part-time job because the ones you have now are all temp work.

    Part of Joe Stack’s compaint was that it’s hard to make a living as a part-timer or free-lance consultant. You never know from day to day what your job security or revenue stream will be like. Of course the law he was complaining about was one that closed a loophole that allowed businesses to avoid paying taxes by declaring employees “independent contractors.”

    I’ve never been to a school with enough money to have loaner laptops for every student the way Lower Mertion, PA appears to. Personally I’ve never thought computers contributed anything to education. On-the-fly spellchecking just encourages bad spelling. Why learn how words are spelt if the computer will just flag the wrong ones and suggest the correct spelling. And on-line research? Better to use the library in the tradition manner since it teaches you about how knowledge is organzined and how to track down what you need to know. Leave ‘googling’ till after college.

    But this spycam stuff is plan weird. Why spy on kids in the first place. What was to prevent the creation of child pornography if the kids are undressing with the camera on? What lessons about trust does it teach children? And can society survive when nobody trusts anybody to be fair and honest? Here’s a school district than needs to have every board member, principle and teacher fired. All these people went along with this as if it wasn’t a massive violation of individual rights to privacy. It’s very strange how the desire to be let alone ssems to get overridden by the desire to snoop on other people.

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  19. Faith said on February 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Can empathize with your two “sloppy mistakes.” I also had two — in headlines, no less. The kicker is they were called to my attention by former co-workers who are newly laid-off as of 3 weeks ago. Gotta love it.

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  20. Rana said on February 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    It’s not just newspapers that suffer from the “content should be free” model.

    Some days I think that we’re all expected to be the equivalent of unpaid interns… but without the mentoring or the possibility of getting hired at the end.

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  21. Dexter said on February 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Speaking of grumpy, this arrived in my inbox, a letter from a family friend who lives in Vancouver:
    “…we are experiencing the warmest winter in over a century resulting in tens of thousands of standing room only tickets being refunded as the spectator areas are declared unsafe on the local mountains. The snow had been trucked in to substitute for the optimistically anticipated snow pack. It was placed over hundreds of hay bales which were exposed when the pineapple express rains came in and washed it away, leaving heaps of sodden hay, not exactly suitable for crowds. The courses themselves were successfully maintained at great additional cost, that is, considering many changes of schedule were required to accommodate the cooler times of day, mostly evening.
    The city traffic has been a disaster with many delays for those dependent on public transit, such as my wife, a hotel worker, while the downtown core is burdened with car free streets and areas. Personally I have been hiding out of town for the whole time as the local film production business, my trade, has ground to a two month slowdown as the city declines to issue shooting permits until the paralympics are over in late March. Glad to have missed it if the footage of hordes of mindless hooting drunks is correct.
    Cheers, Dick. “

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  22. RoryonLawnGuyland said on February 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Nance: While looking for my current job, I interviewed at MediaPost, the company mentioned in the TIMES article. The Editor-in-Chief was very upfront about health benefits: There were none offered. Reason given: The owner of the company didn’t like the hassle of dealing with insurance companies and their ever-rising rates. They “said” they’d pay enough so you could buy your own coverage, but that was B.S. So that was the deal: Come work for us, here’s what we pay, you’re on your own for Health Coverage. Glad I declined. I don’t know WHAT the solution is in Washington, but this nation desperately needs a health-care fix. And I don’t care WHO writes the legislation. Effing lawmakers need to wake up.

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  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Julie, just don’t get addicted to the visor (it was a “Northern Exposure” episode).

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  24. Deborah said on February 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I just wrote a rant that was ridiculously long and rambling. I selected it and deleted it before hitting the submit button. You all would have thought I was about to go out and slam an airplane into a building or something had I submitted it.

    This topic (the pace of life and the devaluation of skills) just sends me off the deep end. Life is definitely out of balance these days.

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  25. Jean S said on February 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    and to add to the general joy, today’s NYTimes carried coverage of a speech given by the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of SF … her estimate is that the economy won’t fully recover until 2013.

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  26. Jeff Borden said on February 23, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    My father, bless him, used to theorize many years ago that the next big labor awakening in the United States would be white collar workers. While the blue collar folks had their unions, most office drones did not but faced the same kinds of issues that led to union formations decades ago: low pay, terrible hours, no overtime, lousy benefits, etc.

    Now, white collars workers are in an even more precarious position than decades earlier and our traditional blue collar unions have had the stuffing beaten out of them by all the outsourcing, cutbacks, etc.

    I’m not arguing, btw, that unions automatically deliver the good life. There have been far too many indictments and scandals over the years. But whenever I hear critics assailing the pay a union executive gets, or what union dues are spent on during political seasons, I wonder why these same folks don’t fret about the pay on Wall Street, or what the corrupting power of corporate lobbying might mean.

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  27. Peter said on February 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Well, I can sympathize with you journalist types today.

    I was asked to bid on a project – four different schemes, plus an outline specification, and a furniture plan for a 25000 sf space. I, Mr. Low Overhead, was the high bidder. The other two bidders said they would do the work for nothing – one of them added that they would do the work for nothing as long as the owner would CONSIDER using them on other projects. I told the owner you get what you pay for, so call me when you need a professional.

    Well, imagine my surprise, he did call me today, and asked me to come in and talk about the job. Wasn’t happy with what he was getting from nos. 1 and 2. I told him I’d be happy to talk about the job, but not my fee – it’s take it or leave it.

    I got to tell you – 20 years ago I would be begging and giving away work, but I guess I’ve gotten too old or cynical for that.

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  28. Jim said on February 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Bob Garfield used Crowdspring to design the cover of his book, “The Chaos Scenario.” If you’re in the media business and haven’t read it yet … you need to.

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  29. nancy said on February 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    So Bob Garfield’s an asshole now, too. Good to know it. I wonder what he’d say if AdAge asked him to start working on spec — and opened up the assignment to the rest of the world, week-by-week.

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  30. crinoidgirl said on February 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    God, what an asshole.

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  31. Julie Robinson. said on February 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Jefftmmo, that was a hilarious episode. I only use my light 15 minutes a day; wonder how long it would take for the euphoria to set in. A loooong time, given the view out my window.

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  32. Jolene said on February 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    So Bob Garfield’s an ass­hole now, too.

    No kidding! Not only did he get all the designs submitted on spec, but, having chosen a design, he acknowledged having paid the designer whose work was chosen 20% of what publishers typically pay for cover designs. Great system.

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  33. Jason T. said on February 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Yeah, well, the cover of his book looks like he got it for an 80 percent discount, too.

    But hey, everyone, content wants to be free!

    I tried explaining that to the power company — “Electricity is content, and it wants to be free, man!”

    Anyone have a candle?

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  34. nancy said on February 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Here’s what bugs me: Every single one of these turd-jugglers has a sinecure somewhere — Garfield with the old ink-on-paper AdAge, Chris Anderson ditto with Wired, Jeff Jarvis and Lawrence Lessig are comfortably cosseted in academia. So they can afford to go around telling people content wants to be free, or whatever the hot catch phrase of the moment is*, while at the same time charging for their content, ha ha, because even if it were free, which it isn’t, their salary and health-and-dental is being picked up by old media.

    * I acknowledge Garfield’s book isn’t about content’s desire to be free.

    I note, low in that pdf, how three out of four of his blurbers favor the shaved-head look. Is that the douchebag un-haircut of the moment now? Is male-pattern baldness so shameful for those who think young? It reminds me of a story about a young hipster Alan knew, who bartended at an American Legion hall. He shaved his head and wore a bandanna pirate-style. One day he bent over, the bandanna fell off, and one of the geezer vets at the bar exclaimed, “Jesus Christ! Are you havin’ chemotherapy?”

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  35. Jolene said on February 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Very interesting blogpost here by Kevin Drum in which he links to an article that attempts to explain why so few jobs were created in “the aughts”, i.e., during the recovery between the dotcom crash and the most recent financial crash. The culprit: Lack of antitrust enforcement that suppresses the growth of small businesses. He points out the very important distinction between being pro-business and pro-free markets. Pro-business policies tend to suppress competition, counteract innovation, and reduce job creation that might come from the development of new products and services.

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  36. Jason T. said on February 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Nance @ 34: Acknowledged, also, that I stuck the “content is free” BS in there, not Garfield. You’re right about the haircuts, too. Three of the guys look like giant thumbs with faces painted on ’em.

    The latest brain-storm here in Pittsburgh — where the city did a terrible job clearing the streets after the recent blizzard — is crowd-sourcing snow removal.

    Hey, dumb-shits: We already have crowd-sourcing of snow removal. We (the crowd) pay taxes, and the city (the source) is supposed to plow the streets.

    The city did a terrible job because it’s financially distressed. The solution to getting the streets cleared is simple: (a.) raise taxes, (b.) hire more plow drivers, and (c.) buy more snow-plowing equipment.

    But we keep getting stuck at “a.,” because everyone wants something for nothing these days.

    So, let’s not pay for content, or municipal services. Instead, through the magic of crowd-sourcing, all of our work will be done by free-market unicorns, who are powered by the Internet and old copies of Reason Magazine!


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  37. Sue said on February 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Jon Stewart showed a clip last night of Glenn Beck speaking at CPAC, telling the audience about how he is self-educated. Where did he educate himself? At the library, where books are free!
    With so much free stuff floating around, it’s a wonder we have to pay for anything.

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  38. Jolene said on February 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Think you’re busy? Check out the story of Yitta Schwartz.

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  39. Jason T. said on February 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Here’s another example of Assholes on the March. The Huffington Post is expanding its use of unpaid college interns.

    An editor explains that while he’s “a big fan” of paying people, “we expect that the by-line and exposure offered by our millions of readers will be the best way to give credit.”

    You know what, fella? Up yours, and up Arianna’s, too.

    Whenever I’m asked to talk to student journalists, I tell them two things: (1.) Find another line of work, but (2.) If you insist on going into journalism, then always demand that you get paid something, because if someone offers you “exposure,” they’re just ripping you off.

    This may be why I rarely get invited to Career Day any more.

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  40. LAMary said on February 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Just speaking from personal experience I wil say the shaved head look is in the douchebag category. The exception I will make is my friend Bill. He is outnumbered by three other shaved head guys I know who are total a-holes.
    Two things that made me smile today: I gave copies of John McPhee’s Control of Nature to two people and both of them really liked it. I had no idea about the reading tastes of these folks so I was concerned.
    The other thing that I found entertaining was the self diagnosed lactose intolerant person who sits behind me got a take out breakfast of eggs and sausage from the cafeteria here. The self trained food allergy expert who sits across from her screamed at her, “you’re lactose intolerant! you can’t eat eggs!” This caused the egg eater to run down the hallway to spit out the eggs and she has spent the rest of the day saying she didn’t feel well because she may have swallowed a bit of egg. I asked the self trained expert if cows laid eggs and she said no but they were still dairy. I left it at that.

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  41. coozledad said on February 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    The worst part of milking a chicken is trying to find the tits.
    EDIT: It just struck me that could be an optional title for today’s post.

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  42. Linda said on February 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Jon Stew­art showed a clip last night of Glenn Beck speak­ing at CPAC, telling the audi­ence about how he is self-educated. Where did he edu­cate him­self? At the library, where books are free!
    With so much free stuff float­ing around, it’s a won­der we have to pay for anything

    No, it’s not free, it’s supported by taxpayer dollars, which Glenn Beck and other right-wingers are against. But consistancy is for little minds.

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  43. Jolene said on February 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    More bad news for journos.

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  44. Jean S said on February 23, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Jolene, reports like that are what led one of the best medical journalists I know to leave journalism at the en of 2009 and go into….real estate. Yep. (Although, there’s real estate and then there’s real estate–she’s in the Texas Hill Country, where ranch properties routinely sell for 10 million or so…)

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  45. alex said on February 23, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    So glad I gave up freelancing and individual health insurance. I saw the writing on the wall years ago when otherwise reliable clients started offering up bad deals that were beyond credulity at the time and not that far off from the Crowdspring model. I remember forwarding one to Nance, who in turn shared it with some others, who pretty unanimously wrote to me and said, “Tell them to find another chump.”

    Independent contracting had its heyday in the ’90s, and I was more than happy to pick up the pieces in corporate environments where I could learn to master the discontinued but nevertheless essential job duties of others on the fly and perform them on my terms. It was lucrative. But after 9/11 the bottom fell out.

    I juggled multiple jobs in multiple places: Rand-McNally, Commerce Clearing House, TruServ Corporation, the American Library Association and the American Bar Association, to name my bread and butter, gravy and creme de la creme. These were some of my best years ever, churning prose as part journo, part copy editor, part ad-man/fluff artist. It was invigorating. It was the closest thing to a meritocracy I’d ever seen in any job. Most amazing, though, was that what I considered to be nearest to art paid the least and what I regarded as crass whoredom paid the most.

    I could grouse about being underemployed presently but frankly I feel lucky because I know that I bring more to the job than many of my peers, and while it’s neither art nor whoredom it has its own satisfactions. And not-too-terrible health insurance. But being a scribe has never been and never will be rewarding other than for its own sake, and the best payola is being able to look back upon what my arthritic hands have wrought and remember the back story of how it came to be published fairly unmolested by nutjobs with different agendas.

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  46. Deborah said on February 23, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    It feels like I’m going to spend the rest of my life searching for chicken tits.

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  47. Catherine said on February 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Here’s a topic for an investigative reporter: How many of Dick Cheney’s FIVE heart attacks and numerous follow-up procedures have been on the govt dime? I just wonder how much we taxpayers have invested in him. I know, lifetime of service, blah blah blah. It’s been said before, but you’d think the people whose lives have been saved over and over by their govt-financed health care providers would be out in front of getting everyone better coverage.

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  48. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 23, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Cheney, after another five —

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  49. Dexter said on February 24, 2010 at 1:41 am

    Olympic Hockey: Am I the only one in the USA who stayed up to see Latvia tie Czech Republic by scoring two goals in the third period, only to lose in overtime, 3-2? The third period was as intense as Olympic hockey gets. Most of my favorite players are Swedish, Russian, and Canadian. I have no allegiance to the USA hockey team.

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  50. Joe Kobiela said on February 24, 2010 at 1:55 am

    I didn’t get to see the hockey. Just got home, let me tell you, Auburn to escanaba mich to greenville s.c. to auburn will wear a guy out.You can see the route on flightaware I was in 3640g.
    Pilot Joe

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  51. Bob Garfield said on February 24, 2010 at 9:09 am

    An asshole is someone who comments on subject about which he or she is uninformed, such as, say, a book he or she has never read. This passage is from “The Chaos Scenario.”

    The more compelling issue is whether this method of democratizing
    an industry is inherently unethical. In an average crowdSPRING
    project, one winner is compensated, shall we say, unextravagantly and
    67 work for free. Even if you accept that to be an inevitability of the
    digital revolution, doesn’t it have a sort of Oliver Twist vibe? Am I not
    an exploiter of the designer of my book cover and, especially, of the 100+
    who submitted and failed?

    In the book, I don’t answer the question. I leave that to the audience…since that’s where the power resides. The whole book is about the inevitability of the very forces that have cost writers their livelihoods (mine very soon among them). It is unproductive and childish to scapegoat “assholes,” or to resent those who remain temporarily employed. This is simply the new reality, a direct byproduct of the internet. There is nothing in the 10 Commandments guaranteeing a marketplace for writers. It was a nice 350 years, but it’s over.

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  52. nancy said on February 24, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Am I not an exploiter of the designer of my book cover and, especially, of the 100+ who submitted and failed?

    Bob: Thanks for stopping by. To answer your question: Yes. Yes, you are. And I will cop to childishness, which is a common response to being told your industry is being dismantled, that it is somehow your own fault (because I, or my bosses, “didn’t listen”), and that I should be cool with that because hey, shit happens.

    As I told your marketer on his blog: I’d be happy to consider buying your book at an 80-percent discount, but I want to read it before I decide.

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  53. Deborah said on February 24, 2010 at 9:32 am

    So why don’t we all just say “no”. Why do we let them do it to us? Why do we write and design on spec? Especially if we have years and years of experience and can clearly do it better than others. We’ve won awards, we get asked on juries, we teach others how to do it, people want our opinion. Isn’t that worth something? So why don’t we say no to doing it for free or for very little? The answer is because some poor schmuck out there will say yes and the bar goes lower and lower. Sad. We do it because we love doing it for it’s own sake and can’t imagine doing anything else.

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  54. nancy said on February 24, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Well, as I said, Deborah, I won’t do it. I’ll bid, I’ll provide work samples, but I won’t take assignments on spec. That said, I’m working on two pieces now that I’m submitting on spec; writing is different from graphic design in that if one magazine doesn’t want it, it can be submitted elsewhere. But for a client to say, “We want a piece of writing on X, go do it and submit it, and if we like it, we’ll pay a vastly discounted rate for it” — that I won’t do. Ever. All work is honorable, and as I said way upthread, I’d rather do janitorial work. It would probably pay better.

    And if Bob Garfield wants to crowdspring his book cover as some sort of demonstration of what his book is about, well, that’s his choice. I understand there are still places in the world where you can buy slaves, too. I’m not directly comparing feeding-frenzy media business models to slavery, but they both violate personal core principles of mine. I find it bleakly amusing Bob’s marketer calls his business “Pyromarketing.” I guess it’s possible to make a good living as a firefighter when all the buildings are on fire, but eventually you run out of fuel.

    EDIT: Also, did you note Faith’s comment upthread? She said she made some sloppy editing mistakes recently, and they were pointed out by colleagues who have recently been laid off. As you said, some people take so much pride in their jobs it’s part of their identity, and they’ll do them well even under terrible conditions, almost as a reflex. That used to be a virtue. Now it’s just one more button to push for a little bit of cash.

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  55. del said on February 24, 2010 at 10:15 am

    It’s a very tough issue, that Bob Garfield pyro-marketing thing. It’s happening a bit in the financial and legal markets with Indian nationals doing document review and legal research for a pittance. Things do seem to be moving in that direction. The self-righteousness of those who take advantage of this situation is disturbing. They’re not exploiting people, they’re just advancing free-market systems and doing us all a favor by acting as Adam Smith’s invisible hand, don’t ya know. It’s an interesting debate as points are to be made on both sides.
    To me the best answer is political. We’ve got to bring Fairness to the tax code and that means treating every job as having dignity and taxing accordingly instead of rewarding those at the top of the food chain and lionizing every hyper-aggressive businessman as some sort of “visionary.” (Of course according to FOX and its partner-in-coverage the WSJ this will undermine the American way of life.)

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  56. Jason T. said on February 24, 2010 at 11:22 am

    I wrote something really snotty to Bob @ 51, but I thought better of it, because I do have a semi-responsible position. Instead, I’ll confine myself to sticking out my tongue at the radio when he’s on.

    My opinion of our hostess has gone up.

    And if Nancy’s an asshole, then I’m proud to be one, too. Can we get that on a T-shirt? We’ll be like Jerry’s Kids: “Nancy’s Assholes.”

    I also want a T-shirt that says: “The worst part of milk­ing a chicken is try­ing to find the tits.”

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