The Long Writing Tail

This relates to The Problem that I outlined before.  The post is here.

I was particularly struck by an editorial written by Monica Klein in this week’s Oberlin Review.  

Rather, my neck-stabbing anger emerged as I read these news organizations’ daily headlines: “Budget Wrongfully Dismisses Unemployment Benefits;” “Congress Refuses Public Sector Wage Increase;” “Middle Class Screwed By Reaganomics:” each populist-fury-inspired headline of outrage had been written, copy-edited and posted online by an unpaid intern.

Last summer, my friend and I worked at Time Out New York and The Huffington Post. Each day, we went into two of New York City’s most liberal news organizations, and for these three months of summer, five days a week, we both worked as unpaid interns.
It goes back to the problem outlined–our words are relatively worthless per word.  Of course, there are superstar journalists making extravagant comfortable livings, but for the most part, writers struggle with getting paid, especially for those just starting out.  It can be argued that this is not a new development–there were writers and dreamers before I was born–but for those currently confronting the economic model for word production, it is a scary prospect.

From an economic prospect, the issue is the the fact that writing labor is valued at something very close to zero.  There are two reasons: the supply is excessive, leading to a depression in prices, or the demand isn’t there.  We’ve in the past addressed the fact that people are possibly reading less and reading for free, but let’s examine the excessive supply component.   C0uld it be that schools like Oberlin, employing the very writing workshops that Klein mentions in the first paragraph, could be producing more writers than the market needs?  Are unpaid internships–and to a lesser extent, unpaid freelance writing–simply a symptom of market forces?

If this is true, and there is an excessive supply of writers, what is the macro-societal solution?  The clear solution is to produce more readers, or at least more demand for the written word.  What’s the way to do that?  Education, perhaps, or decrease prices for written material.  But that terrifies me that it will simply produce more writers as well as readers; a gaggle of novelists writing for no audience but other novelists.

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