Freelance journalist Nate Thayer prompted a debate last week when he publicly declined an opportunity to write for the Atlantic magazine for free. But in the arguments over the benefits of getting paid only with exposure, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote on Wednesday, one element has been missing: race.
“Two things helped me break through,” Coates wrote on his Atlantic blog. “The first, being vouched for by someone in a position of power who had a relationship with someone else in a position of power. I met that person when costs of investment were low: I worked for David Carr [at the Washington City Paper] at a rate of $100 dollars a week and ten cents a word for anything I published. The first summer I worked for him, I made $1,700. I did not consider myself underpaid. This was 1996. The New Republic had just told the world that black people had evolved to be stupid, and it seemed like every week they were saying something just as racist. I was at Howard University, surrounded by a community of brilliant black people, cut off from the Ivies. None of them had the contacts or the resources to reply. They just had to take it. I can’t tell you how much that angered me. I was made in that moment. And when I got my first break in writing, I didn’t think about being ripped off. I thought about whipping ass. I haven’t changed.
“The second thing was the destruction of the monopoly on publication by gate-keepers. When [Slate’s Matthew] Yglesias wrote me, I didn’t care a whit about payment. I cared about a world wherein writers wrote stories like this, and no black people were around to answer.
“. . . What I am asking you to do is to avoid an appeal to a more noble past. I lived there. It wasn’t noble. It was fucked up. Like right now is fucked up. When you ask me to show solidarity with writers who aren’t being paid, you should also ask yourself what solidarity white magazine writers have shown over the years with struggling black writers who could not break in. You are appalled that Nate Thayer was once offered $125,000 to write for The Atlantic, and was then offered nothing. Fair enough. Are you equally appalled that there were virtually no black writers who could have gotten the same deal?
“Over the past few days, I have been told that I am the ‘exception,’ that I ‘won the lottery.’ No one thinks that Thayer won the lottery when he was offered his contract. No one sees the compromised ground underneath. I am sorry this new world is not fair. I am all for doing something to make it more fair. But while we are doing so, remember something: The old world was never fair. It was war. I am, indeed, an exception to the rule. But not the rule you think.”
“San Diego police may follow other agencies by ending media credentials as the spread of bloggers and online publications make it more difficult to define who is a journalist,” Elliot Spagat reported Sunday for the Associated Press. “The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security stopped issuing credentials last month and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Southern California did so in December.
” ‘With the advancements in digital media and the proliferation of bloggers, podcasters and freelancers, it has become challenging to determine who should receive a press pass,’ the Sheriff’s Department said.
“At stake for journalists is whether they can cover certain stories. At stake for the general public is who delivers their news. . . . “