CENTRAL JERSEY: Tangents: You only get what you pay for

By John Saccenti, Managing Editor
   I can remember back in college when I and a bunch of my friends fancied ourselves writers and artists.
   We wore black leather jackets and had rips in our jeans. We read our poetry books and scribbled in our journals. We had big opinions and ideas about things we knew nothing about and were determined to make our own rules, everyone else be damned. After all, we were artists. That’s what we were supposed to do.
   In other words, we were stupid and obnoxious.
   For some reason, chief among our concerns at the time was theft. A huge chunk of our worldview was based on the idea that if you created something, then you’d better get credit and get paid. It was what made the world go around, and we had reams of third-person accounts to back us up. (We didn’t actually study this, of course. We were much too cool for that at the time).
   Yep, we were artists, and we were going to get paid for what we did, which we soon realized was way easier said than done. There’s no better way to beat the artist out of young men than to force them to pay the bills, and, eventually, writing and artistry and photography for many of us became a hobby, something we did when we weren’t working. Some, like me, got lucky and managed to cobble together a decidedly unartistic career doing the very thing we wanted to do, just not exactly what we wanted to do.
   Why this happened is easy. First, we were young and lazy and expected the world to come to us. Second, there just weren’t that many outlets to show our world-changing work. We had to rely on editors and envelopes, and market guides and galleries and portfolios. It was not easy work. In fact, it was work, which for some reason just doesn’t seem to generate the same level of inspiration.
   But then, slowly, surely, came the Internet, and things changed. Now, there were thousands of online art galleries willing to show your work. Short of that, you could even create your own, show your work, send it off with the click of a button and be done. Blogs and online magazines and social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace provided more than any of us aspiring writers and artists could hope for.
   By that time, we were savvy enough to know that if we expected to be paid, then no one would want to see our work, and art for art sake took hold. We just wanted to be looked at and read and admired.
   And we were, if not by the masses, then by a nice, small group of people who we hope appreciated our work.
   But then things changed again. At least for me and those of us who managed to carve a tiny living out of doing what we loved. For years, the newspaper industry has been giving its stuff away for free. Heck, it’s been giving my work away for free, and the industry and I have enjoyed being read by a nice little audience that sometimes appreciated us, and sometimes didn’t.
   But recently we discovered we weren’t making any money, which is understandable for some of us, but unforgivable for companies whose long-term goals are to generate revenue and pay the bills.
   So what is there to do? No one seems to be sure. Charging for content is an option most of us suggest, even though we know people have been conditioned to expect their news and our work and our photographs for free.
   Others are calling for a change in the business model: the way newspapers and news organizations pay to have news reported, stories written, photographs taken and cartoons drawn and how they make money by doing it.
   In the end, though, it may be we have to go back to an old way of thinking, not just on our part but on the part of readers, that what we do is hard work and deserves to be recognized as such, preferably through some sort of monetary payment.
   Some of us need to realize we aren’t poets or playwrights who just want to be read. We’re professionals who want to pay the bills, and we should act accordingly.
   Because if we don’t, we may be out of a job, the readers out of content (free or otherwise), and we’ll be stuck reading about what our friends on Facebook are doing.
John Saccenti is managing editor for The Cranbury Press and the South Brunswick Post. He can be reached at [email protected]