One of the big perks for me was being recognized as press for the Canadian International Auto Show. This let me gain access to all of the new cars a day before the public and additional swag not available to people not lucky enough to be journalists.
It was when I sat down for lunch with a group of assorted journalists that I realized how much I was out of my league. These guys had been writing for years and could summon forth dates and statistics related to cars and drivers faster than I could even think of search terms to use in Google. I reflected on what I had written over the past year and realized that I could barely remember the details of my own articles, let alone provide the depths of information each one of the fellow writers at the table could produce.
While sitting there, soaking in the details of car history being presented by each of my fellow diners, I realized that I've done a disservice to professional writers over the past year. I struggled for hours to write articles that could match the quality these guys could crank out in minutes. This struggle wasn't the disservice though. Every article I wrote helped to improve my writing skills and resulted in something worth reading.
My disservice to the other writers was accepting pennies an hour to be a part of their community. I was so eager to be recognized as a professional writer that I spent hours doing research and crafting each article without thinking about the value I was presenting to my publisher. Over the course of the year, my writing earned me an average of 3 cents per word.
According to the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the lowest rate for writing would work out to 10 cents per word for a community newspaper. I got paid less than a third of that.
Now there is at least one publisher who believes they should be able to purchase well written articles with a distinctive voice for almost nothing. I have friends that have made a living wage writing about music, books and movies over the past twenty years that are now finding themselves without work. People, like myself, are so eager to earn ANYTHING for writing that we've lowered the value of the written word.
I see the same thing happening in the photography world. The low entry price for a digital SLR and decent lighting equipment has flooded the market with "professional" photographers. These people are willing to accept just about any job that can help to pay for their cameras at rates that are less than a third of what existing professionals would charge.
I hope that writers trying to make a living by putting words together will accept my apology for devaluing their currency. I know there are other people out there who will jump at the chance to be associated with an internationally recognized company without considering the impact accepting ridiculously low rates will have. I just hope that editors and publishers recognize the importance of paying a living wage so we can keep high standards of writing quality rather than just churning out word counts to satisfy advertisers.