Photo by Trish Tunney

Thomas Hayden is co-editor of The Science Writers' Handbook. He teaches science writing, environmental journalism and sustainability science in Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences and Graduate Program in Journalism. Trained as an oceanographer, he has been a science journalist for 15 years, reporting and writing for national and international publications. Hayden was a staff reporter at Newsweek in New York and a senior writer at US News & World Report in Washington, DC. His freelance work includes cover stories for National Geographic, Wired, Smithsonian and many other publications. He is the coauthor of two books and was the lead writer for the 2010 9th revision of the iconic National Geographic Atlas of the World.

One response to “Writing for nothing”

  1. Emily Gertz

    Well done, Tom. Despite contrary appearances in the Twitter exchange Alexis and I shared last week, I agree that there are good reasons — good *situations* really — in which writing for free can make sense.

    For most of my stint as a Worldchanging blogger, for instance, I wasn’t paid, or paid much. Few of us were. But that opportunity came along at the very outset of my freelance journalism practice, when being one of a group of incredibly bright, intelligent bloggers, covering sustainability almost daily, was itself valuable. When I teach workshops or give presentations on freelancing, this is what I describe as the ideal situation for people who ask, “When should I write for free?”

    I cared a lot about that project, those people, and the topics we covered on their own terms. But also, my Worldchanging clips helped me jump from writing anonymous press advisories to bylined articles pretty quickly. Given that I can’t pay my medical bills or mortgage with good intentions or bonhomie, that was pretty important.

    But Worldchanging was this blog, you know? It had a sustained period of success and high visibility, but it wasn’t a storied print-web crossover publication with a well-established reputation for high-quality reporting and writing.

    I think few of us get into freelance journalism expecting a monetary windfall. But with, apparently, even the best and most prestigious publications pressuring their editors to get as much free work as possible, the chances of making a living solely as a writer/reporter become longer than ever.

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