Opinion - It's About Goodwill, Wil

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Susan Omand takes on the internet and responds to Wil Wheaton's recent article that website contributors should always be paid...

I’ve considered my opinion of Wil Wheaton’s exhortations that all website contributors should demand to be paid for all their work (read the article here) for a few days now, until I worked out what I thought. My immediate reaction to the article was wholly positive. “Yeah you stick it to ‘em! We should be paid for every word we write for every site and stuff everyone that wants something for nothing.” But then I started to think about it. Whilst, as a writer, I would love to be paid for everything, I remembered that I write for more reasons than just the money. And as someone who is also involved with the running of a media website that others write for, I also feel I need to redress the balance a bit.

The /Garbage-file website exists for many reasons. It exists so that our readers can get a great reading experience, because our contributors are always honest in their views, they don’t toe a party line because they are paid to do so and they don’t write what they feel others want to read, they write what they want to write and this gives the reader the extremely high quality of articles they have come to expect from us – we do not sell out for the big buck.

More than that though, /Garbage-file exists for our writers, both experienced and new. Our team knows that /Garbage-file gives them all a place to air their views on just about anything media related, without being dictated to by the management. They know that they will never be edited for their opinions (just their grammar) and because of the generosity of our talented and experienced writers in giving their work to maintain a great readership, we are able to, yes, give exposure and a writing platform to new and up and coming writers and reviewers so that they can grow in writing confidence and hone their skills in an almost family environment and find their own style and audience so that they can then move on to bigger and better, although we are always surprised and humbled that they keep providing us with such great content, even after they are well-known in other circles. And I realise we are a very small fish in a very big pond. So the offer of exposure and the increase in profile to up and coming writers from a site such as Huffington Post to someone who is not as well known as Mr Wheaton, that is still trying to further their career, is worth much, much more than the $100 or whatever that they could be paid for an article.

Without the generosity of our writers, /Garbage-file would not exist. Contrary to popular belief we can not afford to pay any of the people who write for us, no matter how big and important they are. I only wish we could pay for the wonderful writing we get. But what about all the advertising revenue I hear you ask. Our adverts are there to support and promote the independent creators and companies that we believe in and have nurtured links with over many years. We don’t want to take money off them, we want to help them MAKE money and garner the success that they so deserve.

So yes, I guess you could say our own altruism is our downfall financially and, if all our writers, as encouraged by Wil Wheaton, demanded payment for everything that they gave us, we would disappear. Taking this further and beyond the boundaries of our own site, if everyone demanded money for their contributions to all sites and did not give so freely and generously of their time and effort to benefit others, freedom of speech could also disappear as the money starts to dictate what is and is not published to a wide audience.

I understand where Mr Wheaton is coming from in his article and yes, Huffington Post probably said the wrong thing by offering exposure to someone that absolutely doesn’t need it and has already made himself a household name by being in one of the largest sci-fi franchises there is. As a creator too, I am fully behind people being paid for the work that they do, and am vehemently against work being used without permission as is so often the case these days. But please, Mr Wheaton, do not make writers and creators feel bad or hard done by for giving their work if they want to give it, either in order to get the freedom to write what they want, exposure to wider audiences that will help them in their careers in the longer term or to help keep platforms going that give others the leg-up that they once had. They, and we as consumers, may be getting a lot more out of it than money can buy.  It’s about integrity and goodwill, Wil.