Thousands of people queued up on the weekend to take part in the various discussions and workshops on the closing days of the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival at Sydney’s arts hub in Walsh Bay.
One I attended was Everyone’s a Critic, But Should They Be?
This was of particular interest to me because, as an aspiring journalist, I too will have to battle Buzzfeed and other click bait websites to help my articles reach a substantial audience.
Additionally, I have found it challenging to decide what kinds of stories I want to write and how to break into the industry.
This panel discussion was led by journalist and author Linda Jaivin, and featured badass journo Helen Razer, music critic Bernard Zuel and Junkee’s Steph Harmon.
During the discussion, payment for your work was a prominent topic. Helen Razer was quite adamant that writers should be paid for their labour.
If you head to Razer’s ‘about’ page on her website she says, “I write words for money… I speak occasionally. For money. Money. Money. Not for fun. For money.”
The panel argued that criticism has become a devalued art form thanks to the lack of a “revenue model to enable a working press.”
And now, thanks to the internet, there is a multitude of voices offering critiques.
“Everybody is just free to express themselves, but honestly what people are saying is unmitigated shit,” Razer said.
Junkee’s Steph Harmon agreed and added: “How could you possibly properly critique a play if you don’t understand the context in which it is written?”
And Linda Jaivin noted that young online journalists could “hurt their future” by accepting unpaid work.
This made me wonder if interning and writing for free was completely worthless. I certainly don’t want to under-value myself, nor do I want to be taken advantage of through the expectation that I’ll simply do things for free.
But Bernard Zuel affirmed that working for free traditionally has been the best way to get your foot in the door.
“It is the only way to get started. To say there is no place for voluntary work is to deny entry level.”
What is missing, he noted, is a stepping stone between training and earning money for those seen as “providing value”.
The advice they gave was very helpful, ranging from having story ideas to submit to the editor to specialising in a particular field.
Razer was adamant writers should “aim to get paid,” and also suggested jokingly that taking up “a nice trade, like plumbing,” would be the way to go.
But Zuel put it best in terms of getting to where you need to be. You need to make your voice stand out amongst the millions out there on the web.
“Write as much as you can for as many people as you can until you find what you specialise in,” he recommended.
I hope I will produce work that is seen by many and earns me some money too.
But if writing does not work out, then plumbing it is.