In Defense of Writing for Experience

[dropcap size=big]Y[/dropcap]ou wouldn’t know it to look at their site, but changes are happening over at One of my entertainment reporter friends broke the news during an online discussion. She posted the letter that Examiner deployed to its writers. It reads in part:

Dear Examiner:

From the earliest days of, we have strived to provide a platform to connect readers with passionate contributors like you. Through billions of content views served we were able to create something unique together and we continued to support the platform over the years.

Media consumption has transformed dramatically over the years and our content initiatives have shifted with business priorities. To that end, we regret to inform you that has made the difficult decision to shut down operations. The website will close down on or around July 10, 2016.

Again, we wish you success and thank you for all your amazing work and effort as an Examiner. It’s been a great ride.

Examiner HQ

While I never wrote for them, I knew a handful of hardworking writers who did, and it’s a shame that they’re losing an outlet. It’s difficult to find places that will take on new writers to cover the entertainment industry unless the publication is just starting out. Moreover, I think the letter above is only half right; not only has media consumption changed, but so has media creation. It’s so easy for anyone to spin up a website and start writing and to have an opinion on something. The sites that make it are the ones that have special insider access or very interesting writers or can produce overwhelming amounts of new content on a consistent basis. It’s no wonder that Examiner is changing business models and focusing on live events – you can’t write about it unless you’re actually there. And that means less competition on the internet.

I share this information about Examiner because not many people were grieving the loss of the publication during the online discussion with my journalist friends. Some disparaged the low fee writers were paid for their articles. That topic gave me pause to reflect on my own practices: I typically didn’t pay my writers one cent. That’s not to say that writing for me had no value; I just didn’t pay them with money.

Once my site started to take off and publicists working for agencies I had no relationship with began reaching out to me, I realized in a very tangible way just how much of the entertainment industry there was to cover. With a day job and only so much time in the evenings to attend events in LA, I knew I needed help. So I reached out to Craigslist to see if there were any interested writers.

I was impressed by the response. Everyone who replied to my ad was a hungry writer who had a genuine love for the entertainment industry. These were students or working adults who just wanted to do something different to keep from going crazy. I was upfront about the compensation, and they understood. Most of these people only had experience writing for college papers or personal blogs, but if they were going to take a risk with me, writing for experience, then I wanted to make sure they had experiences that had value. As such, if there were opportunities to put my writers in the room with A-list talent, then I gave it to them. If there were two movies screening in one night – one good, one bad – I would send a writer to cover the good one while I covered G.I. Joe or How Do You Know or some other dreadful film.

Not every person I encountered online was happy with this arrangement. Even though my first ad on Craigslist went very well, successive attempts ran into obstacles. First, people would begin flagging my ads and having them taken down. After checking and re-checking the content to make sure that they didn’t violate any guidelines, I began to suspect that I was getting flagged for the compensation I was offering, which was experience. So I experimented with the compensation line, changing it to “small pay for select assignments”. No more flags.

Sometimes, instead of flagging my ads, people would reply to me and berate me for not paying in actual money. One person suggested that I should secure funding first before looking for writers. While I’ll always understand the desire to get paid, I’ll never understand why people would deny this opportunity to other people who were fine with the arrangement. Someone with no bylines might find it valuable to be able to show a future hiring editor that they sat in a room with Morgan Freeman and conducted a one-on-one interview. In fact, the day after one of my writers had his first review published with me he was able to secure more freelance work because of the credibility my site afforded him.

Valuable experience is one of the few things in life that is hard to get – even harder to get quickly. If someone is willing to give you that experience without forcing you to climb through the ranks or pay your dues, then I suggest that you at least consider it. Experience can open a lot of doors for you, and it shouldn’t be discarded out of hand just because it doesn’t offer an immediate monetary gain.


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