Brain Dead Journalism Graduate Wanted Editing Work for Free

My phone rang at around 08:00PM. I think I had just returned from a running / workout session ten minutes earlier, and was just lazing around, crawling the internet, reading stories of no particular importance.

“Jay, I asked for your mobile number from [mentions name].”

Okay cool. No problem. I said.

“There’s something I need you to do for me. I know with your skills, the article I want edited will be really good.”

Thanks man.

“So I will send you an email with the article then.”

Okay. Do you have my email address.

“Is it still the thembajay@gmail.com?”

It is thembaonline@gmail.com, instead.

“Okay cool.”

He ended up sending the article copy — a one pager — via WhatsApp — which I did not mind at all. I told him as much even. That I am not too fussy about where we get to communicate, any platform does it for me.

He was pleased.

At this point, I did not want to waste any time. So I sought to understand the nuts and bolts of what he was requesting me to do. I asked: What are your timelines — when do you expect this article to be done edited?

“It would be really great if the article gets on Floyd Shivambu’s desk by Friday.”

Friday? Okay. That gives me enough time to spruce the article up. And if I am honest, I only said that to him for reasons I don’t know. Because I knew after confirming with him that the article was a one pager that it would be expertly transformed and ready in a few hours.

He was even more pleased that I was on board.

Until …

I said: Ntwana, because it’s a one pager, I will need nothing but R 350.00 for the work.

“You know what, let me put together my finances and I will give you a call.”

Sounds awesome. I said back, with a smile on my face. I knew he was just being evasive — effectively running away. That amused me.

What is really sad is that the guy spent three years Rosebank College learning about writing, journalistic ethics and the business of telling stories. Yet … yet, he had the audacity to want my time and expertise for free. What is even more senseless is that the said article was not going to be free for him to whatever publication it was meant to be published.

Even if it was, there is the benefit of his name being on the by line. This way, his name spreads to wider audiences, and that would his credibility in good stead.

For me? Absolutely nothing, if he had his way.

After he dashed off from our WhatsApp conversation, I took the time to humour myself and read his article.

The grammar? Atrocious. Spelling? Unfortunate. I cringed reading it. And it hit me that I was perusing a piece penned by a Journalism graduate. I felt ashamed on his behalf. Then I felt irritated. Disrespected. My time wasted.

My other concern: people like this abuse creative professionals all the time. Especially talented young people who have not really thought extensively about the monetary value of their work. And what’s even more infuriating is the disrespect. The oke paid for the phone he used to email me, the internet connection used; heck! He doesn’t dare walk into a grocery store with no money and ask for a favour — some bread, butter and chicken portions. It doesn’t happen.

In the value chain, I refuse to be the only person who isn’t paid. Getting to a level of mastery takes years of relentless work, passion and dedication and resources.

So, if there’s anything you take away, it might as well be this: start thinking hard about the financial value of the work you do. How good are you? How confident are you in your work? How long has it taken to get to the level where you find yourself? How much are you — and your products and services — worth?

Find a financial sweet spot that feels good for you and stick to it. Don’t allow other people to make you take it down for them. (They never negotiate with Apple Inc. when they buy an iPhone — they fork out R 13, 000 cash.)