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The belt keeps tightening around the newsroom budget of the Washington Post. Following a stretch that featured the killing of the Sunday Source and Book World, newsroom administration on Tuesday announced perhaps a bigger no-brainer: Staffers at the paper will no longer get paid extra for doing chats and blogs on washingtonpost.com.
Thus comes to a halt one of the industry’s most luxurious gravy trains. Several years ago, when the Post started launching blogs like bottle rockets, a two-caste compensation system evolved. Big stars, like Marc Fisher and Joel Achenbach, got paid. Grunts on the Metro desk and elswhere didn’t.
Longtime staffer Achenbach, writer of the Post’s Achenblog, told the Washington City Paper in 2006, “I get some compensation for the blog, and I certainly hope they have a system that’s fair to everyone.”
At that time, fairness would have required paying the nonstars for their blogging contributions, and the paper—-even in those pre-worst-financial-crisis-since-whenever times—-wasn’t going to heave the sod to level this particular playing field. Nowadays, fairness at the Post is achieved the same way it’s happening across the industry. By slashing everything, that is.
The cost-saving edict will fall hard on newsroom vets who participate in regular chats on washingtonpost.com. The going price for such contributions is $100 per session, so a weekly chatter could expect about $5,000 in extra earnings per year. Pure gravy there—chats are done during business hours, and they often help reporters develop sources and story ideas. That the paper has paid extra for this stuff is a great tribute to its once-freewheeling approach to journalism.
Says Paul Farhi, a Style staffer who has long cranked out chats for the site: “I love doing my weekly chat. I’ve said all along that I’d do it even if they didn’t pay me for it. And now it looks like I’m about to get my wish.”
The no-pay policy also applies to the contributions of Web staff to the paper—whereas these folks formerly got paid freelance wages for their dead-tree work, now they’ll get nothing. Or, perhaps more likely, they just won’t contribute anymore.
Below, the memo, complete with interruptions.
To: Newsroom Staffs
From: Shirley Carswell
As we fully integrate the web and print newsrooms and reach our readers through print and online, our system of making “freelance” payments to newspaper staff for regular chats and blogs and to dot.com staff for occasional stories in the paper is no longer practical.
How about a shorter, truer version: We can no longer afford to make extra payments to our staffers for their contributions to the paper or the Web site.
Effective immediately, such payments to employees of Washington Post Media will end.
For special work done on your own time, please speak to the assigning editor in advance about compensation.
And be prepared for your assigning editor to look at you like you’re crazy.
If you have questions about this change, please contact your supervisor. Thanks for your understanding as we work through this integration.
In other words, don’t bother complaining.