Hi Olga: No offense taken and no worries. I am sure you are aware of the changing, deteriorating condition of our profession and the difficulty for serious journalists to make a living through their work resulting in the decline of the quality of news in general. Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition. The then editor, Michael Kelly, was killed while we were both in Iraq, and we both, as it were, moved on to different places. I don’t have a problem with exposure but I do with paying my bills.
I am sure you can do what is the common practice these days and just have one of your interns rewrite the story as it was published elsewhere, but hopefully stating that is how the information was acquired. If you ever are interested in a quality story on North Korea and wiling to pay for it, please do give me a shout. I do enjoy reading what you put out, although I remain befuddled as to how that particular business model would be sustainable to either journalism and ultimately the owners and stockholders of the Atlantic.
I understand your dilemma and it really is nothing personal, I assure you, and I wish you the best of luck.
I agreed to [guest blog] for Matt [Yglesias] because I wanted exposure. I was not a "young journalist." This was not my chance to break into the profession. What I was was a product of a time when you could be brimming with ideas and have no place to say them. People who talk about "gate-keepers" have mostly had the good fortune of living inside the castle walls. I lived outside. I had a style and voice that had never seemed to fit anywhere (except my first job at Washington City Paper.)
I could not convince editors that what I was curious about was worth writing about. Every day I would watch ideas die in my head. When I was laid-off from TIME, the lack of a job was bad. But what hurt more was that this story, which I felt in my heart to be so important, was going to die. What the internet offered was the chance to let all of those ideas compete in the arena, and live and die on the merits. And Matt was offering a bigger arena. I was ecstatic.
Writing is always hard. I understand why someone might not want to do it for exposure. I've certainly had professional journalists like Thayer turn me down. But those journalists have also taken the title of "professional" seriously enough to not print my e-mail address and all of my private correspondence without asking me. Indeed, it's the high morality and offense-taking which most puzzles me about all this, given that writers, all around us, are "working for exposure," given that every one of us is participating in a system in which they consume for free.
"He illuminated a page of history that would have been lost to the world had he not spent years in the Cambodian jungle, in a truly extraordinary quest for first-hand knowledge of the Khmer Rouge and their murderous leader. His investigations of the Cambodian political world required not only great risk and physical hardship but also mastery of an ever-changing cast of factional characters."
But behind this debate lurks an uncomfortable fact: The salaries of professional journalists are built upon our success in convincing experts of all kinds working for exposure rather than pay. Now those experts have found a way to work for exposure without going through professional journalists, creating a vast expansion in the quantity and quality of content editors can get for free.
THAYER KNEW THAT THE KHMER ROUGE had staged this show for him and McKaige: "It was put on specifically for us, to take the message to the world that Pol Pot has been denounced. They had reported on their radio, on June 19, that Pol Pot had been purged. No one believed them. After five years of lying over their radio, there was no reason anyone should take what they say credibly. It was clear to them that they needed an independent, credible witness to show what was happening."
Other critics of Thayer's stories don't use the word "patsy," but they do point out that some of his work seems to uncritically disseminate the official line of the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot's fall, according to Thayer, spells the demise of the Khmer Rouge. But Thayer's critics disagree; some argue that he is "too soft" on the movement.
They wonder why, for example, were Khmer Rouge spokesmen allowed to promote the idea that by purging Pol Pot, the organization had renounced its bloody past? In his Review articles, Thayer wrote, "The fall of Pol Pot underlines the view that the Khmer Rouge movement that ruled Cambodia in the 1970s essentially no longer exists." Comments Magistad of NPR, "That's certainly what the Khmer Rouge would like people to think, because it's the best card they can play to try to end their pariah status and work their way back into a position of power. But Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan, and Nuon Chea all still hold top positions in the group- -and all played a central role in forming and carrying out the policies that killed up to two million Cambodians. How, then, is this suddenly a different movement?"
Once upon a time, there was a craft called journalism — or, less fancifully, reporting. People went into it as a kind of calling. People also went into it to earn a living. This was occasionally difficult because the people who owned the vehicles through which the craft was practiced were cheap bastards who wore rubber raincoats to facilitate the stealing of soup from blind beggars.
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