Apparently the Christian Science Monitor has gone socialist. Writing in a recent issue of the CSM, paid writer Jonathan Zimmerman believes university professors should write for newspapers.
Zimmerman, who teaches history and education at New York University – for money, presumably – says university professors used to write for their city's newspapers 100 years ago without getting any payment. So he sees nothing wrong with them doing it now.
Most professors, says Zimmerman, aren't paid for what they write now. Academic journals don't pay anything, and they only reach a few hundred people in their field. Newspapers, on the other hand, reach thousands of people, and the professors could do the writing so they could reach lots and lots of people.
(This seems to forget that professors write for academic journals as part of their job responsibility. They're not really doing it for free. They're already getting paid for it.)
This is the same dorm-room logic the music thieves employed during the Napster craze ("it's okay to steal music, because musicians really want fame, not money. So we're giving them fame.")
The problem is, professors' families can't eat fame. The bank doesn't accept "the good of society" for a mortgage payment. And the utility company will turn your heat off, no matter how many newspaper articles you hand them.
Never mind that the professors will push out the reporters who actually need to make a living from newspaper writing. Never mind that free labor will cause the layoffs of hundreds and thousands of professional journalists who are already in danger of losing their jobs.
The bigger problem is if you ask people to write for free, or for very little money, it hurts the efforts of those of us who actually try to earn a living from writing. Besides, cheap and free writers make Harlan Ellison angry. (See below.)
What would Zimmerman say if history enthusiasts and professional teachers volunteered to teach university classes for free, thus cheapening his value and worth to the university?
"Sorry, Professor Zimmerman. We've got some teachers who will do this for free, so we're going to let you go."
So does Zimmerman practice what he preaches? Was he paid for his column in CSM? If he's true to his beliefs, he turned down any offer of payment for his column. He's also publishing a book, Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory. Is he accepting payment for his book? Will it be given away for free? Is he declining any and all royalties for its sale?
If you want to write things for free, start a blog. Or, spend a large portion of your time writing for free and giving it away, and see if you suddenly decide your time, skills, and knowledge actually have value.
I've included the Harlan Ellison video for your enjoyment.
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