Dynamist Blog

The Penny-Pinching NYT

Glenn Fleishman, who writes about technology for The Economist and other publications, emails:

I was quite glad to see your blog entry exposing the penny-pinching New York Times. I contributed several articles a year, from paragraphs to features, to Circuits and Business from 1998 to 2006 or 2007. I eventually stopped writing for the Tim.

One reason was money. When I started, I was paid 50 cents a word, which seemed ludicrous in 1998, but I was a younger writer, and knew newspapers were cheap. In 2000, I was writing a column every four weeks for Business 2.0 for about $2.50 a word under retainer...and the Times was still paying 50 cents a word. I believe the Times may have paid that rate since the 1970s, and simply found inflation-adjusting rates was unnecessary.

I often said, I subsidized by writing for the Times through other work, which seemed silly, but I wasn't writing enough for them to be a real drain.

What the Times was paying you for your columns shows me how really cheap the organization is.

From my understanding, the $1,000 column rate (or about $1 a word) is actually fairly high for the Times. It includes a premium for delivering a column on time every four weeks, regardless of what else might going on in the world or your life. But I will note that in the six years I was writing it, the Times never increased its rates.

I should also confess that as editor of Reason I hired writers at rock-bottom rates--they dreamed of 50 cents a word--and paid them very slowly. But Reason was an always-struggling, cause-oriented nonprofit that could barely pay its bills. Most of our freelancers had other employment and were not contributing to the magazine primarily for the money. Unfortunately, the Reason model appears to be the future of journalism.

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