Opinion

How I blew it with The Tele

Aspiring journalist Matt Smith tried to persuade The Daily Telegraph’s Joe Hildebrand to publish a piece he had written in the News Limited paper’s Inside Edition section. Matters did not end well, as Smith reveals in this guest post.

“Getting published in the Telegraph at all is a pretty massive deal for an aspiring journalist mate and you just blew it. Take your piece elsewhere.”

The above is, word for word, the e-mail from Joe Hildebrand that ended my chance of getting a piece published in their pages.

You may wonder what prompted him to respond in such a way.

I consider myself a freelance journalist. It’s not my day job (in the past year I’ve made $2000 as a journalist) but I enjoy the discipline of writing.

My bank balance might not really reflect this, but I have quite a few runs on the board when it comes to getting work published. I’ve regularly had pieces published across Crikey, The Punch, and The National Times, all of which has gone unpaid. Usually when I have been paid it’s been when a piece goes to print in a newspaper. Hence my exchange with Joe Hildebrand.

I ’d written a rather lighthearted piece, since made available on my website, (9 Oct update: wording here amended by Mumbrella for clarity at Matt’s request) having a dig at Ten for consistently flooding their primetime with lowbrow reality programs. I sent it to a number of section editors, hoping it would take some interest as something offbeat. I’d never had a piece published in the Daily Telegraph before, but thought I might as well try. I sent it to Joe and got back a good response.

“I like it. Let me run it next week. Can you send through a headshot please mate.”

After a brief victory dance, I fired back a quick response.

Thanks, Joe. Two questions – what dimensions headshot, and will it run as a paid piece?

To which Joe replied:

“Sadly we’ve got a moratorium on paid contributions at the moment mate, so I can only offer you fame. Any dimension headshot will do.”

At this point you’ll understand that I was a bit disappointed. I work hard on writing, I’m qualified and have a track record. The Daily Telegraph is, or so I thought, a reasonably successful newspaper. If they were running something that I had written, I should receive something.‘Fame’, if you call it that, is one thing. Acknowledgment of professional skills is another. The Sydney Opera House doesn’t expect its plumbing fixed for free, so why shouldn’t I be paid for my work?

After some thought I decided that I’d go ahead with it – even though I’m quite well known to Fairfax, I’d never had a piece published in a News Limited newspaper. So I answered –

“Hi, Joe. That’s a tough ask for an emerging/aspiring journalist – especially when sites like Daily Life manage to give contributors some money – so I hope you can understand my disappointment. Please run the twitter handle at the end at least, and let me know when the piece will run. Photo attached.”

I thought this was a fair enough thing to say – I expected, if anything, commiseration that the situation is what it is. Instead, I received the response published at the top of this piece that I’d blown it. My piece was dismissed, not because there wasn’t room or it wasn’t good – but because Joe Hildebrand believes I should be happy and grateful simply to be published.

The industry can be prone to exploiting the vulnerability of freelancers – especially those who don’t know better. The market has been flooded by those who are willing to write for nothing, whether they be pushing an agenda or just wanting to get some exposure. Websites like The Punch, The National Times, and Crikey make full use of this willingness (although to their credit, Crikey do pay some contributors).

While submitting a piece to an online website for free is one thing, getting published in a major newspaper is another. They’re businesses that sell their pages, and they should be expected to give their contributors some kind of payment. It’s acknowledgment of skill, professionalism, and talent. It’s encouragement. At the very least, the acceptance of a free story should be done with respect and gratitude to the contributor.

I’m not the only freelancer who has these thoughts. We all want to be respected and appreciated for our work, but at the same time a living is a living. For many of us we’re so used to not being paid that it wouldn’t really take much to buy us off – a token payment would be much more than we’d normally see from our work.

‘You similarly wouldn’t ask your accountant to do your tax return, wait until it’s been lodged, and then explain to her that you wouldn’t be paying her this year,’ Karen Pickering said in a recent article on the Wheeler Centre. I doubt that there is any profession where you can so easily expect something for nothing.

The industry is undeniably going through some tough times, but if newspapers are reluctant to pay for the stories it prints, it’s putting a lousy value on the price of the written word. The free in ‘freelancing’ devalues everything, least of all those who publish.

  • matt smithMatt Smith is a freelance writer in Melbourne. You can follow him on twitter: @nightlightguy.For the record, he did not ask for, or receive, payment for this guest post

Joe Hildebrand responds:

Matthew Smith sent me an unsolicited oped, like plenty of others we get everyday.

I thought it was a vaguely interesting subject and said I would run it next week.

He then responded asking if we needed a headshot and whether he would get paid. This was my exact response:

“Sadly we’ve got a moratorium on paid contributions at the moment mate, so I can only offer you fame. Any dimension headshot will do.”

Matt’s exact response was as follows:

“Hi, Joe

“That’s a tough ask for an emerging/aspiring journalist – especially when sites like Daily Life manage to give contributors some money – so I hope you can understand my disappointment.

“Please run the twitter handle at the end at least, and let me know when the piece will run. Photo attached.

“Matt Smith”

Notwithstanding that he clearly does not know how to use punctuation in greetings, as you can see his only response was to complain and then sighingly instruct that we “at least” run his Twitter handle and tell him when it was running. Nor did he bother to say thank you in this missive.

The fact that any aspiring journalist would get the chance to be published in Sydney’s biggest newspaper and then turn his nose up and whinge about it I found absolutely staggering.

Just as staggering is that he would have the gall to write a piece about how hard it is to get published in the Telegraph when in fact he was all set to be published but blew it by being a rude little man with an overblown sense of entitlement.

As anyone who has picked up a newspaper recently knows, the industry is facing enormously tough times and our contributor budget is tiny. I have had the unpleasant duty of telling far more worthy, experienced and talented writers than Matthew that we are unable to pay them for future work. None has ever responded with such pathetic self-important whining.

I could not be happier about my decision.

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