I'm excited to announce that I have accepted a job as senior political and White House reporter for "The Daily Caller," the new political news website being launched by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel. . . .Right. If Tucker ever actually gets the site online, his "revenue-based compensation system" will separate the haves from the have-nots. Whereas Tucker and the permanent staff (presumably including Ward) will receive actual salaries, the freelancers will be paid on a page-view basis.
As I told Tucker the first time I met him, I'm invigorated by the opportunity to inhabit the new media space while reincarnating timeless journalistic values . . . I also think the Daily Caller's revenue-based compensation system for freelance work is going to be an innovative and precedent-setting part of being successful in a web-only venture. . . . (Emphasis added.)
When this plan was first described to me, I was like, "Whoa!" Having worked as both an editor who commissioned freelance work and as a freelancer, this sounds an awful lot like what we call "working on spec" -- first, you write the article, and then we'll decide if we're going to publish it and what we'll pay you, if anything.
That's OK, if you're a beginner looking to break into the game. But it's an insult to offer that kind of arrangement to an experienced professional, a known quantity in journalism who can be relied upon to deliver quality copy on deadline. The freelancer pitches an idea via phone or e-mail and the editor says "yea" or "nay." The fee is agreed in advance, and acceptance of the finished piece is more or less guaranteed, providing the writer can deliver what he promised. The freelancer gets that kind of commission agreement before he ever begins writing the article.
It's a simple fee-for-service arrangement and, while feelings can sometimes get hurt by a rejection, as least if when the freelancer gets the assignment, he knows up-front what the payment will be. This "revenue-based compensation system" that Carlson projects for the Daily Caller looks like a recipe for resentment from writers who feel they're being gypped: "Hey, why did you promote So-And-So's story at the top of the page, and not my story?"
When Jimmie Bise and I have occasionally discussed our own ideas for an online news operation -- and I agree with Jimmie that such a site could be launched on $500,000 first-year budget with no problem -- I've always insisted there should be a budget category for payments to freelancers. Fees might range from $20 to $200 per item, but if your average fee were $75 per item and you had a $75,000 freelancer budget, that's about 20 items a week right there. And in the world of online journalism, the freelancer who could reliably deliver three items a week would be earning more than some reasonably successful bloggers.
Anyway, if Tucker's partner Neil Patel is the same Neil Patel who wrote "Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Business Partner" -- irony alert! irony alert!
Of all the things that Tucker Carlson's ever done in his life, there is nothing in his biography to suggest he knows how to improvise a news operation on a shoestring budget. He may yet succeed wildly, but given that he announced in May that he'd be online in a matter of weeks -- and that the Daily Caller roll-out has now taken nearly six months, which is eons in the Blog Age -- the omens do not appear fortuitous.
To repeat: It had better not suck.