Should You Write for Content Sites?

Last week I was browsing various writer’s forums looking for leads, ideas, and a way to avoid vacuuming the house, when I fell into a very interesting discussion. It seemed that there were more or less two sets of writers discussing the value of writing for content sites. The more “established” group was “talking” about content sites in disparaging terms. The “newer” writers replied along the lines that writers needed to be published somewhere in order to develop clips, and content sites were a great place to start, hone their skills, and make a little money in the process. One of the “established” writers made a comment roughly saying that publishers were not going take clips published from content sites seriously in the future, either implying that the content sites were worthless, the writers for content sites were awful, or some combination of both.

I was appalled at the arrogance of the comment. I considered replying and as I thought about it for a few minutes, started laughing, and went on to another forum. So what else is new?

There have always been pecking orders in industries. Every time a new technology opens the door for innovation, the pecking order gets upset. And, pecking orders are getting more and more in a lather today because technology is changing more rapidly than ever before.

Consider the movies. When motion pictures started becoming popular in the early Twentieth Century, theater actors were appalled. The actors in movies were not really actors. The great French theater actress Sarah Bernhardt started to change that perception when she starred in the two-reeler “Camille” or “La Dame aux Camellias.” She did it for the $30,000 paycheck, an inkling of what actors might make in the future. Bernhardt went on to star in “Queen Elizabeth” which did very well for both her and film producer Adolph Zukor. More stage actors started trying out movies, if just for the money. And there was money to be made. In 1913, twenty-one year old Mary Pickford was making $500 per week or just over $9,800 in 2005 dollars. Of course, I am not saying that a content writer or any but the most famous writers would make $9,800 a week, although I would not mind it myself. The point is that a new technology, moving pictures, attracted the scorn of theater actors for decades after movies were being projected on the silver screen, even though some actors would stoop to making a flick or three a year for the money. Today, who is more popular and more well paid, a movie star or a theater star, or is there any difference?

The next technological innovation to hit the acting industry was sound. Even movie moguls were not completely sure that sound would take. For example, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers said that movies with sound would never be as popular as silents to the Associated Press on September 3, 1926. “They fail to take into account the international language of the silent pictures and the unconscious share of each onlooker in creating the play, the action, the plot, and the imagined dialogue for himself.” Obviously, Warner had not thought of subtitles. While “talkies” ended the careers of many silent actors, it opened the door to actors who could effectively use their voices as part of their appeal.

Jumping way ahead, we come to television. Both theater and movie actors looked down on television, even though it was a haven for actors who were not able to make it big in the movies. For example, Lucille Ball, one of the most beloved comediennes of the Twentieth Century, really did not hit the “Big Time” until she and then her husband, Desi Arnez,, teamed up for the “I Love Lucy” show, starting in 1951. Today, many actors try to make the move from the small screen to the big screen, some successfully, such as George Clooney, while others try and then end up back in another television series, like David Caruso. Some might also suggest that there is a pecking order within television, starting with the actors on the most popular series on down to actors in soap operas on down to actors for children’s television shows on down to actors in commercials. In any case, on the whole, it seems as if the stars are a little brighter in the movies and on stage than on the screens at home. But who knows what technological changes will come next? After all, television screens are getting bigger and biggerâÂ?¦

Now, we are back to writing. I am sure that I will get some argument about how I categorize the pecking order, but here goes. Writers who see their words in print rule. The cream of the crop includes writers who are published in magazines like “The New Yorker” and “Atlantic” or who have “The Smithsonian” or “National Geographic” on their resumes. Other prestigious gigs would include writing for “The Wall Street Journal,” “Newsweek,” or “The New York Times,” ethics problems aside. Next on the totem pole would be writers for regional or metropolitan area magazines and newspapers. I know that I have neglected technical writers, ghost writers, text book writers, and many other types of writers, but my mind is getting a little boggled at this point.

The internet is a relatively “young” medium with all sorts of ongoing experimentation. In some ways, writing prestige online follows the print world. Most of the major periodicals are available online; however some take a different tact. Some of them hire other writers develop content for their online versions or mix them in with authors from their printed versions. This pulls more overall readers for the publications. Then, there are ezines, publications that are only available online. Generally speaking, the ones that have lasted the longest tend to be the most prestigious. New ezines seem to pop up around every three or four seconds and are great if they pay their writers and even better than great if they stay in business for a while. Now, I am not really sure who is lowest on the totem pole, paid bloggers or content writers. Maybe they are equal. Blogging is becoming more and more respectable to the point where businesses are hiring writers just to blog for them. What will be next?

The point of this is that the internet opened up a whole new realm of opportunities for writers. And the lines between print and internet are already starting to get blurry. Stephen King wrote the serial novel The Plant during 2000-2001 that was only available online. Major media talks daily about blogs. An occasional print writer has an article published on a content site. As time goes on, the pecking order will change. Perhaps some blogs will eventually become formally recognized as a great place to write for pay. Perhaps eventually there will be a new category of writers who start out working by writing stories that will only be read on iPods or cell phones. Who knows?

Quote from Jack Warner from”Sound-The History of Motion Picture Sound”

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