An Editor’s Dilemma: Making the Most Out of a Limited Budget

In March 2013, Alexis Madrigal penned “A Day in the Life of A Digital Editor, 2013,” for The Atlantic.

Madrigal’s article was in response to “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist – 2013” by Nate Thayer, who published his correspondence with an Atlantic editor  who requested Thayer repurpose his content for The Atlantic without pay.

As a former editor, I can relate to the challenges and constraints of working with a small budget.

NewspapersIn my previous role as an editor of a weekly hyperlocal newspaper, I was a one-woman team armed with a small freelance budget to help me cover a town of approximately 25,000.

Making editorial decisions on a limited budget is a challenge to say the least.

“No matter how you slice it with a small freelance budget, paying people is going to get you a very small amount of the way to your own internal or external goals,” Madrigal said.

In a given week, there were always more stories to cover than there was budget available. This led to me adopting a nearly around-the-clock schedule of planning, covering, writing and editing stories (which included those written by freelancers and rewriting a handful of press releases).

(Nick McPhee/Flickr)

(Nick McPhee/Flickr)

While I didn’t solicit freelancers for free articles, there were a few features in the paper that relied on contributions from the community. These features – pet of the week, letters to the editor and articles by local pastors – only ran when I had submissions for them. And yes, I will admit there were some weeks I practically begged for submissions via my weekly editorial (Filling a 48-56 page newspaper isn’t an easy feat.).

I empathize with The Atlantic editor’s request because I can only imagine the content quota (real or perceived) she had to meet. I don’t think she meant to insult Thayer when she requested he repurpose his work for The Atlantic. Perhaps, she was instructed by a co-worker to reach out to him. Or maybe she didn’t realize how much time it would take Thayer to rewrite his article. Whatever the reason, some people will write without pay because they enjoy it, while others will request payment. It’s just important we respect writers’ decisions.

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