Greed puts our creative freelancers on clearance sale

Mahnoor Yawar

Guest Columnist


How do you put a price tag on creativity?

According to National Post columnist Mireille Silcoff’s recent piece titled “On the declining prospects of the young journalist (or: To the writers of the future: good luck with that),” talent seems to be on clearance sale. It’s a disheartening look at the financial prospects of a freelancing career in a rapidly evolving industry where validation seems to be worth more than quality.

Nothing about this debate is new. Just this week, Sports Illustrated announced it would lay off most of its in-house photographers, based on a growing reliance on freelancers. Government agencies still regularly hold contests for new logos and ad campaigns, ensuring a marketing strategy at low cost. And the only real progress made in terms of abolishing no-pay internships is rapidly evaporating prospects.

What she gets wrong is that this isn’t about declining standards. It’s about greed.

Former outlets for burgeoning creative talent are essentially still corporations, which means that the creative industry operates on the whims of shareholders. The financial structures of creativity are breaking apart. You don’t need quality – you need “viral” potential. Content doesn’t need to be artful, it just needs to cater to dwindling attention spans.

Of course, now more than ever, having a steady income with a creative degree is near impossible. Album sales have been replaced by iTunes and Spotify, which doesn’t bode well for more than a handful of corporate-backed musicians. Artists, photographers and illustrators must fight to make their talent both affordable and accessible, and even that isn’t set in stone. Freelancing isn’t about marketing your work, it’s about marketing your self, and not everyone is going to win that race.

Imagine asking a surgeon to save lives just for the exposure. Imagine corporate lawyers fighting cases just to pad their resumes. Our double standards extend only to the unspecialized, which means we go on losing talent to cookie-cutter ad agencies and apps.

At the end of the day, Silcoff forgets that she and I are in the business of making news, and that will never be in short supply. But the rest of us must stop and ask: are we really doing ourselves any good by backing out and choosing different paths? Or are we admitting defeat against a cultural hang-up that society is not ready to acknowledge?