Should you be willing to write for free?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Matthew Yglesias has taken some heat for praising the virtues of writing free on the internet. After all, he gets paid to write.

But he’s not a hypocrite. In fact, in a post today, Yglesias explains why he’s a believer in this method of breaking into the business:

“I started blogging when I was a junior in college and did it very diligently for a year and a half. Largely on the strength of that work I got a low-paid job at The American Prospect where in addition to writing stuff for their magazine and website and also contributing to their group blog, I continued to diligently blog (for free) under my own name. After about three years of that, I got a paid blogging gig at The Atlantic.”

On the left, I’m guessing this is seen by some as sort of like being a “scab” who crosses the picket line. If you write for free, somebody else doesn’t get paid. But paying your dues and hustling — doing whatever it takes to get your foot in the door — has always made sense to me. It’s a mutual business decision, not unlike bartering, whereby a media outlet essentially says you’re worth publishing at the price of $0 — and you agree that the notoriety, contacts, or credibility derived from the experience is an acceptable payment.

My experience is similar to Yglesias’. Aside from my own blog, my first writing gig was blogging at HumanEventsOnline for free. After a few months, I convinced them to pay me a nominal fee to write the “Right-o-meter” — which was a daily rundown of what conservative bloggers were saying. That led me to, which led me to Politics Daily, which led me here.

This is not to say you should always be willing to give it away. There is that trope about not buying the cow when you can get the milk for free. Presumably, over time, you parlay one thing into the next, until there is demand for your work. If you are lucky, you can eventually charge confiscatory rates — or maybe even land a book deal. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

UPDATE: A few readers weren’t happy with this post. Here’s an excerpt from one email I received:

“Most bloggers write for free. Unless they’re favored Soros funded hacks like Matthew Yglesias who you went out of your way to cite as a success story.


You want to know what it’s like to write for free? Check in with your DC colleague … Jim Treacher who wrote for free for years and was finally hired by Tucker Carlson on the basis of his talent.


Thousands of conservative bloggers write for free every single day out of a sense of duty. Asking if we should do so is a dumb question. Using Matthew Yglesias as a shining example of what we should strive for is a little insulting.”

My comments were intended for those who specifically want to parlay writing for free into a career in journalism. Obviously, there are a ton of talented people who blog for free — and who make a big difference that way. I’m in no way attempting to besmirch the work that they do.

I don’t think we’re disagreeing …

Matt K. Lewis