I hail from the first generation of journalists for whom not getting paid is the default. My peers and I enter our field with zero expectation that society will value our work—called “content generation” just as often as it is “writing.” Getting lunch money isn’t what you start out with; it’s a career goal.
So when I embarked on my first paid piece this month (after two years of writing), I was expecting it to feel different—more legitimate. Naively, I hoped for a transformational moment: Now, I’m a real critic. Now, what I do means something.
And it did feel different. Not because I got paid, but because the article was a preview rather than a review, an enthusiastic feature rather than a detached piece criticism. It was 300 words instead of 500. I had to describe a show without seeing it myself.
And I had to talk to people, instead of hiding in the dark and slithering away as soon as the curtain fell. I had never interviewed before, and I made the usual rookie mistakes: diving in with extremely intense questions, keeping it rigid instead of allowing it to be conversational. We did, however, communicate enough ideas for me to cobble together a half-page article. (It’s available here; scroll to page 21.)
Of course, maybe I’ll have different feelings about the experience once my check actually arrives. As they say, a stipend in hand is worth two in the bush.