The natural outcome of recent posts has been a question that has been asked of me publicly and privately at least 5 dozen times in the past year… and while I think I have expressed my feelings on the matter in comments before, let me outline them in a post once and for all.
Why Don’t I Write A Regular Food Column For a Local Newspaper or Magazine?
1. I don’t write professionally for the bizarre reason that I am not a professional writer. I realize that sounds like a chicken or egg situation, so let me elaborate. I majored in Finance and Pre-Law (magna cum laude) and went on to get my Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in Corporate and International Finance from a top school where I graduated with distinction. All my life, English was not a favorite subject, and frankly, if I am to be realistic about my skills, my basic English skills are weak, 1,300 posts that have amused you notwithstanding. The more I learn in life, the more I learn what I don’t know, and perhaps what I don’t have a burning interest to know in my remaining 40-odd statistical years on this planet. And a professional writer I am not. I can’t even tell where to put the apostrophes and several of the books I have purchased in the past year to help me improve my skills sit on a shelf, lonely.
2. Just because I write adequately, as many of you may feel, does not mean that I would foist myself on the general public so readily. And since, as we have all seen, there is little or non-existent editing going on, I fear a column of mine in a newspaper would be more crooked than many of my posts, since the latter are often given an evil eye by Mrs. MM, who is far better at the English language than I will ever be. Saying that I could write equal or slightly better articles than what currently appears is not a safe starting point, at least not here, it may mean that the existing quality of writing leaves a lot to be desired. Though I must say there are some exceptions out there, and kudos to them for plodding on (Edit: To be blunt, since I have received some pointed comments below, let me say exactly who I read: I read Michaela Fenix, Margaux Salcedo, Teddy Montelibano, Lori Balthazar and Divine Mesina, and some others; I don’t get the Star, but if I did, I would probably read Claude Tayag’s column.)
3. But the real reason I don’t write locally is this… a matter of intellectual property and who will retain ownership of it. The last time I was asked to write for a paper, I was told that the average payment made to a columnist might be roughly PHP1,000 or so, plus a little more for any photos that I might add. Therefor, for say a food section in a major paper, at least when I was just starting out, I might be paid PHP1,500 for an 800-1,000 word article with photos. After a few years, I might earn as much as say PHP4,000 or more if I had achieve celebrity status of sorts. But here is the kicker. The paper (at least the one I am talking about) would insist that for the fee of PHP1,500, they would now retain ALL rights or copyright to the article and photos that I wrote. Well, excuse me. No way, Jose. I wrote the bloody thing. I took the pictures. There is no way I would sell the permanent rights for $50 or so. In other words, there is no way that many good writers would VOLUNTARILY AGREE TO WRITE A REGULAR WEEKLY COLUMN FOR A NATIONAL NEWSPAPER under those conditions unless:
– they get something else out of it… like referrals for business, or it attracts customers to a business they have on the side
– it gives them professional credibility that results in other work or income from another source
– it gets them freebies of some sort; such as travel for lifestyle writers, hotel stays, free meals, free giveaways, etc.
– or they simply want to pump up their egos and bask in the glow of some form of recognition or fame.
Now, I DO AGREE THAT THERE MIGHT BE A FEW EXCEPTIONS to these negative suggestions, and SOME GOOD COOD COLUMNISTS who do write for the sake of writing and some HAVE MANAGED to negotiate copyright retention, but these are few and far between, and it is usually someone who writes about a more obscure passion and who is truly dedicated to a cause that could benefit from the resulting publicity.
4. If the newspaper publishes my work in the form of a book, I understood that the paper would receive a lot of the earnings of such a book and perhaps me, as the writer, would get a small percentage.
So here is the conclusion. Newspapers pay peanuts (as Myra P puts it) and EXPECT TO OWN THE PERMANENT RIGHT TO THE WORK. No way I am going to agree to that. That isn’t how it is done elsewhere, and the practice isn’t going to yield them consistently high quality writers in the long run. What you will more likely get are frequently blatant, sometimes veiled infomercials of food items that run advertising in the newspaper, or hotels who have given free stays, or restaurants that have wined and dined PR and press folks. This is why the food section of many newspapers reads like a big press release. If you want to see a night and day comparison, read a couple of weeks worth of the New York Times Food section and you will know what I mean. And I must be BLUNT and SAY my comments here EXCLUDES occasional contributors who write on a particular topic, passion, etc. and often brilliantly, and do this just because they want to.
SO WHY DO I GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE INSTEAD? Why do I have 1,300 “articles” on this blog, open to the whole wide world to see? And that attracts, 13,000 page views a day? Because I want to. And because I can. And because it is my passion. And because I enjoy it. AND I RETAIN ALL COPYRIGHT AND OWNERSHIP OF THE MATERIAL. And because I am not helping a third party who makes money out of advertising and selling papers to make more money. Because I don’t have to write about a product, restaurant or school or hotel that I DONT WANT TO, or that I think stinks. I am freer. More at home. Less beholden. More fun. More spontaneous. And almost totally anonymous. I ask from readers almost NOTHING (though I do ask for some comments or other similar efforts, and wait for this year’s charity event) in return. I mean, can you imagine my editor at a National Broadsheet allowing me to write about Shittybank (I just realized I have to post a conclusion to that)? About PIPC? About Ayala Land? About CebuPacific? About not throwing toilet paper into toilets? Get real, the editors would have conniptions and hives in a flash; even though, in retrospect, I have been correct in most of my assertions on those issues!!!
As for magazines, I think the local food magazines are significantly BETTER than the newspapers, though there are a lot of infomercials in some local magazines. I have been asked to write for several of them and I declined for many of the same reasons stated above. However, I do have to say that I HAVE RECENTLY WRITTEN two articles for local magazines, one a blurb on my favorite budbud kabog, and one on markets that should possibly see publication before the Christmas holidays. In both cases, I have not sought/accepted payments for the write-up and photographs as well. I have frequently tried to encourage global food magazines to feature Filipino food, and for the exposure it would bring the Philippines, I have ALWAYS offered to write an article for Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit or Food&Wine for free, and even offered to tour a team of writers and photographers if they should ever send one to the archipelago.
Why Do I Refuse to Accept Freebies?
Ever since I started this blog, I have made it a strict personal policy not to accept freebies. I have NEVER accepted a payment or product in order to feature it on the site. I have graciously turned down or refused fabulous donuts months before they were publicly available, to the Kid’s horror, cakes, desserts, snacks, drinks, etc. I have turned down offers from hotels, restaurants and stores. I even said no thank you to size 11 shoes that were offered as a thank you AFTER I wrote an article about the product. I have declined sweets, veggies, and the list goes on and on and on. I am contacted by PR firms almost weekly, and by home bakers often. I have refused direct offers for payment so that I feature a service or product. I have always paid for the food featured in this site. There are a few tiny exceptions and they come from my closest sukis who have insisted I accept a bottle of their homemade vinegar, their latest herb, an orchid after the fact, and for these guys/gals who I have known for years, no amount of refusal would be accepted but they understand they can expect nothing in return. I think it is this REFUSAL TO ACCEPT FREEBIES that truly makes a difference on this blog. FURTHERMORE, I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO ADVERTISING ON THIS BLOG AT ALL! I don’t necessarily expect that all others will follow this rule. This is just me. I don’t think there are many professional and amateur writers out there in the Philippines who can say the same. And I think it DOES make a significant difference.
As for what comes next, obviously a book or compilation of posts is an obvious option. I am totally chicken in many ways. I refuse to do something half-assed. I am my own worst critic. But that is what makes this Marketmanila, and me, silly old Marketman. If you reached this far in the post, I am truly amazed that you have read all of it. You must have less to do right now, than even I do…heehee. Have a pleasant evening or day, wherever you may be on the planet. Thanks.