Long before I realized that I wanted to pursue writing, editing, and teaching as a possible second career, I was always clear on that there would be a learning curve where I wouldn't earn as much as seasoned professionals.
I've earned money since I was fifteen years old. My first job was as a busboy/porter at a regional chain restaurant in Texas. I worked hard during the summer and was compensated for my labor. Why then, after training and rough starts, should I not receive compensation as a writer? There is no reason for magazines, corporations, and laymen seeking my services to expect me to do it out of the goodness of my heart. Goodness will not pay for my ConEd, Time Warner Cable, or weekly trips to various grocery stores.
It's always troubling to speak to someone on the phone or via e-mail and know in my gut that they're cheap and have no respect for artists. Worse is when I visit their office or apartment with nice furnishings, and oh, don't gawk too long at the huge flat panel TV affixed to the wall, just above the fireplace. It's then that I want to prop a rocket launcher on my shoulder and aim at the center of their being.
There's usually a debate in the Writing Gigs or Writing/Editing section on Craigslist on this very subject. It usually figures prominently in other writing forums such as MediaBistro.
Is it insensitivity or trying to get over on writers or editors that causes those who seek our services to insult those of us who earn either a full or part-time living creating and editing press releases, artist biographies, or movie and book reviews?
I especially love to read posts from people seeking writers to write their "amazing, wonderful, shouldn't be overlooked" life stories now that memoirs have become popular. Or those who have great screenplay ideas that must be written this instant, and if the script sells, compensation will follow. Pardon me if I raise my right brow, smirk on my face, as I stifle a guffaw.
At the end of the day, it's a personal choice to work for free. Do I think it sullies the credibility and professionalism of all writers? No. There are gullible people born every minute of the day, and those who'll take advantage of them soon after the doctor has tapped their bottom, signaling their arrival into the world.
Am I my fellow writer's keeper? No. We can learn from the mistakes and miscalculations of others posted in forums and blasted in newsgroups: Writer Beware! This company doesn't pay. This company promised pay, and didn't deliver!