About Me

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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, March 8, 2013


If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” 
- James Goldsmith

Chances are good that you're not familiar with the name Nate Thayer. 

His is not a household name, but it's likely you've read something he wrote, or at least seen something that was, itself, influenced by Thayer's work.

He's a working journalist with a long career of investigative reporting on the international stage. His work on Asian politics and social conditions have earned him enough awards over the years to decorate an entire wing of a house, including a Peabody -- which he subsequently turned down in protest of the unethical nature of modern broadcast "journalism". (I put those words in quotes for a very good reason.) 

Readers pay for the privilege of reading...
He's an "old school" journalist in every sense of the word. The same sort of journalism and ethical behavior I was taught at the USC School of Journalism. In short, he's a talented, respected and credentialed writer with a good reputation.

In the last few days a pretty significant brouhaha has developed over a piece he posted in his blog on March 4th.

The Atlantic Monthly, itself a reputable publication with a respectable online presence, proactively approached Thayer about publishing an edited and condensed form of an article he'd written regarding Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea.  Thayer was open to the idea, which apparently led to a phone call and further email exchanges. It was only after several discussions that the editor at the Atlantic mentioned she would not be able to compensate Thayer for the article nor the time involved in adapting it. 

Their offer: that age-old cop-out "publicity".

Photography takes effort and skill
Which is really a for-profit publication's way of saying "we get paid, however you must be happy we deign to publish your work".

Purely greedy move on their part, and yet some of the people posting comments to Thayer's site actually accused him of being greedy by seeking payment. This would be laughable if that opinion was not so widely held among people in this country.

So why, you may be asking yourself, is this all in a blog called The Thumbnail Traveler, which is ostensibly about travel and photography? 

"But Steve," I can hear you ask, "where is all the upbeat stuff and where are all the pretty pictures?"

Fair question, but it's like this: Like Thayer, I write a blog free of charge to anyone who would like to peek in and enjoy a few moments away from the rest of the web.  I like to think that what you get when you come here is a view of the world which, for good or bad, is at least interesting to read -- or maybe just for the pretty pictures. Travel is a passion of mine, as is photography -- but there's a huge difference between what I elect to post and what I expect to be paid for.

Like Thayer, there are times when I write/photograph for free. It's my choice. But the majority of the time I need to be concerned with putting food on the table and funding those same trips I bring back and share. Part of the equation is being reimbursed, somehow, some way, for my efforts. If push comes to shove, my passions must give way to cold hard economic requirements. This, here on the blog, and on my Facebook page, is what I give away for free. And yes, it's for publicity. To drive the value of the overall brand. But if the brand is already established, the free stuff needs to give way to the Return on Investment, which is payment for a professional's work.

Making money with art is not greed
Thayer was exactly right to expect compensation. After all,  The Atlantic would be deriving profit as a result of having his work posted on the site. In addition, he was expected to spend additional time adapting the article to a format they wanted -- again, free of charge. The error was in the initial approach of The Atlantic to an author -- any author -- expecting to get something for nothing.

Publicity is a good thing under certain circumstances, and can be in and of itself a good thing for someone seeking a wider audience -- which is the logic the editor at The Atlantic used. But her error was in making that an automatic assumption and not mentioning that the work would be pro-bono at the outset. The offense didn't occur until she was well down the road of discussions with Thayer, and that was wrong. Ethically, it's the same as sitting down with a caterer to discuss an event and only after several meetings mentioning that you expect the catering to be free so that the caterer can hand their cards out at the event. But some how, some way, we've grown into a culture which so devalues journalism and other forms of creative endeavors that the expectation is that Thayer would adapt his article for free. 

So why post this here, on The Thumbnail Traveler? Because it's an important topic for bloggers and professionals all over the internet. What we provide for free here, doesn't mean we are giving things away in the rest of our profession. I expect to be paid for my photographs. And I am. My wife expects to be paid for her singing. And she is. This blog is posted to share with you the things I enjoy -- in the hope you enjoy them as well and, in fact, share them with others. So far it seems to be working. Slowly, but working. THAT is the value of "publicity". But getting a photograph on your website isn't going to drive traffic my way. History and social behavior show that's simply not the case.

Thayer rightly expects to be paid for his work. He's got all the credentials he needs to be the writer he wants to be. The editor at The Atlantic should have known better, and should never have approached a known journalist without some eye towards compensation. Does she work pro-bono for the magazine? Does the magazine post their work without any consideration for profit? Advertising? Doubtful.

So: Shame on The Atlantic Monthly for trying to "get stuff for free". Shame on anyone who insults the creators by asking them to do their work for free. 

Harlan Ellison, a highly respected writer and cherished friend, has a now (in)famous video on Youtube that explains things far more succinctly -- it's all about "Paying the Writer". Or the photographer, or the painter or the…well, you fill in the blank.

Rant over. Next week, back to the pretty pictures.

Thayer's original post and others....

Pay the Writer

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