This is a response to a column written by Mike Martin, owner of the blog, The Columbia Heartbeat. Now, Mike has been on a quest to have all citizen or participatory journalist paid. I agree with this. But Mike has used me as a pawn in his battles, something I do not appreciate.
Here is my response to Martin.
I don’t have a bucket-list, but if I did, writing for a city newspaper would be near the top. Getting paid would be better, but for now, I am a volunteer honing my skills.
For the last six years my weekly opinion essays have appeared on the pages and web site of the Columbia Missourian, running opposite J. Karl Miller’s; sometimes as a point/counterpoint, but most of the time simply because our politics differ. For this opportunity, I must thank Laura Johnson and former Missourian editor, Jake Sherlock.
Since my arrival in Columbia, I had written letters to the editor of both Columbia papers, with 95-percent published. This success emboldened me to approach Johnson with the idea of writing a regular column. She asked me if I could write monthly, to which I reply “Daily” considering all that was happening. We settled on weekly. Sherlock and I met and worked out the details, including my titanic salary of $0.00. I have received several “raises” since.
My goals for writing are multi-fold. First and foremost is my wanting to start the conversation concerning local, state and federal politics. There is a strong belief that I, along with Miller and Rose Nolen, are fulfilling a patriotic duty, engaging the public to discuss and become involved in our democratic-republic’s political process.
Mike Martin is also patriotic. His “The Columbia Heartbeat” has been a great source of news and, at times, comedy. His online blog is truly “Columbia, Missouri’s all-digital, alternative news source!” It is not on the same plane as the St. Louis Riverfront Times, but I do read TCH to find those stories the Missourian and the other paper occasionally miss. And do so with a grain of salt. I’ll explain in a bit.
Since my early days working with Jake Sherlock, Martin has had his sights on the despicable communist-socialist practice of the not paying the citizen journalist, as he did in the February 27 edition of TCH. Citizen or “participatory journalism” is when the reader, takes “an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information.”
I agree with Martin, citizen journalists are not paid and this really does need to change. However, unlike Martin, I have not made this a target in some sort of vendetta against the news media, in his case, specifically the Missourian. I also volunteer my writing to the New York Journal of Books. Citizen journalists write because 1) it is important, 2) it is fun, and 3) the byline gives us a slight advantage in the real world.
Even as “volunteers,” those who wish to be taken seriously must maintain a higher level of professionalism, as my colleagues at the Association of Opinion Journalist regularly point out. I’ll use a golf analogy to explain; I may not be a paid “professional,” but I am, even by AOJ’s standards, a high ranking amateur.
Martin has taken his battle too far once again using me as a pawn in his battle. Yes, I did post a request for donations for dental work through GiveForward.com. Why? Curiosity to see what happens. Even if I had dental insurance, the $20,000-plus out of pocket cost is way over my and most other’s budgets. It was not, as Martin suggests, a plea because of some financial hardship caused by the Missourian not paying me.
I do have a question for Martin. If he is so concerned for my well-being, why has he not donated the $20,000 for my new dentures?
I do not care if Martin is “paid” for writing TCH. That really is none of my business, as my pay rate should not be his.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, but for me, the paybacks are simple – I have become an important and influential voice in the local and state political systems and I receive free books.
Tom Warhover, the executive editor for innovation at the Columbia Missourian, and I have had the pay conversation several times. I am waiting for day when my “close and dear friend” MU associate professor Clyde Bentley gifts me his editorial writing classes (hint, hint), or there is an opening at the Missourian that I can fill. Meanwhile, I will continue to accept Tom’s offers of doubling my current salary when requested. He does know I want to crossover.
Until that time comes and as long as I knowingly and willingly volunteer my time to the paper and the NYJB, I am asking Martin to please not use me as a pawn in his nonsensical attacks on the use of citizen journalists at the Missourian.