Who pays the piper

Earlier today Dr Amy Kavanagh, a historian and disabled rights expert, was rejected by BBC London News after she asked for an appearance fee. The same thing happened to her two weeks ago with Sky News.

I’ve experienced this too. There’s an assumption in a lot of news outlets that people will be happy to work for free – and it is work; the programme calls you because they want the benefit of your expertise – because you’re there to promote your employer, your book, your particular cause or your personal brand. And if you are, that’s fine: if you calculate that the publicity you’ll get is worth the lack of fee, more power to you. But that doesn’t mean that everybody else should work for free too.

I used to fall for this. I’d happily speak to a researcher for 25 minutes to cover the different perspectives on the subject and identify the key talking points, and I’d set my alarm so I could be ready to talk at 5.45am (or 6.15am, or 6.32… radio items are often moved at the last minute). But not only was I doing this work for free; it was then affecting the work I do get paid for, because I was dog tired for the rest of the day. It’s even worse if you’re talking about something deeply personal, because that comes with a whole bunch of additional stresses and strains.

I know some people who’ve got work from doing these things, but for me the only offers that came from working for free were more requests to work for free. And sadly my landlord doesn’t accept exposure in lieu of cash.

As the famous Oatmeal comic puts it:

Dr Kavanagh:

Yes, media is a powerful & important tool for campaigning. If you want your story shared & that is the most important thing, that’s ok.

What I’m really bored of is being approached as a contributor, known for my quality of media work / interviews & expected to do it for free!

I don’t think anybody should work for free when everybody else is getting paid. That’s partly common sense, but it’s also because payment means obligation. When I go on the radio as a paid contributor I am working for the programme and its listeners. If someone else was footing the bill, they would be doing so in the expectation that I will be working for them in some way: promoting the brand, perhaps, or pushing a particular agenda. The job of an expert, surely, is to counter that.