I was asked to write something on this topic by a friend of mine who has been in the same boat for much longer than me. Basically it began when she retweeted my appeal for donations yesterday. A particularly self-righteous dipshit of a Western cheerleader decided to give her unsolicited opinion on the concept of a blogger asking for donations. My friend shut her down and then wrote a timely rant on the subject, because as I said she’s in the same boat and she felt it needed to be called out. She also said I shouldn’t remain silent about it either.
First of all I must say that I have received some substantial donations from some long-time readers and I seriously appreciate it. I’ve had problems with crowdfunding in the past, largely because I’m limited to a platform people apparently hate (at least some people have told me this), and because my life situation is constantly changing. As I’ve written before, what seems feasible at the beginning of a campaign usually turns out impossible by the time it’s over, especially since the goal has never been reached (last time I reached only 50%). These failures are entirely my own responsibility. I know why they failed and I know what I can do to turn things around, but that’s another story.
Getting back to the topic at had, the Russia-watcher in question put forth two very cogent arguments:
- I should get a job.
- Nobody should expect to get paid to write a blog.
Let me answer those here. For the first question, I’ve been in Ukraine trying to get a job I had lined up. I left a full-time position for this job which entailed a significant pay cut. For me, money was not the issue- helping Ukraine was, and I have very limited resources with which to make a difference. By contrast the cheerleader in question’s method of helping Ukraine, as much as I can see, consists of tapping away at a keyboard from the comfort of their home somewhere in the West (I’m told the UK). I took a big risk, it didn’t pan out through no fault of my own and in spite of my best efforts- that’s it.
Next, “get a job” doesn’t work so well in countries where you are not a legal resident, be that Russia or Ukraine. You can’t just walk into a McDonald’s and fill out an application. “Pounding the pavement” isn’t an option. It’s amazing how many Westerners simply do not understand this concept. They apparently think only their countries are allowed to have immigration and labor laws. I have had offers for full-time jobs which would have taken care of the work permit issues, but I could not take advantage of them because I was being strung along by my other prospective employer.
In spite of all this, I have been working all this time. I’ve pointed out before that when there’s a long lapse in posts on this blog it’s typically for one reason- I’m working. If I’m not writing here, I’m writing articles for money, doing translations, proofreading, or something else. That work is never stable, but at times it was fairly sustainable. In order to make ends meet here I actually not only went back to teaching English, but I actually taught kids because it was the only thing offered at the time. I have not willingly taught anyone under the age of 16 since maybe 2008, and the last time I was teaching kids I was getting paid about $100 an hour for doing so. So yeah, spending the first half of my Saturdays as a baby-sitter for about three hours wasn’t beneath my dignity- it is an honor to suffer for Ukraine!
Now before moving on from the personal side of this post let me address the equally idiotic second argument. I never expected this blog to make money. I never even expected to write it on a regular basis. It started as a cathartic thing that had nothing to do with politics. While it has had its share of high-traffic days, the blog has never garnered enough regular views to qualify for ad sharing, and thus has never directly made any money. Directly is the key word here. My writing is what has allowed me to get paid for numerous articles in various publications. It has got me full-time positions, TV appearances, and even a part in a reality TV series. More important than money, it has given me access to people I’d otherwise never meet and allowed me to experience things most Americans never experience. So in reality, this humble blog has paid off a lot more than I ever expected it would in 2013. Having provided thousands of people with free entertainment and education here and on Twitter for years, there’s nothing wrong with putting out a tip jar. The fact is that if I had a sustainable income or a sizable amount of money for investment, I would be able to greatly increase the quality and quantity of content I produce. And that brings me to the main point of this post, what my supportive friend was so upset about.
The problem is that since 2014, I’ve mostly been subsumed in the so-called “gig economy.” Our wise innovators in Silicon Valley as well as the hacks in the media tell us that it’s wonderful. “Work from the comfort of your own home!” Well I’m here to tell you that’s nonsense. Anything that pays decent money, or even just significant money, requires a lot of time, or in some cases there are expenses to be paid. The highest I’m typically paid for articles is $150. If you want more than that, you need to spend some money. Those articles I did from the Donbas? I probably lost money the first time and maybe made about $150 “profit” on the latter ones- the ones where I was in an active warzone. I know people who have had full time positions and spent far more time on the front lines than myself yet their salaries would put them below the poverty line in their home countries.
If you want to talk about a sense of entitlement, talk about media companies these days. They want journalists to put their lives in danger, but they don’t want to pay for it. Indeed, some publications pay a lot for an article, but rest assured there are expenses associated with such pieces. It’s not the kind of thing you do sitting at home writing emails or on the phone. Here it also bears mentioning the all too common “write for exposure” problem as well, even though I’ve been lucky enough not to encounter it myself.
Aside from low pay and sporadic work, just getting in touch with editors is a pain in the ass. People don’t answer emails, or answer them weeks after the fact. Here we have this amazing tool to get in touch with people almost instantly around the world, and now we have smartphones so you can maintain access even outside of the office, yet many people whose job is to communicate with journalists seem to be unable to answer emails within a reasonable amount of time, if at all.
Another problem that is somewhat connected with the above is late and or sporadic payment. In this business you often have to chase down payment, and you always are made to feel like you’re bothering someone for asking about the money they owe you for work performed. Even when they’re not late, your pay cannot be reliably calculated when you don’t know if a pitch will be accepted, when it will be accepted, when it will be ready for editing, publishing, etc. I’ve seen the process for one article last about a month before it actually got published and I got paid. Any site that claims writing for them can provide a stable income is most likely lying.
This is what many of the people who inform you are doing- spending their own money and sometimes risking their own lives to bring you something more in-depth than what you’re going to get on cable news. You say the headlines don’t give you a good well-rounded story about Russia, Syria, or Ukraine? Well the people that are willing to provide that need to be paid for their trouble. That’s just the way it is.
Getting back to my situation, the truth is that back in 2013 when things first started to go awry work-wise, there was actually a very simple solution to all my financial/work problems. In other words, I could have just “got a job” and not even written a blog at all. See I had and still have connections in this really big media company you might have heard of called RT. It wouldn’t have been very difficult at all to get a full time position there, and from what I know the salary and benefits are quite good. I’ve also had other offers from other Russian state media outlets over the years. So in reference to my aforementioned detractor’s unhelpful suggestion to “just get a job,” I could have just got a job with one of those media outlets. It would have made life from 2014 to the present a whole lot easier on every level. But alas, there’s just this thing I’ve been saddled with all my life called a conscience. It’s the reason I haven’t solved my financial problems to date by becoming a self-help guru or religious cult leader.
On the other side of the coin I could easily buy a fake diploma, a decent suit, and peddle my skills as a “Russia foreign policy” expert. I’m sure plenty of think tanks, politicians, and other thought-leaders would pay decent money for lectures about how “Russia’s going to hack the midterms, like, really badly this time!” Maybe I could teach corporate and private clients how to “safeguard your data against Russian hackers,” or teach people how to evade and thwart “SVR active measures.” I know the jargon, I know how to sound credible, it’s just that I value not being a grifter asshole than the amount of money that such “work” might rake in.
So yeah, life’s just a little more complicated than “get a job.” We’re living in an era when jobs are increasingly disappearing or getting worse. The most advanced countries seem to be suffering the worst from this trend.
When I put out the call for donations yesterday, it isn’t in the expectation of a reward for writing blog posts. I have the opportunity to do some volunteer work in Ukraine, but that means foregoing paid work. I also am considering doing other stories from other regions, or changing the focus of my work. Beyond that I’ve lost a good chunk of my savings while being strung along here in Ukraine. If someone who has enjoyed or been informed by my work after all these years thinks any of that is worth a few bucks, they’re free to donate. Otherwise no one’s arm is being twisted here. Your donation either helps produce more content of some kind, or it helps me help someone in Ukraine, modestly though it may be (apparently only the rich should have the privilege of volunteering).
The fact that people get so outraged at such appeals is a combination of the resentment culture in the West as well as people’s misconceptions about entitlement. We ignore when investors or businessmen feel entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars without actually doing any of the work that generates that value. We don’t question the entitlement of pundits who never actually engage in journalism and yet are given a platform to pontificate on every issue under the sun as though they were experts. But someone who puts out free content 90% of the time is suddenly a beggar and “entitled” for putting out the equivalent of a tip jar.