Wicked Local

October 26, 2007

I did a semi-impulsive thing last night in a post I submitted to Wicked Local. This, if you’re not familiar, is the online version of the Community Newspaper Group’s chain of papers. In fact, the chain is now owned and operated by Gatehouse Media, and that’s the real point.

Through multiple owners and nearly two decades, I’ve been writing for them as a stringer. That’s what people in the business call freelance journalists. The pay has never been great, but the readers have appreciated my pieces and often write to the editor to comment on my work.

Now, Gatehouse has changed their model. Instead of getting all hot again right here…just read the post. I’m pasting it here because I hate the idea of giving their site any more traction than it deserves. I welcome your comments – especially you guys I met at Boston’s Blogtoberfest last night.



Right in the foot

This tiny rant might be like taking a shotgun to my foot, but it’s better to speak up now and be able to look my colleagues in the eye than it would be to just shade my glance anytime I encountered a fellow writer.

I think Wicked Local’s model BLOWS CHUNKS!

As a professional writer, I take offense when my skills and my product is belittled to the point where a media organization feels that it can get the same quality perspective and writing from a citizen army of bloggers and ‘correspondents’ that they receive from paid stringers, pro freelancers and their very qualified staff.

If I were a dental assistant, would you want me doing your root canal or would you insist that the actual dentist do the work?

Would you prefer that a skilled train engineer pilot the Greenbush line down the tracks or do you want someone who has had model trains in his basement and has read about trains cruising through town in a multi-ton locomotive?

Even painters, plumbers, waiters and UPS drivers require some training and are paid for their expertise. Why not writers?

Is it because everyone is able to bang away at the keys without fear of wrecking something critical?

Why don’t you try to install an gas log or paint your house or drive a box van around to deliver your packages?

I’ll tell you why…you’re not qualified.

I’ve spent more than two decades honing my skills as a writer and reporter and that’s what organizations pay for when they hire me to turn ideas into words. It’s a shame that Wicked Local (and by extension Gatehouse Media) has devalued my education and professional experience.

We all realize that technology has made it easy to share your thoughts and comments with the rest of the world. But there’s a vast difference between sharing a comment and taking the place of a trained journalist.

I hope that by establishing the Wicked Local network Gatehouse is not on the slippery slope to ruining press coverage for Hingham and all the other local towns that deserve more than wire stories and random opinions from untrained reporters.

As of this fall, I have it on good authority that many budgets have already been frozen or reduced and papers are not authorized to use freelancers in the way they have before.

Think about all of this the next time you’re wondering what’s happening in town government because the articles and meeting coverage have been replaced with ‘features’ from the AP.

And ponder the value we should all place on local writers and local news the next time you’re wondering why the paper seems empty and the Website is full of random blogs that are more like private diaries than news vehicles.

Finally, if your response to this note is that I’m caught in a sour grapes scenario—realize that the amount of money I get paid to write a column for the Hingham Mariner or any of the papers in Gatehouse’s new collection is less than you’d pay for a tank of gas.

I’m a writer because I like crafting stories and columns that impart knowledge and entertain readers. But just like the dentist, painter, plumber and delivery person…I’m not about to give my skills away for nothing.

Maybe the people running Wicked Local should take a moment to find out what readers want instead of bowing so quickly to the trend of the day.

Thanks for reading…I mean it.

Jeff Cutler


More to come…