In one of my darkest moments, I considered entering the content writing market. I even reached out to a company and they offered me an assignment. They said 1,500 words in 48 hours on a topic I knew nothing about, complete with multiple interviews over the weekend. I told them no.

One, there was simply no way I could line up all the interviews. Two, I’m an extremely fast writer, but two days for a 1,500 word assignment is insane.

Third, it occurred to me that this would be setting a precedent, one that was by no means sustainable and, quite honestly, cruel.

I also knew that whatever they were paying it wouldn’t reach the 10 to 20 cents a word professional journalists gets paid.

Sadly, far too many young, desperate writers are eager to do this in the name of getting exposure, experience, and clips.

However, it’s a losing racket … for everyone.

Across the nation, writers are being taken advantage of by these content farms, and their low pay is driving down pay for quality journalism.

Even worse, the public, in particular younger readers, are increasingly unable to tell the difference between actual reporting and an ad.

Equally as troubling, content farms, certain news sites, and some writers have come to believe that this new paid-content writing is journalism.

Some experienced publishers will even tell you that times have changed and the walls of separation between advertising and editorial no longer apply.

But the rules of journalism haven’t changed. The standards we have to keep have not been altered. And true reporters have not given up the values that we hold dear and which allow us to function as the so-called Fourth Estate.

Even in these desperate times, I’m glad that so many of my colleagues across the state are unwilling to trade their honor and integrity for a pithy paycheck.

And yet I’m saddened that an entire generation doesn’t care that the vast majority of editorial content they consume is not the work of journalists but of marketers and PR agents. For this new generation, the promise of having your byline or your face on a video for a piece of pay-to-play content trumps any sense of journalistic independence.

As a columnist who has written about politics for 15 years, I find this deeply disturbing even though my skill set as a writer is opinion writing.

Yes, I’m taking a side. Yes, I’m trying to win you over. Yes, I want to throttle those who I believe are doing wrong.

But those opinions are mine. No one paid me to have them. No one asked me to say something I didn’t believe. This is in stark contrast to this new breed of writer, the one who writes glowing profiles about an advertiser, who pens a must-do list dominated by a news site’s clients, who cuts buzz-worthy videos commissioned by the local conventions and visitors bureau, the dominate hospital system, the city government itself. These writers have mistaken pride of place for prostitution.

For a community to thrive, someone must be willing to tell the facts as they are, not as a client wants them to be. For a community to survive, columnists must be free to express their seasoned, experienced opinions, not write slobbering love letters to the sales team’s clients, complete with doodle hearts and lipstick kisses.

Journalism matters. Independent columnists matters. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Those of you who believe that, keep fighting. We can’t let these marketers and content farmers win.

Give ’em hell.

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