Monday, December 19, 2011


When somebody in the media gets canned/fired/downsized/outsourced/pink-slipped/let go/shown the door/choose your euphemism, said media doesn’t generally make note of it.  There are exceptions; when I was stabbed in the back and shown the door by my former radio partners in 2008, the CEO went on the air two days later and libeled me.  A “discoverable public statement”, as my lawyer said.  BIG mistake.  (I still have the tape of the broadcast, although my lawsuit was settled and sealed in 2009.)

But this rant is about Dave Blaska, not me.  I had to find out in Chris Rickert’s column in the State Journal that Blaska , along with fellow Isthmus bloggers  Jack Craver and Emily Mills, were recently shown the door in a cost-cutting move/realignment of goals/reassessment of mission/refocusing on core strengths/choose your euphemism.

I read Blaska’s Blog on the Isthmus Daily Page (which owns the copyright to the composite graphic at the top of this post) faithfully.  He posted three or four columns in a typical week, and they were always well-written and entertaining.  Dave and I agree on very little, and his canonization of Vicki McKenna is annoying, but Dave put out a good, lefty-baiting, thought-provoking, and apparently well-read blog.

The disappointment this rant is about is not so much that Blaska’s Blog has been banished, although I will miss not having it to laugh with or at it; rather, I’m more disappointed that Rickert’s column says Blaska was doing this for the paltry sum of 30 dollars a week.  I’m disappointed that he’d agree to work that cheaply.  He’s FAR better than 30 bucks a week, fifteen hundred bucks a year, ten bucks per column, or however you want to look at the number.

When I was canned and went into the freelance business, I wasn’t sure how to price my work.  The best information I could get back then, based on several reliable sources, was that the going rate for experienced and qualified freelancers was, give or take, 39 bucks an hour plus expenses (travel, lodging, etc.).  In my negotiations with various clients I’ve had in the past three years, I’ve worked for less and I’ve worked for more.  But I’ve never gone below 20 bucks an hour plus expenses, a “rate” I gave a couple not-for-profit agencies.

More disclosure: back in the summer of ’09, Isthmus contacted me about being Blaska’s foil – writing a Daily Page blog from the lefty point of view, to “balance” Dave’s right-wing blog.  Long story short, we never even got to the discussion of money (and I’m sure I was not the only person “in the running” for the job), because many of my concerns about who’s property the proposed posts would be, what kind of backing I might expect from Isthmus if I ruffled the wrong feathers, and similar technical/intellectual property/ownership concerns took me out of the running after a few conversations.

I was thinking that if my concerns could be addressed, and it ever got down to talking about money, I’d say “just pay me what you’re paying Blaska”.  We are similar in age and “journalistic” (please don’t call me a journalist) experience; I’d venture to say my name at that time had at least as much public recognition/recall as Dave’s; I admired his work; I figured I’d work for the same wage.  As it turns out, I’m glad it never got to the money stage.  At that time, I had four other projects going – one big one, and three smaller ones.  I was billing out at 20 bucks an hour plus expenses for one of them; 40 bucks an hour plus expenses for two of the other small projects; and I was doing the big project for 75 bucks an hour plus direct expenses.

Had I known Isthmus was paying Blaska 30 bucks a week….regardless of the number of columns/blogs he posted per week….I would have turned it down, had we ever gotten to the money stage.  I may or may not have an inflated view of my marketability, but I wouldn’t do a column for ten bucks, or seven and a half bucks, or whatever it worked out to at $30/week.

I was doing THIS – blogging here, at that time under the name “The Way Things R” (I changed it to “Rifles at Dawn” a couple years ago) por nada.  Some of the best writing in the blogosphere is done gratis; those of us who do this sort of thing do it because we love it, and because it’s an important outlet for our creativity, and…..because nobody EDITS our work!  We can say whatever we please (within reasonable bounds), however we please, whenever we please.  No editors, no deadlines, no nothin’.

Dave Blaska, I miss your Daily Page blog.  I’m sure you had your reasons, but you worked too damn cheaply.  You’re worth a hell of a lot more than 30 bucks a week.
By the way, this is the 666th post on this site.  Scary.


  1. Well.....

    St John wrote his Gospel for free.

    It's called "evangelization." Blaska prolly got more than a few converts to common sense--well worth the time, given the audience.

  2. Garrison Keillor wrote, about a year and a half ago, that indie publishing and the Internet were going to kill writers:

    Call me a pessimist,...but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea. We live in a literate time, and our children ...blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens,...and it's all free, and you read freely, you're not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book...

    And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a website. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you've got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

    He goes on in that vein:

    Blaska -- I didn't read his column regularly because I find current 'conservative' 'thought' to be hard to take in large doses, I have to administer it medicinally, as it were -- was worth $30 a week because that's what someone was willing to pay him.

    (Interestingly, I make more than $30 a week off my blogs, which means people are more willing to pay for half-baked stories about my kids than conservative thought, but I make my money primarily off advertisements.)

    I say interestingly in part because about two years ago, I had an exchange with about writing my "Whodathunkit?!" column for the NCAA basketball tournament for them; they ultimately rejected the idea because they thought I couldn't crank it out in the four days between when the teams were announced and when the post had to run to be timely. (I've done it every year, but, you know, they're the professionals.) We traded other ideas, too, but then I realized that they pay $50 a post, and you have to go through SO MUCH RIGAMAROLE to get an idea posted that it wasn't worth it. Who wants to have 14 editorial meetings on whether "Stupid Questions About Star Wars" is a good idea, just for $50? I can run it on my blog and make ad bucks.

    I digress. Or do I? The Internet is going to do to publishing (is doing) what it did to music: remonetize it in a way that energizes writing. I've started focusing on Indie-published books this year and have REALLY enjoyed two of the four I've read; the other two were average, which is not a bad stat for books -- books with no publishers, no editors, no press releases, no book tours. Total cost I paid for them? About $9 for four books.

    If Blaska was bringing eyes to the Isthmus and hence dollars, they might have kept him on. (Unless they're doing that thing where to address falling revenues they cut services, a la the bus company and the USPS.) I'm surprised Emily Mills was let go, as I enjoy her thoughtful pieces and I felt she was more in tune with their readership; most people don't enjoy being challenged in their reading.

    I'm rambling. I didn't know you did freelance stuff. Where can we find your other work?

  3. OH! I know what I meant to add. I can afford to work for cheap, writing, because I have a real job that pays me well. So I do this as a hobby. I do it MORE than I would do a hobby, because it's a hobby that pays, but blogging/writing is something I do for fun. Isn't that what Blaska was doing, too?

  4. Briane - the stuff that's "publicly discoverable" is at

    which is one of my good-paying "day jobs". I did a lot of writing for CWAG (Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups); bios and features scattered around their (new) website; contract work with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Foundation....just about every word on the site is mine, and I do a substantial amount of ghost writing for a number of 501(c)(3) organizations, at the "charity" rate, but it's honest work and it's rewarding. I won't name the organizations because it's ghosted and I don't want people pawing around websites trying to figure out what's mine and what isn't. I also write opinion columns for a Florida-based online news service.

    I "sold" my radio station stock back to the rotten bastards (30 years of my life) at a hell of a premium, and the settlement (sealed) with that outfit allows us to take nice vacations and have the occasional steak dinner at a nice place; my wife has a VERY good job which pays well; the kids are now on their own; the house isn't quite paid for, but the balance is at 3.9%, so unless "sweetie" (I love that term!) throws me out and replaces me with another Collie, life is more than tolerable.

    I'm sure Blaska did his Daily Page stuff as much for shits and giggles as actual hard cash, and yes, in the internet world you're worth what people (or advertisers) will pay you....but, Isthmus was getting a REAL bargain with Blaska, Emily, and Jack. Had they been employees, the hourly wage would have been unimaginably low, and the state wage/hour people would have shut that operation down! There's so much grey area in that "blogging for a publication" stuff now; Bill Wineke, a great writer and former colleage of mine at the now-defunct "YourNews" Dane County operation, probably gives his stuff to for a few opera tickets and some miscellaneous spiffs (just guessing).

    The publishing biz is going to be like the radio biz is now, in most major markets - fifty stations, each with a 2-share (2%) of the audience. Except, as you pointed out, it'll be 50 million authors, each selling 10 copies of each book.

    Ain't life grand, though!?

  5. 50 million authors and not one copy editor. Yes, a much more literate society.

  6. Yeah content on web sites written by the average freelancer tends to be low paying. I write about sports, mostly about major league baseball and pro and college football for a big time news and sports site and get $8-$15 bucks upfront per 400-500 word article, plus a bonus for the number of hits it gets. That can add a few cents to several dollars depending on how it does. I'm sure their staff writers get a heck of a lot more. It can add up to some nice extra money, but like Briane P., I have a decent day job so I can do this part time and not starve. I blog too; still waiting for that first adsense check, but that's more a labor of love anyway.

  7. Clarification, Emily wasn't let go. She left on her own accord well before they let Blaska and Craver. It wasn't due to any ill will between Isthmus or Emily. She wanted to focus her energy in one direction and use the time to help me build dane101 into a tighter and more robust operation. I also pay her more per week than Isthmus, but that wasn't the key deciding factor for her to resign.

  8. Oh, and if you want to help support local freelance journalists and change the tide of low pay for online writing consider supporting dane101's 2012 freelance budget campaign. Every dime we raise through this effort goes toward paying writers. If we hit $5000 we can promise three freelancers steady work for four to five months.

  9. Jesse - I see your column on Dane 101 this morning talks about where the guv will spend the "one-year anniversary" of Act 10. Just so you're clear, in English, that phrase is "first anniversary", since the latin root of anniversary (anni) means year. This is the sort of thing George H. (comment above) means about copy editors.

    We all could benefit.

  10. At least Blaska will have his State Employee pension to fall back on ... funny that. He should qualify for a little wingnut welfare by now, perhaps from the Bradley Foundation, the McGyver Institute or Manufacturer's and Commerce. He's certainly put in enough time in the fetid Right-Wing trench shoveling manure up and over the top.