In 1899, New York’s newsboys went on strike against Joseph Pulitzer’s unfair treatment and payment plan, advocating for child laborers across NYC. This prompted many cultural phenomena: Disney’s Newsies musical, for example, and DC Comics’s Newsboy Legion.
In 2014, I signed on to write for the teen section of the Huffington Post. I entered an unpaid position where I had the freedom to write practically whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. After editorial shifts and my constant growing pains, I began to write at MTV News. Under their young adult Founders platform, I essentially did the same job. However, there were more expectations. Whether the deadlines were stricter or the approved pitches fewer and farther in between, my payment remained a simple byline.
It was not a challenge for me to meet these expectations, but the added work and higher standards typically mean a raise in pay—or at least a cool swag bag.
I am deeply indebted to these platforms for their very existence and advocacy for up-and-coming writers. However, I’ve realized that I was incorrectly taught that I was still “up-and-coming”. The truth is, I’m already a writer. I’ve been a writer from the first day I logged into my 2006 version of Microsoft Word and told stories through a Comic Sans lens. The other truth is, these publications don’t advocate for youth as actively as they like to believe.
While the work platforms like MTV Founders accomplish is deeply important and necessary, the way in which it is executed is disrespectful to its content creators. I cannot speak on behalf of every youth-centered publication, but in my experience and that of many of my peers, our options are extremely limited. To network and publish important stories, it is constantly advised that young adults seek out unpaid internships or blogging positions under large mass media companies. I value the need for a college degree and understand that money does not grow next to kale bushes, but the nonexistence of compensation is unrealistic and flippant.
It’s not greedy for me to ask for more. As told by history, minors and young people have been gypped out of fair working environments since the idea of work emerged. Especially in 2017 when getting a quality education puts the majority of young people thousands of dollars into debt, it is vital to propel our careers in ways that are not only full of passion but full of honest opportunity.
For some outlets like The Odyssey, contributors get small stipends based on page views but are taught to write based on click-bait headlines, which is dangerous to young journalists. I’m optimistic that there are many news and creative platforms for millennial writers and reporters, but they are quiet, underfunded and lack the necessary resources to become legitimate sources.
The MTV News staff recently announced plans to unionize, which I support, but young people with short resumes create content for MTV News. A lot of content. And we don’t get health benefits or any monetary compensation. I’m not even necessarily asking for money at this point, but I do believe there needs to be further acknowledgement and advancement of youth contributors. While editors who live in sweet New York apartments and park their clean cars under LA palm trees get to call this their jobs, student contributors call this their dream.
It is overdue and fundamental for these online media employers to stop taking advantage of young, under-exposed creators. If not monetary gain—which is still extremely necessary– this means more one-on-one work between editors and contributors. If I’m writing for you, I want real discussions regarding my work, instead of quick Google Doc edits. I want invaluable connections, because if my writing is so invaluable to your day-to-day functions, I should be, too.
In a time and political climate where a smart, straightforward and innovative news media is crucial, I would bet on every young writer and reporter first. The future of journalism lay within people like myself and all the other brave, beautiful, brilliant young minds out there.
In the words of the Jack Feldman, lyric writer for Newsies, “Pulitzer may own the world, but he don’t own us.”