Thursday, February 09, 2012

The New York Times and Spec Work

Working "on spec" means that you are doing some work for free with the anticipation of getting paid.

There's no guarantee that by doing this work that you will get paid for it.

But you know all that.

On Monday, the New York Times emailed a bunch of cartoonists to send in ideas for cartoons on Fridays. The Times would pick one and the cartoonist would be paid $250.00 for a finish to appear in the Sunday edition.

Most of the people on that email list were editorial cartoonists.

By Tuesday, the Washington Post blog ("Political cartoonists say they’re indignant over Times’ solicitation")
and the Columbia Journalism School blog ("Drawing the News Ain’t Easy") and the Jim Romenesko media blog ("Editorial Cartoonists Insulted by NYT Solicitation") reported on it.

I was asked today, by the editorial cartoonists, to put my name to a letter to The Times about this.  While the letter is not public at this time, it's a thoughtful suggestion to change the way they are doing this and offer more money. Much more money. My guess is that the letter will be made public soon.

You know me. I'm a full-time, un-syndicated freelancer.

I did a "reply all" email back to all of these cartoonists:

I feel like I'm in here with a group of cartoonists who work differently from me.

I do spec work.

I send cartoons out to magazines; making spec proposals every month.

I look at this as another market, like some of my other gag cartoon markets: WSJ, Barron's, Harvard Business Review, New Yorker, etc.

I saw the email from Aviva [Michaelov, Art Director of the NYT Opinion Pages/Sunday Review section] and thought, "Oh. OK. Another market." I used to do stuff like this for the Sunday Daily News 8-10 years ago: draw up some roughs and then get an OK for a finish.

Not sure what I want to do here.

EDIT:  Some related links:

Daryl Cagle weighs in at his MSNBC blog.

Tom Richmond's letter to The Times


Mark Anderson said...

Yeah, the money is lousy, but as to creating stuff on spec, that's just the way it works.

Mike said...

The difference I see is that, while many good cartoons have contemporary references and resonances, a good editorial cartoon is critically timely and has a very, very short shelf life. The artists the NYTimes approached already have paying clients for their work. In my mind, this leaves them in the position of either specing out one of their best ideas of the week, which seems disloyal to their existing client, or sending NYTimes one of the dregs, which seems unlikely to make the cut.

Of course, if I'm right, they'll all be sending the Times their dregs and it will just mean that one of them a week gets another $250, which is nice. And the Times gets a mediocre cartoon, which, I guess, for $250, is about what they deserve.

tcg said...

I also don't quite understand. Isn't the Times asking for finished art?
Is the issue here that it takes much more time to do a finish than to submit a sketch idea? Asking for sketches is much more inclusive, and certainly, technology makes it more than possible to turn around the idea into a finish in time for publication. Maybe some clarification is all that's necessary?