Friday, December 19, 2014

No Means NO!

As a freelance writer, finding clients can be a process of elimination on both sides. There are some services I simply don't provide--I'm not a professional copyeditor, so I say no to those. I won't leave my Skype open all day so you can randomly interrupt me when I'm working for other clients. And, of course, I absolutely will not write a 500-word article for $.50.



I also won't write about topics that go against my values. And that's an issue you face quite often when you work as a writer. I also avoid jobs that involve writing school papers for people (yes, students--particularly college students--pay writers to do that).



One issue that comes up when people find out that I write for a couple of high-profile publications is that they ask me to slip a business name into what I'm writing. Nobody will ever know, they say, and it's something journalists do all the time.



I say no and usually that's it. But occasionally I say no and get a few persuasive emails back. Yes, I said a few. I don't respond after the initial "no" because...what else is there to say?



One marketer stunned me by telling me, as part of his argument to persuade me to slip his client's brand name into one of my articles, that a reporter with a major, nationally-known, well-respected newspaper slipped brands into articles for him all the time. I didn't respond--I was too stunned to respond.



So these journalists risk their salaried jobs and journalistic integrity for a few bucks? It wasn't even about risking getting future assignments from clients. Four years of journalism school and basic moral integrity has me saying no. I'd like to believe that professional journalists have that, as well. So all I can hope is that he was lying to convince me to do this by using basic adolescent coercion...



Has an employer ever asked you to do anything that was against your beliefs? How did you handle it?

59 comments:

  1. He had some nerve. I'm sure he was lying just to get you to do it.
    There is a lot of security involved with my clients, so doing anything illegal or unethical is just out of the question. (As in, some of what I do I can't tell you or I'd have to kill you.)
    Morals, values, and integrity - those seem in short supply these days.

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    1. That last part is definitely true! I think most people wouldn't do it out of fear of losing their jobs. To me, it's the same as stealing from your employer.

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  2. Wow! I never realized so many of the things you wrote about.

    I worked for a retailer that sold discounted designer clothing. We often had to cut the label or use a Sharpie to run a line through the label. It always felt shady to me, but in reality, was what the designer required of us.

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    1. It sounds like the designer was okay with it--actually by marking through the label or cutting it out, you're preventing the person who buys it at discount from selling it for a higher price, right? So it's actually helping the designer.

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  4. Read with interest. (by the way, my name brand is...)

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  5. I worked as a journalist for years -- community newspapers. I never did that and don't know anyone who did. I'm not surprised to find out it happens, though. I am kind of surprised editors and publishers allowed it to actually get printed.

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    1. I see jobs on Elance all the time asking for writers who can "Write an article and get it into major publications." They mean high-profile sites like Huffington Post and Inc. That part always perplexes me. Who are all these people who have the power to write self-serving posts for people and get them posted on those sites? Those sites are VERY strict about what they post--and I can't imagine someone would risk a good relationship with them by slipping articles in that promote businesses for a few bucks. Or even a few dozen bucks.

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  6. I wouldn't write about something that goes against my beliefs and values either! I've actually rejected translating some books because they were using kids and teens as vigilantes or action stars. And it has more depth when you have in mind how much us in poorer countries actually need money and even the smallest of payments

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    1. It helps that there are plenty of other jobs out there...I just skip those and move on to the next. Interestingly, they seem to always be able to find people to take on those jobs for a low rate. I mostly write about technology and business--I've found few people like to take on technology. Most people want to write about wedding dresses and nail polish. I'm lucky I have a geeky side! I recently landed a new client who said I could write about anything I wanted...I still gravitated toward apps and computers!

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  7. Wow just wow. I can't even imagine being asked all those shady things and being expected to do them! I could never go against something I believed in, it just wouldn't be right and what kind of person would I be if I did?

    You deserve some hugs for all that you go through as a writer, I seriously had no idea!

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    1. That's the easy stuff. How about sending your first draft of a new assignment and receiving feedback like: "Make it more concise." Or: "Rewrite using more extensive words." When you ask for clarification on what they want, they don't answer. (Sigh.) 99% of my clients are great--that's mostly because 99% of my clients are long-term repeat clients. It's when a new one comes along that things can get really interesting. I could tell some stories!

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  8. i can imagine this sort of 'prompting' goes on all the time. yuck.

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    1. Like product placement, I guess? Link placement. It was worse when I was actively writing for Motley Fool and Intuit. I'd apply for normal writing jobs and they'd completely ignore that and hone in on the fact I was writing for these publications. My answer was always, "Thank you for your interest, but I will not jeopardize my current client relationships with this sort of activity. Best of luck." That SHOULD have been it, but occasionally you'd get that persistent person who would keep sending persuasive emails, which I'd ignore.

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  9. Oh yeah, I've had a few nuts as well. If the article was for them and their specific content and they wanted the name put in, sure thing. But just to stick it in, no way. Plus writing about stuff I think is complete nonsense isn't going to happen either. Have I done a few unethical things online for a client? hmm maybe lol but nothing that ever hurts anyone or would give out fake information like "the cure for .... is real" or some stupid bs like that.

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    1. YAY! Someone else who has been through that! I definitely have written articles for clients where I put the links and keywords they requested in and sent the articles directly back to them--that's all part of SEO. But when they ask to piggy-back on one of my other clients? Heck no! I don't even submit articles to third-party sites for them. I just write the content--they do what they want with it. (I have gotten those requests, too--but that's marketing and I'm busy enough promoting my own stuff!)

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  10. I'm not surprised but it's still shocking, if that makes sense. And yes, I studied journalism in college too, and there are things that are simply engrained in us forever. good for you!

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    1. I think I became a little jaded about websites after seeing this happen, but when the guy mentioned a major national print publication, it did make me wonder. He probably was just saying that to convince me...but one of our local news stations recently turned one of its talk shows into an hour-long infomercial. It looks like a talk show, but they invite people on to talk about their businesses and slip little ad mentions into it. I would like to believe people are savvy enough to see through that... The line is blurring between simply inviting a guy who owns a window company onto the news to talk about "5 tips for insulating your windows for winter" and a talk show where the guy PAYS for being able to talk about that for 5 minutes... I think this is how Dr. Oz got in trouble with the Raspberry Ketones and Coffee Bean Extract stuff, right?

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    2. oh yes, I remember the whole Dr. Oz debacle!

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  11. I've never been asked to do anything like this in my commercial writing jobs, luckily. The question I end up turning down is the one where the person says "If you help me write a book about my life, I'll split the money with you 50-50 when it's published." I never have trouble saying a big fat NO to that one.

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    1. OMG why oh WHY are there so many people who think anyone wants to hear their life stories? Unless you're Kim Kardashian, no publisher is going to buy it...if you're going to leave it as your legacy, I can see just self-publishing it, but 90 percent of the population has a life story nobody would want to read and the other 10 percent already have book deals!

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  12. A good employer mentors, not corrupts. Stick to your guns and you'll do well. People who try to cut corners or cheat their way into a system are hacks who eventually drop away from the scene, leaving you holding crap.

    I wrote about some sites who advertise paid writing and if you write for them, "you don't even had to write good English."

    Really? lol

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    1. Ah yes...those are the jobs that pay $5 for a 500-word article. Then they get mad when they only get bids from non-English-speaking writers. They don't really grasp that if you want a talented English writer, you have to actually pay a living wage because our cost of living is fairly high here (and in Australia, Canada, England, and most other English-speaking areas). So hire overseas workers to design your websites or develop your apps, but if you need something written in English, you probably should at least go with someone who speaks English.

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    2. Yes! Do they realize how much $5.00 will get you here? Back in 1990 that would have got me one can of Coke in Iwakuni, Japan. lol

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    3. I think there was a time when they could post crappy articles, stuff them with keywords, and rank well in Google search results. Not anymore. So I'm not sure what the motive is in paying someone to write a bad article!

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  13. I had my lieutenant order me as a sergeant to write a performance evaluation on an individual that was not factual. He wanted me to clear this trainee out of training into full time employment. I couldn't do that and I didn't. He ended up doing this task himself. I wasn't disciplined either. I'm with you. You can't go against your beliefs and values.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. I faced those dilemmas when I worked in IT. You're often ordered to do things by users that are against software laws... "Just install Adobe Acrobat Pro now and we'll order the license. We promise." Only they never order the license and it then becomes your responsibility to bug them about it every month for 5 years. I finally learned to just say no and, fortunately, my IT superiors backed me on it.

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  14. I'm with you! I'm not in the freelance business but in my day-to-day job as a sourcer/recruiter working with clients, I often have to reject people and it's not easy. They come back wanting more information, wanting reasons (even after I've given them the reasons), and making it more difficult than it already is. :/

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    1. No means NO! I actually came up with this post one night after I'd said no to a client and he kept coming back with different offers. I don't even remember what he was asking but I felt guilty for ignoring him. Every time I had that thought, I thought to myself, "I said no, so I don't owe him a response." No is my final answer!

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    1. Yes...and hopefully the guy was lying.

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  16. We have to do what we think is right - we can hardly expect others to treat our writing with respect if we don't do that ourselves.

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  17. I suppose (as the Devil's advocate) it isn't any different that product placement in movies and tv programs... Wonder if Andy Warhol received any product placement revenue?

    That said, stick to your morals. Not everything is to be brought and sold.

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    1. I agree, Sage...and if they want to contact major publications and ask those publications to slip mentions in, that's fine with me. But this would be similar to an actor being paid to carry a certain product with him while shooting a scene, then get paid for that. He's already being paid by the studio, yet he's also piggybacking on that to get money on the side from a brand... I'm not saying that happens (I'm assuming it doesn't)--just pointing out that a paid freelancer would actually be doing something wrong by getting money on the side, as well. I'm assuming it would only be a matter of time before the person was caught and they'd be fired, so at the very least, they're jeopardizing their current gig.

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  18. Yes, and I said no. Good for you, Stephanie!

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  19. Love that baby pic :) And good for you for saying no! It's sometimes hard to stand up, but it's always the right decision.

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    1. Actually when someone asks me to do that, it's easy to say no the first time. When they keep harassing me, though, it just gets annoying!

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  20. Yes. I, too, was asked to write articles and include business names. I refused. If I thought an article or a quotation would embarrass someone and the story didn't have to be told, then I ignored it.

    Love,
    Janie

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  21. It doesn't surprise me, but it saddens me nonetheless.

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  22. Refreshing to see someone has principles like you do with what you will and will not do in your writing career. Hubby used to have employers want to have him do things that were less than honest. He would not do it and I told him if there was ever a problem and they made a big stink about it then he should just quit on the spot. Rather have his integrity than a pay check if it would go against something he wouldn't want to do.

    betty

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  23. Yep, in my previous job my employer wanted me to look the other way when I found out he was scamming people. So I quit. It is great that you stick to your beliefs. Have a Merry Christmas!

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  24. Fortunately, in my line of work that kind of thing never really happens or has the chance to happen.

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  25. Well it hasn't happened to me but I understand, it's something difficult. It's terrible sometimes... I can understand.

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  26. I work for a state entity and there countless/numerous/plethora (you get the idea), where I'm forced to do something that I know is wrong, but the legal beagles decreed that you MUST NOW DO IT THIS WAY.

    So I do it, and by doing it only solidifies my opinion on what a bunch of whiny/greedy individuals I have to work for (I do payroll as a day job).

    Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd with the latest fiasco passing across my desk, it has now become my mantra for next year that no longer will I bend a little for staff members because "reciprocating" is an extremely dirty word in their vocabulary.

    Father Nature's Corner

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  27. Years ago I worked at a very unprofessional workplace where if you said no, you were seen as not being a team player and you were picked on. Many times I caved in, but the best thing I did was leave. Ever since then, I've felt more freedom and flexibility in the day job. Outside of work, I do get weird requests--will I revise someone's scholarship essay, will I read their unpublished book, will I cowrite a book? Someone once even emailed me a 900 page manuscript as if I were really going to stop what I was doing to get to it. I ignore these people and say no.

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  28. By the time I wrapped the tale up in layers of invisibility to disguise the nature of the business, it would be incomprehensible...but yes, I did have an employer that was super supportive and always open to everyone's thoughts - they even had the company lawyer available for consults, if there was a question of legality. That is, until she asked me to do something I thought was illegal. At that point, I was forbidden to ask for input from the lawyer. In fact, I was told if I didn't play ball, I might lose my job. I informed her that "this has just become the kind of job I never wanted to have, so here's my resignation."

    You know that if I had agreed and anything had happened, the little guys go down...not the VPs.

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  29. I love that you have ethics! Not everyone does! I had a boss (female) who asked me to make the quilt squares she was supposed to have ready for the family Christmas quilting party. Metallic threads and very expensive fabric and a week's time. I declined -- talk about stress if you mess up the family Christmas gift!

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  30. It's happened to me in the social services field, more times than I can count. I say "No" very loudly and clearly. How do they respond? Sometimes, they find ways to show me the exit door. I continue to fight for what's right, and/or know that there's power, and opportunities for vindication, through writing. Smiles.

    Have a great Christmas season, Stephanie.

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  31. I worked at a rag in Connecticut that was little more than a megaphone for the publisher's twisted political beliefs. I didn't have to write anything that went against my values, but I was angry by the things the paper didn't cover---which was anything the publisher didn't want to see.

    For the record, I've been a journalist for nearly 30 years and I have never slipped a business name into a story.

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  32. You did the right thing Stephanie, once you say no, there is nothing you have to explain to anyone else... no means no... perfect sentence, no explanation needed. If I was a professional writer, I would not take a chance for a few dollars which could then destroy my reputation...

    I hope you are having a wonderful holidays ;)

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  33. I'm glad you were able to stick to your principles. Sadly there are a lot of people who don't have any!

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  34. After reading this, "Good for You," is what came to my mind. Good for you to stand up for your principles and for simple right vs. wrong. What's up with these people?

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  35. Yep- - - - we have to stand up for what we believe in.
    While helping customers to open up a "Store Charge account " I used to say very frankly how high the interest rate was,even if my supervisor was watching /listening. A lot of associates would simply run their pencils over the rules and regulation hardly giving thecustomer time to read about the interest rates.

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  36. Has an employer ever asked me to do anything that was against my beliefs? You bet. I just flipped the bird - in a polite way, of course.

    Hey, see it this way: you can still look in the mirror and like yourself.

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  37. I think it is great that you stick to your word and won't write pieces that go against your beliefs. I am so surprised that people don't stop asking when you say no! I hadn't thought about college students asking writers to write their papers for them. Wow!

    Good for you!

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  38. I was asked to do a tour of slaughterhouse for a newspaper once. I'm not a vegetarian, but I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it, so I said no. They got someone else.

    I also once wrote an article for an oil-and-gas industry magazine, but once was all it took for me to vow never to write for them again. I refuse to write articles where I'm promoting something I don't believe in, like fracking. I know how powerful the written word can be. I could be making a lot more money, but I wouldn't feel good about myself.

    I've also resolved never, ever to cover a funeral, unless it's that of a public figure. I just don't think there's any reason for the media to be at a funeral. Thankfully, I've never been tested on that one.

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