Legend has it that at the siege of the Alamo in Texas Colonel William Barret Travis drew a line and asked all those who were with him to cross it, while the rest could leave. Only one man had the courage to hang back and leave. As journalists we all must know when to draw the line and when to hang back rather than cross it.
Hopefully one line where we’ll hang back is when a potential employer wants us to work for no or very little pay. I used to hear a lot about these work houses where writers were invited to bid on a project with the obvious objective to pay the writer as little as possible. Hopefully they have gone away, but somehow I doubt it.
There are others who will ask writers to work for nothing, while everyone else gets paid. Here’s a link to Harlan Ellison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE on paying the writer. Ellison rightfully says that too many amateur writers who are willing to write for free undermine the professionals.
Hopefully we’ll hang back on employers who treat us shabbily, who demand all rights for little pay, who pay on publication and who demand that we reimburse them in case of a lawsuit. Generally speaking these are amateurs and if we’re trying to be professional we should ignore them.
Hanging back from other lines very much depends on our own values. As a Christian I won’t write for pornographic publications or those which deny the reality of climate change or who are outright anti-God. In writing I won’t take God’s name in vain or use Christ’s name as a swear word. I also won’t use such words as nigger, Paki, fagot or fatso as they are very disrespectful. In fact I generally avoid swearing, except if I were to quote someone. However, I don’t consider the term “bull shit” to be swearing or using the word “shit” instead of euphuisms like “pooh” or “defecation”. To me these are fluffy nonsense.
As webmaster of Peter’s Place Of Freelance Journalism I take bigger liberties than as a writer. Why? For one thing my site is aimed at all journalists and not just those who consider themselves Christian and for another if I limited it to just those media that upheld to certain restrictive values I’d probably end up with just a few hundred links instead of a few thousand. So therefore I include links to pornographic publications, those that promote freer sexual values than I hold, to publications that pay on publication and demand all rights. I also link to media promoting other faiths, including atheism.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some media where I’ll draw the line and hang back from. There are. I will not knowingly link to media that out and out promote satanism, racism, pedophilia or are anti-environment. I also will not knowingly link to any extremist media.
The bottom line is all of us as journalists must know our own lines to hang back from otherwise we fail both ourselves and our audience.