Scientist Called ‘Urban Whore’ For Turning Down Unpaid Blogging Position

The unpaid “contributor” position is a growing point of contention within the journalism world.  Many who pitch stories to various websites and blogs with the hopes of building their portfolios are often left with a disheartening response that’s more insulting than appreciated.

“Although we don’t pay contributors, our website reaches ‘X’ amount of viewers…” many response emails start out, but frankly, no one can pay rent with page views.  It becomes even more dumbfounding when editors don’t understand why a writer would want to get paid for their work. 

One editor of a popular science website took it personal when a biologist turned down an unpaid writing position at his website, responding with a viscous attack on the scientist.  The editor at Biology-Online, only identified as “Ofek”, emailed Danielle Lee who is a postdoctoral fellow in zoology at Oklahoma State University to write for the website.  Lee, who is a regular blogger for “The Urban Scientist” on Scientific American inquired about compensation and the time commitment that Ofek was considering.

She received a response saying that contributors were not compensated for their writing.

In a professional and to-the-point email, Lee responded with the following, “Thank you very much for your reply.  But I will have to decline your offer.  Have a great day.”

The conversation quickly took a nasty turn when Ofek responded by saying, “Because we don’t pay for blog entries?  Are you an urban scientist of an urban whore?”

Lee was taken aback by the response.  She quickly replied by asking whether the editor just called her a whore, but no response came.  Lee decided to post the email exchanges in a blog entry for Scientific American.

“I didn’t want to just rant.  I focused on how to turn this into a learning moment or come up with a solution,” Lee said in an interview with ABC News.

Lee had written the post the day of her last email exchange with Ofek and posted it to the blog, but by the end of the day it was taken down.  Officials for Scientific American said to ABC News that the post wasn’t a science focused piece and that for legal reasons they couldn’t leave it up.

Lee said during the interview that she was disheartened to hear that her piece was removed from the website because she had worked to focus the entry and had written about personal matters before.

The controversy gained notoriety in the media over the past few weeks with articles published in The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Yahoo News, and ABC News.  Officials for Biology-Online announced in a statement that Ofek, a new hire for the publication, had been fired from his position.

Although Lee’s story has made headlines for being one that is noticeably over the top, the issue at heart is one that almost all writers face.  Publications expect writers, both entry-level and veterans, to produce work for either free or little pay with the ‘bonus’ of exposure.  In no other industry are workers exploited to this extreme.

For those veteran writers who have amassed a respectable collection of printed pieces, exposure isn’t what they are looking for.  These writers are looking to get paid for their work to make a living for themselves, and to pay their bills.

Free work is rarely the same quality as paid work, so these publications are depriving themselves of superior work with the hopes of saving a few dollars.  But in the end, will a website endure the constant competition with other publications when their content is sub-par?

It seems as though they are only shooting themselves in the foot to save a penny.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and FoxNews.com.
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