Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Free Stuff: a rebuttal

There's been a spark of discussion in my own media circles about the conflict of free stuff. Whether it's the packed calendar of the fall season or the new marketing plans of the NAC, I've had to ask myself if I'm too accepting of swag bags.

So here's where I come clean -- in a blog no one reads! I do accept the bags, usually with a humble smile and not a peak to what's inside until I'm home and/ or the heat of the deadline has passed. Usually I don't want the stuff, I cringe when the crinkly paper and pretty bag gets pulled out from behind the desk or between shots for a photo spread.

But I just can't be bothered to explain. Maybe I don't like their stuff that much, or maybe I just don't need more samples (though pretty bags do come in handy when birthdays come around). But I'm too ... polite? humble? awkward? to decline, especially since it would involve explaining journalistic ethics.

Speaking of which, journos have opinions aplenty when it comes to this situation. In a recent online discussion among Toronto freelancers, suggestions were made about where to draw the line. Apparently some newsrooms say if it can be consumed in a day, it's okay (though I hear this was in an era where heavy drinking in the newsroom was also okay, so 40 oz. bottles were passed around for swigs. Needless to say, a lot has changed).

And what about free lunches? The coffee'n'donut table at a conference? A ride home on a rainy day with an important source?

Okay, so the last one was made up. But I have to admit, I was left feeling like a very bad, very compromising writer by the time the talk dwindled.

Since then, I've developed a devil's advocate rebuttal:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this economy is fucked. I don't mean the stock market or the way mortgages work (both of which are probably fucked, but I don't totally understand how either work). I mean the whole way that society evaluates work, paying huge amounts to bureaucrat, people who, over dinner, can't seem to convey exactly what they do all day, while others, like customer service people who really have to ability to impact others are kept at very wages. Or people with tangible skills, people who cook or fix or do the jobs that no one else wants -- they're at the bottom, too. Artists? Just live in your own mind, be thankful, shut up.

And as a writer, especially one for lifestyle pages that usually feature stuff that's only accessible to people who make 100K+, I can't really experience much of what my readership lives with -- except through swag. There are stores I walk by everyday, glancing in at the unique fabrics and wishing I was at least dressed better so I could feel comfortable doing a walk through. And then I get the opportunity -- an interview with the designer!

I put on my best, take a tour incognito beforehand, and spend more time than necessary with the source -- 'cause I actually like fashion and design and enjoy my job.

And then, the offer. The stuff is kind of weird, I want to try it on again, with the help of the designer's eye... and I'll never be able to afford it.

Fast forward to now, and I'm feeling bad about my choice and I won't do it again. It's my resolution and I've already tested it (though it was a swag bag and I did take a cupcake!).