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Getting paid in links

You can call it narcissistic, but sometimes I Google myself. Who doesn’t? If you’ve done anything in the public eye — writing, especially — you’re bound to show up in unexpected places on the Web. When I Google my own name, it’s simply to find those places.

And each time I do this, I find articles I’ve written, or links to articles displayed with thumbnails and even paragraphs of my own text, on other content Websites. It’s been this way for years. I’ll write a piece for one magazine, and then find the same article, or portion thereof, on another magazine’s Website within months, weeks, or even days.

In most respects, this has been very helpful. In addition to raising my profile, these bandit sites make it much easier for me to find my own work. Some of them have republished articles I wrote for print magazines that didn’t even have Websites. How generous!

But the last time I did this, I had a different reaction. I suddenly recalled my first magazine job, as an editorial intern at the Utne Reader in Minneapolis. One day I was perusing one magazine or another in the office’s extensive magazine library (this was 1999) and I came across an article that one of the staff editors had written earlier that year for Utne. I took it to him and he was visibly perturbed. The other magazine never contacted him to ask his permission. “I’m supposed to be paid for things like this,” he said.

Oh, how quaint a time that was. When writers — or at least the magazines they wrote for — owned their work. When republishing a piece without consent was, indisputably, stealing. When you could actually do something about it.

So now, when I Google my name to find out where my articles might have reappeared in cyberspace, I do it with two minds: the one that feels flattered by the approval of some unknown editor or blogger out there who liked my work well enough to take it, and the one that recognizes this as yet another death knell for professional journalism.

Journalists have never been paid well, but at least they were paid.