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hand in the fog on glass

Ghostwriting, for me, has been one of the more lucrative streams of freelance writing income in the past few years. It’s logical, to me, that ghostwriting fills a need for business owners. They need to position themselves as thought leaders and experts in their field, but they are too busy leading and offering their expertise to write a book, let alone an article. For the writer, dependent on your work agreement, ghostwriting is an outlet to flex muscles in different areas and not get credit for the work—but get paid instead. This is all well and good, but started to feel a little icky after a recent conversation.

I was speaking with a writer and he mentioned he had ghostwritten articles for John Doe (redacted, obvs) at a certain notable media outlet. First, I was shocked the writer shared the client’s actual name. Generally non-disclosure agreements prevent that kind of detail. Second, I was surprised that particular media outlet allowed ghostwritten articles, but then I realized that outlet probably didn’t have a clue.

I looked up his client’s profile on that outlet and noticed a scrolling, multi-tabbed list of articles—plus the bio of this client, a journalist who has built a reputation for a particular niche. This part is where it started to feel spooky. The journalist’s bio said (and I’m re-phrasing to preserve the identity): “Writing about health care since 1980.”

It struck me as a lie. Shouldn’t it say: “Paying for someone to write my articles since 1980.”? I started second-guessing this individual’s credibility, their true knowledge on the subject, and wondered just how many of those pages of articles did they actually author on their own? Had they always paid someone else to write their articles? Like, for the last four decades?

Then I started wondering if it is possible to make your living as a ghosted journalist. Being that compensation for journalists has not even remotely increased with the cost of living in the past four—or even more—decades, it would be a rare feat to be able to compensate your personal ghostwriter and make a livable profit for yourself after taxes.

Since I have ghostwritten articles and books, and didn’t think anything particularly wrong with the service, why is it that hearing of this writer ghostwriting articles for this journalist makes me feel so icky? Do readers deserve full disclosure? Do magazines? Are you spooked by ghostwriting?