How Wizards Do Money: Rita Skeeter
After talking to Rolf Scamander and Luna Lovegood, my next step was to seek out Rolf’s colleague at the Daily Prophet — “colleague is a loose word,” Rolf said — the gossip columnist and human-interest writer Rita Skeeter.
“I don’t just do human interest,” Rita said. “I write centaur interest, snake interest, ghost interest, anyone who’s interested, I’ll write for them.”
The curls in her hair twitched a little, as if she were sniffing me out. I reassured her that I, too, was a hack writer.
“Then you know how it is,” Rita said. “Always having to scrabble around for money.”
Despite Rita’s long-standing tenure at the Daily Prophet, as well as her multiple books published under the Daily Prophet Press (such as The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore), Rita did not appear to be as financially calm as Rolf Scamander.
“They pay me a one-time fee,” Rita said, “much less than I deserve, of course, and then the article explodes. Do you have any idea how many people are reading and quoting the piece I did about the Quidditch World Cup? I’ve seen the entire article reprinted verbatim in other magazines, but I don’t get any extra money for it.”
I asked Rita why she didn’t renegotiate her arrangement with the Daily Prophet, or at least seek out work at other publications.
“Oh, I’ve written for The Quibbler,” Rita said, “and Witch Weekly. I ghostwrite too, when I can get away with it. But the Daily Prophet has its snakefly larvae over me, to be sure. Actually, it’s their advertisers with whom I’m under contract. You realize that half of what they print is paid advertising disguised under a journalist’s byline.”
I agreed that I had heard of this unethical practice.
“Don’t say unethical, you can’t say unethical,” Rita said. “There’s nothing to say the stories we run aren’t true, they’re just biased. And all journalism is biased because humans are biased. Everyone’s biased. Centaurs are particularly biased.”
She paused, and took another delicate, beady bite out of her scone.
“Also the advertising work pays better. Young people just aren’t buying the Daily Prophet anymore. My pay rate has remained effectively stagnant since before the Second Wizarding War.”
She folded the remaining scone up into her napkin and slid it into her purse, which she displayed to me appreciatively.
“It’s lucky I’ve always had a sense of style, and known how to buy pieces that will last.”
She fastened her purse’s clasp with emphasis.
“Put this on the record,” she said. “The Daily Prophet’s business model relies on paying low wages to writers like me who contribute 90 percent of the paper’s content. We’re the ones asked to sell our bylines to advertisers, to write biased pieces, to shape the daily paper into whatever story the Prophet wants to tell. Then, the Prophet commissions one-off pieces from big names like Scamander or Ginny Potter, who isn’t even a writer, she’s just famous, to hook people into buying the newspaper.”
She stood up. “That should tell you everything you need to know about how I do money,” Rita said. “Thank you for treating me to tea.”
Previously: Luna Lovegood