02 November 2010

seattleite's unpaid editorial policy burns me to a crisp (and it hasn't even launched)

Seattleite, the city’s soon-to-be “luxury lifestyle magazine and Web site for the Puget Sound region’s younger, affluent professionals” pretty much sums up everything that sucks about the publishing world right now.

Here is Seattleite’s recent job posting on Craiglist:

Date: Sunday, October 31, 2010, 9:53 AM
XXX has forwarded you this craigslist.org posting.
Please see below for more information.
Visit the posting at http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/wri/2034272913.html to contact the person who posted this.
Seattle Writers and Editors Wanted for New Publication and Web Site
Date: 2010-10-30, 3:13PM

Dying to be part of a hip and fashionably edgy in-the-know publication designed for the newest generation of Seattleites?

Introducing “Seattleite,” a luxury lifestyle magazine and Web site for the Puget Sound region’s younger, affluent professionals.

Stylish. Classy. Sophisticated. Well-traveled. Educated. Our readers aren’t your clichéd mid-90s flannel-wearing Seattle residents. They’re the new generation of urban dwellers at the social helm of our fair city. And it’s about time that a publication tailored to their needs.

We’re looking for writers and editors to be a part of our highly inspired team in the following categories: Food & Dining, Travel, Culture & Society, Style (fashion), Home & Design, Toys & Tech, and Events. If you have expertise in (or a resolute passion for) any of these categories, please send at least three writing samples (links to online work or PDFs of published articles), a 200-word or less bio about yourself, your resume and a brief explanation of what role you’d like to play – and why you should -- in the creation of “Seattleite” to editor@seattleite.com. (No published work yet? Don’t fret! Just whip up three articles, each 300 words or less, on the topic of your choosing – show us what you’re made of!) We’re aiming for a tone that is sophisticated yet subtly snarky, intelligent yet comical, high-brow but not off-putting…so take that and wow us!

The web site is currently slated to debut at the end of January, with the print publication to follow shortly after. So we're looking to build a team of writers and editors to help develop a foundation of content as soon as possible! Let us know what you've got!

This is a part-time job.
Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
Please, no phone calls about this job!
Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
Original URL: http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/wri/2034272913.html

Wow. It all sounds so fancy. Before I worked myself up into a possible new outlet tizzy, I thought it best to cut to the chase and talk pay rates, so I fired off this quick email:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Seattle Writers and Editors Wanted for New Publication and Web Site
From: Charyn Pfeuffer
Date: Sat, October 30, 2010 4:04 pm
To: editor@seattleite.com


Great to hear there will be a new local print addition. I have 10+ years experience as a food and travel writer and will gladly pass along clips, bio, etc. if the per word rate is reasonable.  In the meantime, I've attached my resume for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back regarding the pay rate.  Thanks in advance for your time.

Charyn Pfeuffer

Here’s the response I got from Seattleite’s Editor-in-Chief, Allison Robins Lind:

Hi Charyn,

Thanks for your interest in contributing to Seattleite! I wanted to quickly get back to with a "full disclosure" email. I'm currently in "talks" with the publisher/founder of Seattleite to discuss pay rates. Because I come from a long-standing journalism background I understand (and appreciate) the need to get paid. Of course, this is a brand-new start-up publication and site -- meaning we're literally starting with nothing but a vision! At this point all I can get her to agree upon is that once we get an ad revenue rolling, we can "discuss a pay rate" for contributors. Until then we do, however, need to ask for unpaid work to help build editorial content as a way to bring in those ad dollars (chicken-and-egg theory in action...) Please take my word, for what it's worth, that I'm a loyal editor -- once I've established my solid, reliable team, I will FIGHT for an editorial budget for each of them. Sadly, until the money starts rolling in, my hands are tied... I've decided to take the "risk" as an initially unpaid Editor-in-Chief because I truly believe in the potential success of this publication and site...knowing that eventually I will see a paycheck! If you're at all interested in joining me in that risk, I'd be happy to talk further. Let me know your thoughts!


Allison Robins Lind
Seattleite magazine & Seattleite.com (coming soon!)
mobile: 253-223-XXXX

Right now, from wherever you are reading this, you can probably hear my laughter. So let me get this straight: Seattleite wants to create a publication geared toward the city’s young, glamorous market, but can’t even swing a Goodwill budget for its really great “vision.” Uh huh. That sounds like a fantastic idea.

When I last checked, lip service, “risks” and my favorite bartering tool du jour, links, don’t pay the bills. If a writer wants to work for free, that’s their prerogative. It’s not a school of thought I personally subscribe to, but I understand that people write for different reasons (read: some marry wealthy). I'm pretty darn proud of myself for financially supporting myself over the past 10+ years working full-time as a freelance writer. Because I’ve run my career as a business. I’ve been part of countless start-up print and online publications and have experienced the full gamut of growing pains, but providing unpaid work was never one of them.

I liken this request for free work to going grocery shopping without a wallet, but promising the check-out clerk that I’ll invite him or her over for a really kick ass meal once I’ve had some time to perfect some new recipes. Just give me an indefinite amount of time to get it right, and oh, and by the way, you can take my word on that even though you don’t know a single thing about me. Cross my heart and hope to die. Pinky swear. Blah, blah, blah...This scenario would never fly in the real world, yet it seems to be an increasingly acceptable request in our post-recession publishing world. I call bullsh*t. The job of a writer is like any other contractual agreement - a service is provided as requested, then it is paid for. End of story. 

So my advice for writers interested in contributing to Seattleite is simple: Join hands and sing Kumbaya, because it seems like the magazine’s future success depends upon its team's Positive Mental Attitude. Oh, and sweet, sweet free work. I’m sure Allison is a really swell gal, but I really cannot take requests like this seriously, much less from someone with “a long-standing journalism background." Cue more laughter.

P.S. Not paying writers is definitely not "stylish," "classy" or "sophisticated." It's an editorial faux pas and a sham to run your magazine on the backs of hard-working writers while you dream of one day having ad revenues. Good luck with that, because if I had to play fortune teller, I'm guessing that is never gonna happen.


Ax said...

Bravo, Charyn! Well said. This post reminds me of Harlan Ellison's famous "pay the writer" rant!


Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Good reminder of Ellison's rant. Always amusing.
Rob - Oh no. This is not my venture. I wouldn't touch it with a 10' pole. I've worked too hard to support myself solely off my writing CAREER for the past 10+ years, to turn it into a hobby. No thanks. It's this work-for-free mentality that is driving publishing (as I've known and loved it for the past decade plus) into the ground.

Tiffany S. said...

Ugh. I'm unemployed right now and my friends and I have started a "laugh of the week" job posting (to keep from crying). I've been offered minimum wage, stock options only, or flat out nothing. Every time it happens, it's a brand new shock.

DeAnn G. Rossetti said...

AMEN, sister! Sing it! I make my living as a freelance writer/reporter as well, and I can tell you that in the 25 years I have been working as a writer, I've never seen so many SCAM artists and scumbags looking for content, and determined to screw writers over to get it, as I have seen in the past two years during this horrible recession. I've even been offered nookie in lieu of payment by some nasty pornographer who just couldn't believe I'd turn him down! It is always amazing to me that people who would never consider asking their doctor, their plumber or their drycleaner to work for free will always promise you all kinds of weird things instead of money, somehow assuming that you can live on air. They assume that "anyone who can type is a writer" which couldn't be further from the truth. We deserve to be paid for our hard work, just as other people skilled in a particular profession are paid for theirs.

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Tiffany S. High fives to you for finding humor in a less-than-stellar situation. I'd love to check out your posts if they're available on line. I did a similar thing several years ago when trying to find affordable housing in California (a near impossible task) -- posted a bounce house on Craigslist for fun and actually got a lot of serious house-hunting queries. At the very least, it made me laugh to know I wasn't the only one in a desperate situation. Good luck to you - I know so many people who are the same boat.

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Amen is right! Cracking up over the pornographer's (ahem) generous offer. Sheesh. Yep, I think it's a sad state of affairs when requests like this are becoming the norm. I'm all for supporting the publishing industry, my fellow peers and yes, their creative visions, but I draw the line at being a team player when it hits me in my ability to support myself. I've been able to do so successfully for so long now, and crappy business plans like this just undermine the time and talents of serious writers who are in this industry for the career long haul.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments, but I think it's interesting to see how this fits with the "trend" towards "skill-based" volunteering. I work for a volunteer center and "skill-based" volunteering is a big buzz word. Volunteer managers are encouraged to look for "in-kind" services from all sorts of professions, including writing. We don't mask it as a job and it is designed to benefit a social cause, but I can see push back based on the points you make in your post. Do you see it as similar?

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Interesting. When I volunteered weekly for a non-profit in California, we had skilled, in-kind volunteers, like our legal aid team. Sometimes I'd kick in a press release or some copywriting here and there, too. It was hard to get skilled volunteers on a consistent basis and most committed just a few hours a month. I don't have a problem with that if it's for a non-profit/social cause. What I do have a problem with is when people ask for in-kind service to start their for profit business.

Michelle Schusterman said...

I'll join the amen chorus. Much respect for start-ups, but a start-up boutique/restaurant/cafe/bookstore/whathaveyou wouldn't hire employees without being prepared to cut a check.

Spencer Spellman said...

I couldn't have said it any better myself. I find it funny that in the post it calls this position a "part-time job". Last time I checked, "job" meant that you were paid with cash/money. It's mind blowing to me the writers out there who choose to write for free; though so many countless times I hear them say they are writing for "value" of it, that comes in the way of respect, experience, or my favorite: "link juice". I call bull shit. All it does is create publications like this who knows there are people who will write for free. At the end of the day, the ones who win out are the ones who are getting paid. They are the ones who are writing the best shit and future editors are going to want to work with and hire those types of writers, not writers who were well-established and wrote for "link juice".

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Exactly. Times 100. Job = pay. I will guest post for friends' blogs every now and again for free, but that's a favor, not a job. Never to be confused. I have no inclination to do a "favor" or a take an upaid "risk" for some bullshit start-up that's banking it's future on ad sales. Obviously, they have no effing clue about the current state of publishing to make such empty promises. And link juice? That token gesture can kiss my ass...You want quality content, pay me. End of story. It really pisses me off that people are still playing this game (both writers and editors).

Kirsten Alana said...

AMEN ... just, amen!!!

Kare said...

Aww, c'mon. *anyone* can write. and it's great exposure!


*defeated sigh*

Dianasaur Dishes said...

Wow, thanks for posting that. I had actually looked at that Craigslist ad and thought about emailing them. So glad I didn't.

Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said...

I'm glad you asked for the rate before you spent time crafting pitches. Thanks for echoing my sentiments. Can't believe the EIC's working for free too. Too many people are being underpaid nowadays.

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Jessica and Dianasaur - Thanks for your comments. Unpaid writers = lowers the bar of quality edit/product, IMO. Any EIC who works for free screams sucker in my book. The fact that they're banking on future ad sales to pay writers somewhere down the line, makes me think they don't know their ass from their elbow about the current state of the publishing industry - or the industry period.