People Who Feed 'People'

Freelancers Say They Were Ripped Off

The story ran on November 27, under the bylines Samantha Miller and Eric Francis. Given all the press that followed, chocolatier Mark Elvidge sings the praises of People. But in an interview, he confirmed that Chase "got all the background information" before two People reps met with him "for a couple of hours one afternoon."

According to court papers, Chase first complained to Eftimiades—who offered another $88 to make her "go away"—and then to executive editor Joe Treen, who told her "we've decided to take your idea and assign it to somebody else," because she took too long to report it. On November 3, Chase sued Eftimiades for $3337.20, including various fees and the cost of preparing the complaint.

In response, People refused to pay her more than $632, on the grounds that she got the couple's name wrong, and took "35 hours for background reporting which should take 1-2 hours maximum." Uh-huh. A spokesperson for People declined to comment, except to say, "We treated her fairly and agreed to settle—without admitting liability—because we considered it a nuisance case."

Freelancing is "a hard enough gig as it is," says Cox, considering how little you get paid for the time you put into it. He has had good experiences with editors at National Geographic Adventure and Travel & Leisure. But at People, he says, "Their attitude is we're just yokels out in the provinces and they can cherry-pick our ideas."

David Wallis, CEO of the syndication service Featurewell.com, finds People's behavior questionable. He calls trying to pay a kill fee for reporting "the equivalent of a reader getting an issue of People in the mail, leafing through it, and deciding that it's not really worth $2.95 and offering to pay them just a buck."

But Wallis, who has written for many mags including People, says Chase neglected the most important rule of freelancing, which is to "get it in writing." In this industry, it seems, anyone who works on a story without a contract is asking to be used.


ccotts@villagevoice.com

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