MEMO TO FREELANCERS: SORRY, THEM'S THE BREAKS.

Incidentally, this guy is owed money by BlackBook, too. Probably.
Incidentally, this guy is owed money by BlackBook, too. Probably.

It's been an interesting week or two for freelance writers! Our editor-in-chief, Tony Ortega, dished some excellent advice on how not to pitch him! Meanwhile, writer Richard Morgan wrote for The Awl about what it's been like to be a freelancer for seven years, which includes making "Vitamin Soup" out of hot water, whatever's in your spice rack, and a liquified vitamin! Today, Mad Men Unbuttoned author Natasha Vargas-Cooper fired public shots at [Full Disclosure: My Former Employer] BlackBook Magazine for payment not yet remitted to her!

An outraged Cooper wrote:

Wanna know how to be a freelancer and never get paid? Write for these people! $1,200 going on 11 months of non-payment. An upstanding organization with tremendous respect for writers. No other excuse besides 'checks are on their way.' Even Radar paid and they were broke!!

HA. For the record:

1. Jen Doll of Runnin Scared Dot Com is still owed like $200 by BlackBook. 2. I didn't get paid by Radar until they were shut down. True story. But for whatever it's worth, I managed a "kill fee" out of AMI I didn't really deserve. It was an extra $100 or something. That was pretty sweet.

She even made an art project to emphasize this point! Hamilton Nolan at Gawker got quote from BlackBook VP Chris Mohney about this issue! Mohney:

The shortish answer is that we're settling up these old overdue accounts -- almost all of which are from the print side -- as fast as we can. Natasha emailed me a few weeks ago and I asked her a question about her invoice, but she never responded. I don't know who else she talked to. She has a right to be angry though, and I've asked that her check get settled within the week. She's incorrect about us not paying anyone since May, so not sure who she talked to there. Anyone in the same boat can email me and I'll investigate and respond personally, like I always do: cmohney@blackbookmag.com.

Problem seemingly solved! Mohney has now taken to his personal blog to empathetically address the issue in full. One excerpt:

If you want to know why (other than immediate cash flow) that media companies often don't pay on time, it's because they themselves are often not paid on time. The roles get reversed on the publisher when dealing with deadbeat clients, and there's no common element among them. Giant multinational corporations may require daily harassment to cough up a few hundred dollars. Seemingly respectable brands suddenly decree they're adding 120 days to pending invoices because the upcoming holiday shopping season looks weak.

So what are your options? You could go ballistic and alienate the client, guaranteeing they'll never do business with you again. And as for the money they owe you, what are you going to do -- sue that giant multinational corporation over the ad page they didn't pay for? No, you'll smile tightly, and keep calling, and keep calling, and eventually you'll get paid. Probably. Then you can pay some freelancers. In the meantime, you probably want to keep payroll going and your infrastructure up. Shutting down till the money catches up with itself is suicide. Unless you're one of those publishers with the deep cash reserves and can float the money out while you wait on your own income? Show of hands, [Gawker Media owner] Nick Denton's company excepted? But so what. No one feels sorry for a company, even a media company.

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He is right! On one hand, everyone should be paid on time and fairly! On the other hand, that also applies to companies who have to pay people! And on the other hand, freelance money has become so scarce, should one be grateful to have it at all, or is empathy for an institution just a silly idea to begin with? Questions and problems for writers trying to make money: they exist.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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