Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: What Happens When Integrity Gets In The Way Of Getting Paid?
When I originally pitched the concept of this advice column, the idea was that it would be questionable tips from unqualified strangers on the internet (“unqualified strangers on the internet” being Pajiba’s unofficial slogan, according to my super-official Pajiba groin tattoo). And you know what? It’s been all that and more. The advice has been questionable — and often flammable! The people dishing it are still mostly unqualified — not that it’s ever stopped us!
[And if you wanna get in on this whole free advice scheme, drop a question to us at [email protected]!]
But sometimes even advice-spouters need help, which is why this week I’m changing tactics and asking YOU, dear readers, to weigh in on my conundrum.
I’m a freelance writer, which means I spend most of my time being thankful for the opportunities I have and trying very hard not to piss off the people who gave them to me. So when I got the chance to contribute a few articles to a new publication, I was thrilled. They paid well, they seemed to like my pitches, and I’d get in on the ground floor of something that might be exciting.
And then I received my copy of the first issue and discovered that one of my articles had been edited into something I didn’t recognize — something that wasn’t even close to the piece I’d pitched, let alone written. Worse than that, my name was now attached to something that expressed opinions I DIDN’T EVEN AGREE WITH.
No, I’d not been given a heads up that those changes would be made. If I’d realized what was happening, I’d have offered to return the fee I’d been paid and asked that my name be taken off the piece. I mean, I’m not precious about my stuff. I figured there would be editing. Maybe it was too long for the space allotted, or there were typos. That’s all fine.
Instead, my work was transformed into something I was embarrassed to be associated with — not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t mine. It felt like a lie. If readers enjoyed it, it wasn’t me they were appreciating. And what if they hated it I couldn’t help but wonder if they would have preferred the piece I’d actually written.
Now, this happened a while ago, so I can tell you how I handled it. At first I felt sick. I cried. I was heartbroken. It made me doubt myself. But I also realized that there was nothing I could do to fix what had already happened — all I could do was decide where to go from there.
So I … stayed silent. I figured that if the publication disliked my work so much that they had reworked it almost entirely, then they might not ask me to contribute anything ever again. But on the off chance that they did, at least I knew what to expect and where I stood in their eyes. I’d either A) turn them down at that point and tell them why, B) only agree to write pieces I had no emotional stake in, the kind of filler copy that I wouldn’t care about either way, or C) agree, on the condition that I be given a chance to review any changes they made to my work moving forward.
(For the record, they did eventually come back to me looking strictly for filler shit, which I agreed to write because like I said, they paid well. I did not ever tell the editor how I felt, and I have no intention of pursuing any greater assignments there.)
So look, I’ve come to terms with what happened, and I’m over it. I know where I stand, I have no expectations, and now that time has passed I realize that I was collateral damage in a general cluster fuck of incompetence. There is a limit to how personally I can take it when someone else screws me over in the course of not doing their job well to begin with. But I’m also not sure I handled the situation well either. So I wanted to pose the question:
Would you have spoken up? Would you have communicated your displeasure, at the risk of burning that bridge with a paying gig? Would you have even contemplated working with them again, or dusted your hands of the whole affair and walked away? Are there alternatives I didn’t even think of at the time? When personal integrity intersects with making a living, what would YOU do?