Every so often, the topic of being expected to write for free or better yet, being expected to write for exposure and only exposure, comes up as a topic of discussion on Twitter. When it does, many of the people discussing said topic make it abundantly clear that under no circumstances should you be expected to offer your talents and services to any organization that is only willing to compensate you with the promise of exposure to plenty of people who will want to read your work and hire you as a result. A promise that carries as much weight as Lauryn Hill promising that she’ll be punctual when appearing on stage to perform at a concert that you paid money for.
(And to those of you who are still paying money to see Lauryn Hill in concert when all you’re doing is paying money to wait for four hours until she decides to come out on stage and do a half-assed job … stop it. Just stop it. If you want to set your money on fire, you can easily do that at home)
Where was I? Oh, right. Writing only to be compensated with exposure (a.k.a. “nothing”) and companies that think this is a business practice that still deserves to exist usually gets the same response, best exemplified in this GIF that I use every time this topic comes up:
Clearly, no one told any of this to Ebony magazine, and if they did, they were most likely blocked. Recently, the hashtag #EbonyOwes was created on Twitter because many freelancers who have worked on behalf of Ebony magazine have not been paid for any of their services, and their numerous attempts to get their deserved compensation from them has been met with nothing but silence. You’d think that with a magazine as prestigious and well-known as Ebony that something like this is a rarity and that they’d never let behavior like this be tolerated. Unfortunately, many of the tweets posted under the #EbonyOwes hashtag say differently.
It's not worth it to pursue legal action over the money involved. Which the cost-benefit squad at Ebony likely calculated.— Baratunde (@baratunde) May 31, 2017
Still, there's pricipalities involved! And in the end, they have alienated and antagonized a potential ally and audience/revenue source— Baratunde (@baratunde) May 31, 2017
I'll be fine. If anything this simplifies my life. No time for triflinity on this scale. But others are owed more and have less.— Baratunde (@baratunde) May 31, 2017
And it's that continuation of a legacy of exploitation that leaves a bitter taste when practiced by THIS particular company.— Baratunde (@baratunde) May 31, 2017
To the extent I have resources to make an example out of this theft from & needless insult to labor, I will. Thanks for inspiring me Ebony.— Baratunde (@baratunde) May 31, 2017
They ain't pay you? Who @EBONYMag think they are " to not be paying writers, HuffPo?!— BlackXtian (@BlackXtian) May 28, 2017
Free advice for Ebony's social media team… because we know you like getting stuff for free… Blocking ppl only makes it worse #EbonyOwes— Morgan Campbell (@MorganPCampbell) May 31, 2017
Because when you block people they tweet about being blocked, when all they wanted was the $ #EbonyOwes them— Morgan Campbell (@MorganPCampbell) May 31, 2017
Look at all the RTs I got since y'all blocked me. And I'm nobody. Wait till you block somebody popular #EbonyOwes— Morgan Campbell (@MorganPCampbell) May 31, 2017
That a free social media consultation for you. Take the $ you saved and pay some freelancers #EbonyOwes— Morgan Campbell (@MorganPCampbell) May 31, 2017
You know what? I think I'm going to go on ahead and let this out. Another #EbonyOwes short story time.— AJ Springer (@JustAnt1914) May 17, 2017
So if you can't trust the boss? Who can you trust? Sad. #EbonyOwes— AJ Springer (@JustAnt1914) May 17, 2017
When your primary (and only) source of income is writing freelance, there are many things that have to be taken into consideration on a regular basis. You have to come up with ideas to pitch to your editor(s). You have to pitch those ideas to editors and find out which ideas are actually to their liking. You have to sit down and stare at the blank page for however long it takes until you put pen to paper and express your ideas in the best way you know how. You have to listen to the feedback of your editor(s). You have to do this over and over again as often as possible with every idea you can think of that can be made into a story or article that is worth writing. And depending on who you’re working for, you also have to deal with being told that your invoice has been collecting dust under Rorschach’s journal for the last couple of weeks and that you won’t actually be paid on time. Or that you won’t even be paid at all. And then you’re left having to figure out how your rent will be paid on time, and whether your landlord is about to make your life difficult. And having to figure out how to pay the rest of your bills. And having to wonder whether you can or will continue to work for a publication/website that regularly makes you have to worry about such things. And also having to wonder whether it’s worth the time or energy or money (that you most likely don’t have) to look into legal representation so that you can get what you rightfully deserve. And whether you can find a side job to help you keep your head above water financially, while also making sure that you have enough time left in the day to focus on your writing because sleeping is something you can do when you’re dead.
The fact that Ebony, a magazine that has been around since 1945 and is supposed to be focused on uplifting and informing the African-American community, would behave like this towards its contributors, and then stick their heads in the sand and act as if nothing is wrong by blocking them on Twitter when being called out … it’s absolutely shameful and I hope more than anything that these complaints about Ebony grow louder and louder to the point where they can’t and won’t be ignored, and that even their profits and their reputation takes a severe hit as a result. The people who make their magazine into required reading with the work they do shouldn’t have to worry as to whether or not they’ll ever be paid, and if this is how they continue to do business, then Ebony (and any other publication/website that behaves in a similar manner) should simply close its doors and disappear.