Here at FishbowlLA, we’re supposed to use the royal “we” for our pieces, but this particular chip I’m about to unleash originates squarely from my shoulder. Doesn’t seem right to share.
On July 3rd, 2009 a piece I wrote entitled “Mommy the Gays are Coming” (it’s no longer available on the website, but you can see my photos reprinted here) was published on the GLBT magazine The Advocate’s website. The piece detailed the major advances in gay rights in the ultra-right-wing, Catholic nation of Colombia, and included original photos from Bogota’s gay pride march — the largest gay event in Colombia’s history. The piece was 600 words and included six photos (not to mention international reporting in a country that can be fairly dangerous — I was mugged at knifepoint days before the story was published) for which I was promised $175.
I completed my piece, it went up on the site, I sent my invoice, W-2 and signed all the relevant contracts. Months went by and no check came. After a couple of months, I wrote the relevant parties at The Advocate and their parent company Here Media to see what was going on.
“Thank you for contacting our office,” I was told. “Your paperwork is being reviewed and processed at this time. A payment will be issued a.s.a.p.”
No payment came. Still more months went by.
Making matters worse, at the time I wrote this story I had just lost my job at the LA CityBeat after that paper folded. 175 bucks might not seem like much, but I really needed it at the time. I personally financed my trip to Colombia, hoping I could dig up the kind of stories that would allow me to establish relationships with new and different kinds of magazines. My plan worked, but little did I know I’d be starting a relationship with a mag that doesn’t pay its writers.
On December 16, 2009, after sending off multiple tersely worded emails demanding payment, I received a reply from Michael W.E. Edwards, Director of Editorial Operations for Here Media.
Matthew, first off, I’m sorry that you’ve probably been getting only “form letter” types of statements from our Accounting department in regard to your due payment. That’s why my department is hoping to do a better job at communicating with the contributors and vendors that Editorial works with.
And second, I want to thank you for the extraordinary patience you’ve shown us as we at Here Media recover from an economically difficult 2009.
Our sales team, on all fronts, is reporting that 2010 will be a much better year. That said, we are working hard at catching up with all our valued freelancers and other vendors, and I know that you will be paid in the near future. We are making progress and look forward to fulfilling our obligation to you shortly. I wish I could give you a specific time line for payment, but I simply don’t have the insight for when our Accounting team will be able to complete its catch-up task.
I know this isn’t the news that you were hoping for, especially now that the holidays are here and since your payment is so many months past due. But I do hope that you will bear with us, because we are committed to making good on payment to you and all of our contributors.
So the promises of payment I’d been receiving were simply form letters, presumably sent to a bunch of other freelancers The Advocate had been stiffing.
Nearly eight months have gone by since that letter and still no check. I recently emailed Edwards again and he referred me to the company’s finance department. They checked their computers and saw that, indeed, I was owed $175. They provided no rationale for this negligence and apologetically promised to pay me. Nearly four weeks later the check has still not been mailed. I have called the office of Here Media’s CFO repeatedly over the past few weeks. Each time I receive more promises of payment that go undelivered.
In short: The Advocate owes me money, they know they owe me money and have refused to pay me for over a year.
Have you been stiffed by The Advocate too? Email us your story. We’ll publish it with as much righteous indignation as your story demands, and probably then some.