Does this sound familiar? A news organization is super excited about your blog or story idea. They contact you, give you their spiel, and even mention future work down the line. They seemed excited about your journalism plans.
Then, after maybe writing a proposal for them, or you send in a sample, that same news organization stops responding to your emails. Suddenly, they can’t be bothered to give the green light to your story. Maybe they’re slammed all of a sudden. Maybe they got pulled away to another project. Maybe, the traffic outside their office window becomes interesting.
Or, how about this: You actually get contracted to do work for a news organization. Maybe it’s not a contract, but a verbal agreement. It’s not a deep piece. But you put in effort. Then, trying to get that wee small check means spending chunks of time sending gentle email reminders and making subtle calls to whoever is in charge of accounting. The editor you worked with has gone MIA. Maybe out of town, maybe they’re at a conference, but you’re definitely left hanging. You try not to seem like a stalker, or a very desperate soul, but sometimes that $30 check means groceries, or that the light bill gets paid that month.
Does this just happen in journalism? Is every media organization scatterbrained? Are all editors juggling heavy New York Times schedules? Can’t some news groups just say straight up or down if they’re interested in your work? Can checks ever be cut remotely on time?
I’m not sure what’s going on, but it’s hard sometimes not to get discouraged. It’s not about taking it personal, but maybe it’s about expected a little more professionalism.
The best you can do is take your lumps, learn who’s better about treating writers fairly, and keep building your work. Oh, and no verbal agreements.
—Jennifer Inez Ward