Remember that piece I wrote for Vibe.com over the summer, about Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama? Yeah, that was published back in July.
After increasingly agitated, carefully calibrated e-mails and a voice mail to the editors there, I still haven't been paid the meager $250 I'm owed for the day's reporting and writing work that they approached me to do.
I've waited a long time for checks, but believe it or not, in eight years of freelancing this is the first time I've ever been purely stiffed.
I've decided to stop bugging the guys at Vibe about this, and to spend my energies writing a form letter, for all editors who I'll no doubt run across along my merry way who don't find it necessary to pay.
Dear Editor Who Won't Pay,
Hey, I know. You're in a pickle: You're pretending to run a legitimate magazine whose pages are filled with the work of legitimate writers who write legitimate stories about legitimately important subjects.
But in reality, you're not "running" anything at all, but instead merely proving it's possible to be demoralized and panicked at the same time, for years on end.
You realize you yourself haven't made anything—a great issue, a great layout, a great headline, a great article—in years, and that just about any half-literate 16-year-old could do the job you're doing. Only, the 16-year-old never would do your job, because it's boring and repetitive to put out a magazine that doesn't communicate to a community, but panders to a marketing niche.
And your reaction to a writer's repeated attempts to get paid for the work he did at your request—even though you knew his chances were pretty darn slim when you were promising the pittance—is self-pity.
You're too busy closing the next issue to talk to Accounts Payable. You're too bored with the Internet coding the assholes somehow talked you into doing even to bother looking through your in box. And you're too ashamed of your own lack of morale to consider admitting to a writer that you can't even fucking remember what the story was about in the first place.
You know I remember, because even though my child will not eat this week, I still have a memory, I am not numb, I am still writing, and thus discovering things about the world and my own mind.
You keep the $____.
David Murray, Writer
Postscript: In response to a snotty e-mail announcing I was ceasing my collection efforts, the Vibe.com editor apologized, said among other things that he'd had emergency surgery and the office was moving and promised to get me my dough. So maybe I'll get that and the above form letter out of the episode!