Ebony magazine is a legend, a legacy brand that many grew up reading. It’s respected, it’s loved. But unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be paying its writers, and Ebony’s current owners appear to have one view (that everyone will be paid) that goes contrary to reality (people waiting months, even years, for payment).
When the news of their practices was ushered into the spotlight this week from my article “Why Isn’t ‘Ebony’ Paying Its Black Writers?” published by The Establishment, Twitter began trending with the hashtag #EbonyOwes. In response to that article, several black journalists have come forward to share their stories about waiting for payment.
Sifting through the #EbonyOwes hashtag on Twitter, I came across famed TV critic Eric Deggans at NPR, who wrote about his own experience with the publication.
Deggans, who is also author of the book Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, tweeted, “I don’t know about the race angle [in the article’s title], but I know about Ebony failing to pay writers. The magazine owes me $1,200.”
After I reached out to Deggans, he elaborated: “I wrote a feature story on Obama as a pop-culture president for its special edition on the outgoing president. I sent my first invoice for the $1,200 fee Oct. 31.”
This feature has already been published in the print publication of Ebony. True to this pattern, there is no differentiation between whether the work is unpaid print or digital work. He went on: “So far I’ve gotten no payment, despite repeated inquiries to the editor-in-chief and their accounts payable email.”
When asked what accounts payable had to say, he simply stated that there had been “no response.”
Ebony magazine had a very public buyout by private-equity firm Clear View Group LLC last year in June 2016. According to Ebony, the group took over Ebony magazine, ebony.com and jetmag.com. The firm was founded by Michael Gibson and Willard Jackson in 2015 to specialize in private-equity acquisitions. There had always been whispers of late payment, even before the buyout, but according to sources, things seem to have gotten worse since Clear View came into the picture.
When I attempted to contact Ebony magazine’s editors, I was met with radio silence. Then I reached out to Jackson, listed at LinkedIn as the co-founder and vice chairman of Clear View, on Facebook to give him and Clear View a chance to explain the issues around payment.
There was no comment until after The Establishment article went live.
In a text message exchange, Jackson replied, “Love to chat. I hear you are one of those reporters that like to tear down black businesses.” When asked if there were any plans to recoup the missing funds for all of the freelancers affected by these delayed payments, Jackson claimed to have no knowledge of unpaid compensation.
“Missing funds? Exploited? Of course they are all getting paid. We bought the business to turn around all this stuff,” he messaged.
But other freelancers confided that they have yet to receive payment for work that had been invoiced in 2016.
According to a copy of the contract that Ebony issues writers, each individual party signed an agreement that states that the “Publisher will pay writer $X if Publisher accepts the manuscript of the Work or 45 days from the date of receipt by Publisher of writer’s invoice, whichever is later.”
Multiple sources say that so much of this fight for payment seems to be out of the hands of their editors and outsourced to the financial group that purchased Ebony.
“Some editors have complained on our behalf, and it’s frustrating because it makes them look bad, too. But it’s the accounts payable and the higher-ups who are not signing off on our approved invoices,” said an anonymous source.
As freelancers continue to wait for Clear View to “turn around all this stuff,” Zerline Hughes also expressed frustration on Twitter using #EbonyOwes.
“It’s #NationalVolunteerWeek but I’m no @EbonyMag volunteer,” she said. Hughes explained that she has written for the print magazine and is owed around $2,950. She received notification that her check was “in the mail,” but this information coincidentally came at a time when Hughes had been tweeting about the delinquent payments and had been unable to get anywhere with accounts payable.
Through private conversations, it has been established that the cumulative amount of money Ebony owes its freelancers so far exceeds $15,000 and counting. The only way to guarantee recovery of these lost wages is to keep speaking up. And sometimes that means through social media.
While hundreds of freelancers have taken to Twitter using the hashtag #EbonyOwes to show solidarity, many freelancers are exhausted from chasing paper. One writer, Mikki Kendall, tweeted that she was also a victim of Ebony’s refusal to pay: “I just stopped writing for them & I have been less & less willing to do think pieces because to be honest I can’t afford it.”
She continued, “And it is literally not just Ebony. This is happening at quite a few pubs because they know they can get away with this Mr. Wimpy approach.”
Jagger Blaec, born the imaginary love child of Oprah Winfrey and P. Diddy Combs, is a writer who specializes in writing stories. Whether it’s an essay about her own truth or tackling taboo topics, no tale is too tall to tell. You can find more of her work published by the Huffington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, Greatist and Ravishly, or follow her on Twitter.