What happens when Ebony magazine promises over and over again that it’s going to pay its freelance writers “soon,” but reportedly throws an expensive Super Bowl party in Houston and hosts a lavish company event in Los Angeles with money that was initially earmarked to pay said freelancers? A union steps in and tells the magazine it needs to put up or shut up.
The National Writers Union says that Ebony’s June 3 promise to resolve the unpaid freelance invoices within 30 days is not enough.
The union estimates that there may be as many as 5o freelance writers who are owed more than $200,000 collectively. NWU is standing behind 21 writers who are owed $46,700 in unpaid invoices that range from $40 to $20,000.
“Some of the invoices we’ve seen are over a year old,” NWU President Larry Goldbetter said. “We are pleased Ebony Media has been responsive to the grievance, but we are now at a point where we need a payment schedule in writing. For a freelancer to have to struggle to pay rent because Ebony owes is ridiculous.”
NWU represents freelance writers, and it stepped in on behalf of the Ebony freelancers when #EbonyOwes began trending on Twitter. Writer Jagger Blaec broke the story that got the hashtag started in April and discussed the issue on The Root.
Ebony was owned by Johnson Publishing, a family-owned business that also started sister magazine Jet. Johnson Publishing sold both magazines to Texas-based private equity CVG Group in May 2016.
Last month, Ebony laid off nearly a third of its staff and made plans to consolidate editorial operations with Jet in Los Angeles.
So is Ebony robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Goldbetter said that anonymous sources have told him that Ebony is far from cash-strapped.
“Interesting things happen when people organize and come together,” Goldbetter said. “People have contacted me to say that during the time Ebony Media owed these writers for their work, the company spent six figures on Super Bowl parties in Houston, the Ebony 100 event in Los Angeles and a pitch competition at SXSW. I was also told that money that was initially earmarked for freelancers was later allocated to other things. The money is clearly there. The commitment to paying freelancers is not.”
According to NWU, CVG tried to blame the payment issues on the previous owners, but Goldbetter disputes that.
“CVG acquired Ebony almost a year ago, and freelancers have gone uncompensated as recently as the latest issue. That’s not a Johnson Publishing issue; that’s a CVG issue,” he said.
The AFL-CIO, which NWU belongs to, also had something to say on the issue.
In a tweet from its official account, the union organization said, “The bills don’t pay themselves. #EbonyOwes its freelance writers for their work. Time to pay.”
No one should have to chase after money that is owed to them, especially not people from whom you have solicited work that takes research and valuable time and effort. They deserve to be paid.
You can’t be out here popping bottles and having a good time while those who have made it possible for you to do just that have to worry about whether they will be able to make all their bills or eat next month.
What Ebony is doing is despicable, and it is even more upsetting coming from an iconic black publication that hired black writers, only to do them dirty in the end.
You on the clock, Ebony. Pay like you weigh.