Monday, June 14, 2010

Facts & Arguments: Why I can’t send my essays to The Globe and Mail, and why you shouldn’t either

F&A titles All last week, The Globe and Mail celebrated 20 years of publishing Facts & Arguments essays. 

I have had five of my essays published on the Facts & Arguments page, and each time, it was a thrill and an honour to see my name in print and know that people across Canada were reading my words, learning something about me.  One of those essays, “The Roots of Her Story”, won a national writing award from the Professional Writers Association of Canada.  And I was paid $100 for each of those pieces, a fairly low fee for 800 words, but a satisfactory arrangement, considering that I could say that my work had appeared in The Globe and Mail.

When The Globe pays a writer for publication, they also pay for the right to sell that piece of writing from their electronic database.  My essays have appeared in all sorts of odd places, some of them, I suspect, not paid for.  But I didn’t fret too much about that because I had, after all, been paid for my work.

But if I were to submit an essay to Facts & Arguments today, that would not be the case. Since 2008 The Globe and Mail no longer pays writers for essays published in Facts & Arguments.

At a writers’ conference a number of years ago, Moira Dann, at that time the editor of the F & A page, suggested to a room full of writers that The Globe didn’t need to pay its essay contributors, that being published in a national newspaper was payment enough.  Apparently her bosses feel the same way.

But the problem is, The Globe and Mail benefits from these essays.  It can boast – or celebrate, as it did last week – about the appeals of the Facts & Arguments page.  It can sell these pieces from its electronic database.  All without paying the writer who supplied the essay. 

I sent a Letter to the Editor, but I didn’t really think it would be published – and I was right.  I wrote:

The art of writing a personal essay is more difficult than readers may think. A great deal of thought, skill and awareness is required in order to create a compelling essay that transforms a self-indulgent story about, for instance, the death of a relative (or pet, or marriage) into a poignant and meaningful piece of writing. I’ve been proud to see five of my essays published on the Facts & Arguments page – but I stopped submitting my work when The Globe and Mail stopped paying F & A writers for the privilege of using their words.  The Facts & Arguments essay was intended by its creator, William Thorsell, to be the “centerpiece of personal writing quite unlike anything else in the newspaper.”  If the writing deserves to be published, the writer deserves to be paid.  

Sadly – and I mean that word in its truest sense, I am sad - I won’t be submitting any more essays to Facts & Arguments until The Globe and Mail pays for the privilege of using my words. I will continue to send Letters to the Editor, and lobby my fellow writers, and email the Publisher of The Globe and Mail.  I don’t really expect anything to change.  Why would it, when so many eager essayists submit their work to the F & A editors every week?  The Globe wins, and I lose.

But I think what they are doing is wrong.

If the writing deserves to be published, the writer deserves to be paid.

41 comments:

  1. Good for you, Jean. And the other thing that makes my blood boil is that they don't pay the writer, but they pay the illustrator and the actor who reads the essay for the podcast. So everyone is worthy of respect and everyone gets paid except the writer whose considered words set the whole chain in motion. What's wrong with this picture?

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  2. I think what the Globe is doing is wrong, too; and, I am very pleased you've taken them to task. Well done!

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  3. I couldn't agree with you more, Jean. Thanks for putting the writer's case forward so clearly. Your last sentence says it all.

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  4. Thanks, Kathe, Keri-Lyn and Heather. I hope the word gets out.

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  5. Wonderful post. I fully agree. Good for you for speaking up against this treatment of writers, Jean. A well-written and well-argued post that I hope everyone reads.

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  6. The ill will they've created with this far exceeds the 100 bucks a day they'll save.

    I don't know if the daily newspaper model is permanently broken or not, but it's clear that the people running the papers don't understand what made them successful in the first place.

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  7. Glad you are speaking up. It's too bad that publications have decided that the best way to increase their bottom line is to get their writing for free. This seems to be the "new" business model for newspapers. I suspect (sadly) that print newspapers will go the way of the dodo, as there is little to nothing interesting in many of them these days. Good for you though for taking this on.

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  8. Thanks for your comments, Heidi, Tim and Suzanne. I wonder how to get the Globe to read this post? And Tim, I know what you mean. Surely a newspaper like The Globe can afford $500 a week to pay F & A contributors.

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  9. I've stopped writing for F&A too. And, I've stopped for exactly the same reasons you've mentioned here. When I was in graduate school and had my first two essays published, that $100 bought me new shoes that I sorely needed. After that, I did it for the occassional boost in profile.

    One of the things that bothers me most about this lack of payment is that the Globe's new format, that it mostly stole from the UK's Guardian, is so much more personal in tone that it's stable of salaried writers and fixed columnists are starting to sound like a poor man's F&A all the time.

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  10. Hear, hear. There seems to be a growing trend in de-valuing the work of writers.

    Being able to publish good writing is a privilege, as is being able to work with a good editor or publisher. If the collaborative relationship between writer and editor falls apart, the quality of what is being published will suffer.

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  11. When Moira Dann appeared at the PWAC agm, she was flogging an anthology of F&A essays that she edited. She boasted that they didn't have to pay the writers anything to re-use these pieces, because they had been taken from the database.

    This is one reason why writers should not only refrain from writing for free, but also from signing abusive "all-right" contracts.

    Barbara Florio Graham, www.SimonTeakettle.com

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  12. I was at that AGM too, Barbara, and I remember that session with Moria Dann. We were all a bit stunned. As you say, we need to be vigilant about our contracts.

    And Eric, you're so right. The collaborative relationship between writer and editor is crucial. In this case, the current F & A editor is wonderful - but her hands are tied as far as payment goes. At a PWAC conference last year, the poor woman was practically lynched when someone raised the issue of "the elephant in the room."

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  13. Brabara, you're right on the money. This is the situation we all face when we make that decision to become professional writers; there are so many people out there who desperately want to see their names in print that publications are getting by without paying for articles. No, the quality isn't as good as if a professional writer had done the story, but what does the publisher care if they're still making money on it? Those of us who stand up for our rights & professionalism just get squeezed out by the masses who'll do it for free. And the overall quality of articles drops another notch.

    This is why it's so important for anybody who decides to pursue writing full-time to create several streams of income from other activities like speaking, editing, printer brokering, etc. that can supplement the writing income. And absolutely don't sign those "all rights" contracts, as that takes away the extra income you can earn from re-selling the same story to other outlets!

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  14. I don't mean any disrespect to the people who continue to submit to F&A, but I noticed a puzzling decline in the quality of the essays over the past couple of years; I understood why when I looked up the submission requirements and discovered that the G&M no longer paid for the pieces.

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  15. The G&M expects to get submissions for free? Seriously?! I am shocked that the G&M has taken this position.

    Gee, then journalists writing for everything from the Washington Post to the Economist to Macleans and Time Magazine should work for free, and consider themselves honoured to do get the chance to do so, since the writers can then boast that they were published in such and such publication, and you know live off the glow of satisfaction.

    Of course, then they need to find alternate fulltime work, to you know pay for a roof over their heads, meals, and the electricity to run their laptops so they can keep writing for free.

    Unbelievable.

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  16. When they first started the column they paid $200; that's what I got in 1992. Kathe's comment really points out how this no-pay rule, when the 'sub-trades' are paid, adds insult to injury.

    Here is the comment I posted last week on one of their self-contragulatory stories (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/20-years-of-your-stories/article1592910/#comments?plckFindCommentKey=CommentKey:5ac5524f-db07-47f0-bc13-a5de3b4710d6) about the 20th anniversary of the column:
    "My own submission in 1992(?) about the Pride parade was one of the first pieces I had published for pay as I launched my freelance career. I remember how thrilled I was by that Globe byline. Now I have decidedly mixed feelings about the page since you don't pay and, I believe, take all republication rights from unsuspecting amateurs. Yet who can deny the appeal of these personal essays? - Janet Money"

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  17. Jean, this is exactly the quality writing that the Globe is missing out on by no longer paying for the submissions.

    Thanks for this articulate and succinct argument.

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  19. And you inspired me to blog about it too.

    http://lisamaccoll.blogspot.com/2010/06/pay-writer.html

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  20. It's a trend that goes beyond the Globe, sadly. Writers need to stand up for themselves. As one of these comments points out, they pay the people who sell ads, the illustrators and the editors. Just not the writers. It's odd and scary.

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  21. Thanks for posting, Jean. As a full time freelancer I have pretty much taken out all newspapers from my list of potential outlets. I am Sad, too...

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  24. I agree: if you're going to be using the essay of a writer, they deserve ACTUAL compensation.

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  25. I am disappointed that the Globe feels their F & A columns have no value--that their writers don't deserve a paycheque. The Globe pays their editors, their sales staff and their circulation staff. I'm certain the high mucky-muck publishers take home at least some remuneration. Heck, even the paper carriers get paid. The words and the writers who summon them aren't worth a penny? Really?

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  26. Thanks for your comment, Heather. It continues to astonish, doesn't it? Just the same, I feel I've made my point. I will probably start sending my essays again - because I want people to read my words, even if they're free (just like they do on this blog). I will always be looking for a way to advocate for writers, however...

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  27. Hi Jean, I'm so happy to have come across your blog. I am new to the writing scene and have only recently discovered the F&A Essays. I was working on a submission but after reading your blog, I am in two minds. I am passionate about writing and thought that mentioning that my work was published in the Globe & Mail would be great but I agree wholeheartedly that we deserve payment. I will continue by Essay and who knows, may find another publication willing to compete and compensate.

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  28. Thanks for writing this post. As a long time subscriber to the G&M, I have long wanted to write a contribution to F&A. I remember reading submission guidelines a few years ago and being thrilled with the idea that I would be compensated for my writing. I only just recently (about four weeks ago) sent in my first submission after spending a lot of time revising - no word back at all, but I suppose they do say they will only contact you if you are interested. It's a shame that the Globe doesn't seem to value its contributors enough to even let them know they weren't accepted, let alone the fact that they will not compensate those that are accepted and on top of that retain republishing rights. I'm keen to keep looking for another outlet to write for.

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  29. Hello evevryone. I have read this blog with great interest. I just read the Globe guidelines, to wit: "There is no payment if your essay is published. The Globe assumes first-print rights and electronic rights for unsolicited submissions;"

    Does that mean "all rights" as some in this blog have said? What does it really mean? I just submitted an essay to them. Can I restrict their rights to just the first use of it, and not to reprinting?

    I notice that they said they would reply in a MONTH! Good grief! If I hadn't heard in a few days, I would want to send it elsewhere.

    I would appreciate any and all comments more experienced writers might have on this subject.
    Thanks!
    Marilyn

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Marilyn. I think it's time I wrote a new blog post on this topic. Stay tuned!

      In the meantime, a short answer to your question about reprinting: it's my understanding that The Globe only retains first-print rights, which means they won't be printing your essay the paper again. But they also retain electronic rights, which means they can reprint it online without paying you, and they can sell it online (eg. in an online data library, say) without sharing any of the revenue with you.

      I welcome input from anyone who might have a different take on this, or more information from The Globe.

      Jean

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  35. I always find amazing those newspapers or magazines that do not pay (because you should be happy to be published by us attitude) or those that pay so low (NYT modern love) when their circulation is in millions....who are these paying magazines and newspapers that will pay me because I was published by gm?

    I think the payment if not fully as professional by the words, should be at least a courtesy of taking time to write the piece.

    This is akin to robbing, IMHO.

    I am curious.

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  36. Hear, hear! I just read this, although I know it's about 5 yrs old. I agree absolutely. The G&M is a national newspaper. The only national paper until the Post came along. It's an institution, but it's not a charity. They should pay, even if it's a token amount, as before.

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    1. Thanks, Joshua. As far as I know, nothing has changed since I wrote this post...

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