Saturday, June 11, 2011

What I told the National Magazine Awards audience

My acceptance speech at Friday night's National Magazine Awards, where I received the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, was well received, I'm told. Here's part of what I said (given a pulpit, I think, you should use it.)
I’d like to talk to you about the magazine ecosystem; like many such, there is a certain amount of turmoil beneath the surface of the magazine industry. On this night when we applaud our best creators – a good many of them are drifting into other fields where they can earn enough to raise a family and live a decent life. Most sensible editors will admit they are finding it hard to cultivate and retain good first-draft writers, people who make their jobs easier and our magazines better. Aspiring magazine writers are finding it harder and harder to be able to concentrate on perfecting their craft. At the same time, we have been progressively replacing good, entry-level staff positions with serial unpaid internships.

I have been an unapologetic champion of fair payment and treatment of staff and writers, illustrators, photographers and others among the self-employed such as copy editors and fact-checkers. Recently, for instance, I helped to create a draft Best Practices Guide for writers, editors and publishers. I hope when it is released this fall it will start useful conversations about our investment in content creation and how we can treat each other better. I would hate to think that we know, as with Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic, the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The paradox of our business is that as the industry concentrates at the top end, as magazines need to rely more and more on independent contributors, as more and more people clamour to join the conversation, the tangible recognition of skilled contributors has stagnated and declined. Demands on writers have increased as pay rates have decreased. Writers have to give up control over their intellectual property in order to work for some of our larger magazines. So we have the unedifying spectacle of publishers exploiting the weakness of freelancers just because they can… and of freelancers grudgingly accepting this because they feel powerless.

In their own, long-term best interests, publishers and editors need to re-examine the way in which they treat and compensate the creators of the content upon which their magazines depend. And freelancers need to remember that everything is negotiable, but they have to speak up forcefully on their own behalf. I realize there is no line item in magazine budgets that is labeled “respect”, but respect costs nothing and lubricates magazine relationships.
Thanks to the board of the National Magazine Awards Foundation for selecting me and to Gwen Dunant, Kat Tancock, Charles Oberdorf, Bernadette Kuncevicius, David Hayes, Penny Caldwell and Alastair Cheng for nominating me. 



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good, as always. You say "as the industry concentrates at the top end" - are there industry figures for this? I'd be interested if there are, especially how digital technologies have affected concentration and whether it has led to a "missing middle".

6:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very polite, very Canadian, but I doubt anyone with any power to change things took notice. I can't speak for photogs and others, but as a freelance writer who has been at it for 10+ years, I can say with certainty that the biz model for my trade is seriously dysfunctional and there is no solution in sight. I would discourage anyone from going into this trade who hopes to enjoy a standard of living much higher than that of a university student. The situation needs a much, much stronger response than this.

12:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone with more years in it than you, Anon#1, unfortunately I have to agree. Do it as a sideline to a real job, hopefully one where you're treated better than chattel.

4:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #2 again: This is not meant to be a slap at DB Scott. He did not have to mention the elephant in the room at a party thrown partially in his honour. It speaks volumes about his integrity that he did.

Good for you. And congratulations, DB. Well deserved.

5:26 pm  

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