Four speakers represent different models: for-profit and ad-based, non-profit, “anti-profit,” and legacy media. In individual presentations and a group discussion, they’ll look at these and other questions: What does financial sustainability for arts journalism look like? How can partnerships help sites better monetize content and expand audience reach? What compensation exists for nonprofit and all-volunteer ventures? What are the ethical implications of using work by unpaid writers, not just for the journalists themselves but also for the “professionalism” of the field?
Susannah Schouweiler: I was thinking about this, and as I followed all of our panelists really closely, and as I think about sort of the economies of this work, of writing and responding to culture as a professional, whatever professional means, or as an artist engaging that conversation, it strikes me that cash might not be the central question, but compensation might be and that could be professional compensation, that could be intellectual compensation, a sense of collaboration that Carolina was talking about, but I think even with that, I think we have to start with the question of pay. Pay for writers, before we get into publishing models. And I really can’t think of a better way to start than Yasmin Nair’s essay Scabs, Academics, and Others Who Write for Free. This little nugget is really striking. The system of free writing has created a caste system, she says, with those who can afford to work for free doing so, while those who can’t struggle to pay the bills and often give up. As with unpaid interns, those who can’t afford to write nothing, inevitably make it into networks of influence, which allow them to continue on to actual paying gigs. She goes on, if you write for free, you are making it possible for publishers to refuse to pay professional writers what they’re worth. You’re contributing to what she calls the “adjunctification of writing.” Her solutions are really blunt. If you’re any kind of writer, demand pay and good pay, even and especially because you don’t need it to survive. If you’re a would be publisher who wants to provide a space for radical feminists, whatever but don’t know how to do it with your pay rate starting in the hundreds and not the measly tens, don’t publish. It’s as simple that. Do you think people who can’t pay should just north publish?
Carolina Miranda: Well, I have some problems with that essay, I don’t like to write for free and I think writers should get paid for their work, but it completely—there’s no nuance in who or what a writer is. People write for lot of reasons. People write as part of another process. If they’re an investigator research the written result is sort of an ancillary part of their research work or for an academic to publish findings and so there’s a lot of reasons that people write and I think to put this blanket statement that if you’re writing for free, you’re a scab. There’s something really ooga booga about it. I also feel like writing is a form of communication. After talking it’s one of the oldest forms of communication and no, people haven’t always gotten paid to do it because sometimes what you’re expressing, you know, is not necessarily for a paying audience or things like that.
Veken Gueyikian: I have a problem with it, too, when we started, we started paying very little. I mean what we could afford. Both me and Hrag had full-time jobs but we knew that we had to start somewhere so that we could start paying writers and increasing over time and really grow. Because growing from is probably impossible but growing from $20 to 50 to 75 to 100 seems like something that we could all build together as a community. So our writers, as a community, our sponsors and our publishers and us building it together to get to this point so I disagree that we shouldn’t start, because we need to start something. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Eugenia Bell: I have feelings about it, as well, I think the human in me wants to agree with the idea that, you know, we should as writers should be demanding pay for our work, and that writers and the work that we do absolutely be valued the same way that the work that doctors do or anybody else is valued and certainly monetized. On the other hand, as the editor of a website and as a book editor in the past, you know, and somebody who is lucky enough to be able to pay their writers, I—you know, I like—I really liked your point about the different, you know, and it’s not something I think about very often, but the different models that paying your writers can take, and this idea of barter is a very good one.
I know we spoke a little bit at dinner last night about sort of back and forth that a writer can have with a really good and involved editor and the work that an editor puts into improving a writer’s writing and thinking process. You know, hugely valuable, and that’s something I’ve had with my own editors at Frieze and Artforum and on books, so I recognize that that is one characteristic of payment or at least compensation. You know, on the other hand, we—many art writers live in cities like London and San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, and cash pay is utterly important. It’s vital. Literally. So, yeah, I mean, you know, the idealist in me wants to side with her but the realist in me understands that demanding some kind of compensation, whether that is intellectual or cash, is utterly important, necessary, and I just, you know, and I am really glad you made that point. It wasn’t something that I really thought about though we had touched upon it and you made it very strong, convincing.
James McAnally: I think one thing, that quote it sort of assumes a top-down industry. It assumes that existing infrastructure that is able to pay and I think it’s something we have talked a lot about in this. There are a lot of predatory publications out there I think that they kind of subsist in their infrastructure and they pay some people and not others, which came up in several different panels and I think the think that what we were reacting to is if you set out that model, then a lot of things are not talked about. So if you do separate this conversation from industry to field, what are you doing? What is the work? You know, something that we considered starting in a place like St. Louis, but also in a lot of cities is it just wouldn’t happen.
If you set out these kind of ways of formalized structure and what we’re going to see is the art critic from the newspaper gets fired and then you go five years and there’s nothing, you know, and that’s kind of not good for anyone. It’s not good for artists, it’s not good for writers in those areas, so you really have to consider what can you make happen otherwise. Sometimes, you know, that can exist in a paid writing position, sometimes it can be a nonprofit publication, whatever, but I think that there are always other approaches, I think, to make sure that it’s happening.
Schouweiler: James, when you guys founded Temporary, who were you serving? Who were you writing for? Who were you accountable to?
McAnally: I mean I think we were accountable to ourselves. We go back to the beginning, it was really an artist-run space. I mean we think about that in terms of spaces or galleries, but not really about publications but it’s increasingly common. That it was sort of artists and I mean I also run a space that has exhibitions that would just not get covered and so there was kind of an accountability to ourselves that we sort of looked around St. Louis, but also we started out immediately kind of a national conversation, and the idea was that we wanted to talk about artist-run spaces, alternative spaces, projects that were ephemeral and were likely not going to be covered and so there was no archive around it.
So we felt accountable to a way of working I think and actually documenting it, taking it seriously being critical about it, as well, so not just kind of boostering, that way of working, but actually what is criticism that is more directed and intentional, you know, the underlying value was, we felt like that was a really important moment in time, we started in 2011 but really form 2009 on you see this resurgence of the artist-run space and we felt that that conversation wasn’t happening and that we weren’t really willing to wait for it to happen, either that at a certain point you have to take responsibility for it yourself.
Schouweiler: I’m thinking about conflict of interest because I know Veken spoke really well I think from the idea that from the very beginning, if you’re approaching especially arts writing as journalism, you’re thinking about who you’re accountable to and how you can keep the editorial, you know, church and state how you keep them separate so that the source of your funding doesn’t unduly affect the kinds of stories you feel free to tell and I’m wondering Carolina and Eugenia, you’ve worked as freelancers, and you know, with this creative entrepreneur model, this go it alone freelancer who’s kind of a hired gun for a lot of publications, are you finding yourself when you’re in that role, you have to create your own kind of ethical super structure for determining your own sort of comfort level with conflicts of interest or is that still dictated by the publisher that you’re writing for? Because to me those lines feel a lot more fluid with these sort of artist-driven and freelance-driven enterprises.
Miranda: I mean it depends on who you work for. I did a lot of public radio work, and public radio has, and especially NPR in Washington, not necessarily local affiliates, has very strong conflict of interest rules and when you sign on to be a freelancer, even though you’re not staff, you’re still governed by conflict of interest rules. So I couldn’t make any money from any person I might be in the position of covering in the future, so it meant I couldn’t really do catalog essays for galleries, I couldn’t do projects for museums, I couldn’t do any of those things and that sort of governed the ethics I obviously applied to all of my work and it governs what certainly what I do at the LA Times right now, we have very strict, you know, like Christopher I can’t be paid to be here. Very strict rules.
Bell: I mostly freelance edit books for publishers and museums and galleries, and that’s—you know, the primary source of my freelance work, so you know, I think there are self-imposed, you know, an ethos that you are driven by, and that’s kind of how I operate. There aren’t really conflict of issues except in the case of when I was working at Frieze, if I was working on—I wouldn’t be, working on the book of someone I was writing about in the magazine or someone I’d commissioned someone you know, to write an article about an artist or a designer or a musician or something. I wouldn’t be working for that person in another capacity. But I mean that doesn’t feel very fluid to me– that feels quite obvious frankly, but you know, as far as book editing goes, I think you know you don’t have quite the same commercial or advertising interests you know, that would bring those questions up, so in my case I feel a little bit free from that thankfully.
Schouweiler: Are there self-determined lines that you’re drawing or is that expressed? Is that made explicit?
Bell: Oh, no, definitely self-imposed. You know, there are kinds of books I won’t do, or you know, certain, you know, topics that I won’t edit on because it’s not an area of expertise, you know, I’m not going to edit a book on neuroscience, you know, like they’re self-imposed, they’re common sense quite frankly.
Schouweiler: What about you James? If part of this is filling a gap, a sort of a documentation gap and we’re going to do this for ourselves to provide a critical discourse that’s missing outside in these in-between cultural zones that don’t have the kind of publishing they used to, how do you avoid people playing fast and loose with the barter system?
McAnally: I think that’s something we have to be aware of as editors of people sort of wanting,—you know, if you want to cover what you’re doing, then maybe this is an opportunity that you’d see. I mean I think we’ve experimented with different ways. One thing that we’ve been doing more recently is kind of throwing that question out the window, conflict of interest. We started doing for kind of longer duration I guess publishing, we have been doing things we call social responses. It actually starts with the the curator stating what they intended to see happen so it goes from there and bringing it into the body of review and making it explicit.
So I think that’s one way is making it really clear who the person is that’s writing, who the critic is, what their connections to all these things are, but I mean it’s something that isn’t really—for us—I mean conflict of interest isn’t really a financial question. I think that’s come up in a lot of conversations of you know, are you beholden to your advertisers and that is a who whole other conversation that’s really problematic and I think for us, our duty is to make sure that something is documented and talked about and that we self-select, we don’t write about art fairs, we don’t write about commercial galleries for the most part. Even museums, so there’s kind of a self-selecting thing. People have to enter that conversation and be willing to risk relationship. I think that’s the think that we find is everyone in these fields are very tied together and you just have to kind of embody that and you know, I think people have a hard time doing that, but it’s kind of coaxes it out and the editorial process helps with it, as well.
Schouweiler: That’s certainly something I run into, we have a lot of artists in our stable of contributors and I think it’s been trickier than even they would have anticipated much less than what we would have anticipated where they have to switch gears and wear a critic’s hat what does it mean to give critical feedback to your peers and does that criticism look like you know, criticism that’s published by a newspaper or by a magazine or by Hyperallergic, it seems like maybe they need different terms because they’re kind of not functioning in the same way.
Bell: Are they? Do you set them out?
Schouweiler: I don’t set them out but I find that they’re writing more strict reviews. Because I’m really interested foregrounding the artists who work within a particular practice, I found almost by happenstance really that some of the most interesting critical analysis, if you get away from the consumer guide model of reviews, right, the most interesting analysis is coming from people who really understand and have a deep investment in the practice, so I wouldn’t want to discount that, but I think there is then this push-pull, because it’s a different kind of critique and it kind of functions differently. It’s really deeply interpersonal. And it has come up for people who are writing about folks that they know well and it’s troublesome, I think. Veken, you’ve spoken well to the idea that you specifically don’t sell advertisers on the idea that they’re supporting the writing.
Schouweiler: How are you making that case? Are you selling them on the reader?
Gueyikian: Yes, so we approach them and try to sell the access to the audience, so we engage our audience, we can educate or inform our audience about something that needs to be addressed so we address their marketing goals and not their PR goals, so we don’t think about how this campaign will influence the writing. It’s completely separate, and I think that we’ve been able to grow the audience big enough and through the network have reached into the many different audiences together that we can really provide value there for advertisers when they keep coming back and coming back and buying bigger and bigger campaigns to reach our audience and it has nothing to do with the editorial and we have 500 sponsors versus 10 big sponsors so if we lose one it’s not a big deal, we can keep going and we work with a lot of nonprofits and art institutions and art schools that we don’t necessarily write about anyway. Their mission or their goal is aligned with ours of reaching and growing the audience for art and so they’re not looking to influence editorial. The ones that are usually call me, ask for a review, I say I can’t help them, and then I hang up. Or if they buy an ad hoping for some kind of editorial, don’t get it, they don’t come back.
Schouweiler: You guys are doing really well now, Jillian just got an award, you’ve got a lot of traffic, you have 500 sponsors, what did you do years 1, 2, and 3 when you didn’t have that kind of clout and you couldn’t make the case? Were you just doing the hustle?
Gueyikian: Yeah, and we you know, we over-delivered and under-promised on everything. So if we took a campaign, we charged less than what it was worth and delivered twice as much value and then that built a reputation over time, word spread, people kept coming back for more and we just kept building from there. So I think it was daily execution, you know, very hard work, it took years to build, very slow going, but it just built brick by brick and by the third year of Hyperallergic and Nectar Ads we were able to quit our jobs and start really building it and then word started to spread and campaigns started coming in and it was really exciting and just kept running and kept building it. But the first two years as very slow going, kind of just patience and lots of hard work, but always providing value, like really we had to think about, the ads are not just tacked on with no thought. I had to really think about the ads and what that experience was for the readers as well as the sponsors.
Schouweiler: How did you articulate that to the people who were providing you with the ads? Like, how did you lean on them to get beautiful, worthwhile.
Gueyikian: I had to do a lot of extra work with them.
Schouweiler: Did you make it for them?
Gueyikian: Sometimes. We did a lot of free consulting so I did a lot of teaching, I had to teach them about the world of online advertising, how they should approach campaigns, you know, it wasn’t just picking up the phone and selling inventory for this price or that price, so I had to really bring them on board and I think that made the difference. So it if someone called me and said I’ve heard about blogs I want to advertise, I don’t know what to do. I’d spend an hour with them talking to them about what are their opportunities, what do they want to do and how they can best accomplish their goals and I think that’s really how we started.
Schouweiler: Just sort of educating your advertisers and bringing them into the —
Gueyikian: Well in 2009, there was no real art ad marketplace where people were buying online ads. It was really a new thing.
Schouweiler: When did you reach the threshold? Like, how did you determine internally that you’d reached a threshold when it was time to bump pay for writers did you have an internal formula.
Gueyikian: No, just as soon as we could afford it. This is the first year we might make a profit but every time we made more revenue, we would just increase our writers, because we know we’re not paying enough, we know we’re not where we need to be, so we wanted to start and not start from zero, so we started but we keep bumping it up over time as we can afford it and we’re committed to keep that going.
Schouweiler: Thinking of value and the declaration in that check when you’ve written something for publication, that says this means something to me, this is valuable, this is work that we’re going to treat right, given the interpersonal intangible qualities of that transaction, do you find that as writer, Carolina, when you have written, you know, under a number of different sort of contractual terms, sometimes collaborative, sometimes free, sometimes paid really well, do you find that your investment in the editorial process for any given piece, like, how is that connected to the way you feel valued.
Miranda: To the way I feel valued. Do I feel more valued if I’m getting paid more? Is that the question.
Schouweiler: OK, so in digital media if you think about sort of the way publishing works, I hit publish but that’s not the end, that’s a the beginning of a reader response and sort of ongoing conversation and long-tail click-through and ideally as an editor I would really love for my contributors to be thinking about that article as a living thing, especially if there’s reader conversation happening around it. But it feels like a hell of a lot to ask a contributor that’s getting 150 bucks for a thousand words to moderate the conversation around it and so I’m wondering what do you think is reasonable to expect on the part of editors and publishers to expect that sense of stake in the ownership? Where does that sense of shared ownership come from?
Miranda: That’s a tricky one because I think it is something, especially when you are really busy doing a lot of stories, the onus of sort of maintaining a sort of a social media presence after a story is done, there is an expectation that you’re going to do that as a writer these days. I tend to have the point of view of like, I treat my stories equally regardless of where they are published. I feel like a story no matter what story I do, it has my name on it and that hopefully that name means something so just because a site paid me $100 to write the piece instead of 1,000 doesn’t mean that I’m then going to be like oh, see you later, guy, I’m too busy to tweet it or engage in a discussion about it or whatever. I mean I see all the work I do as just being part of this larger ecosystem of things that I’m interested in. And so yeah, whether it’s a well paid magazine or a tiny blog, I as a writer am going to treat it the same.
Schouweiler: Eugenia did you notice that the investment from your contributors changed as you were able to go from free to paid?
Bell: That’s not what changed, actually, no. I mean this is a slightly different conversation to have, but really the investment that you know, our writers, our regular writers and even those who are once a month or once every couple of months, all of our writers work really hard. And I think that that, you know, that makes those pieces more valuable and potentially gives them a longer life span out in the world.
There was a time at Design Observer until about four years ago where the comments section was incredibly lively and was as much a part of the post as the post itself. I mean, you know, 60 comment-long threads that were full conversations. We had a number of regular readers who kind of commented on everything and those were—I mean those were like great days.
Schouweiler: Does anybody have good comment sections anymore? Has it all moved to Twitter and Facebook?
Bell: Well, that’s what happened with us unfortunately and you know, as soon as you know, the on switch on Twitter went on, that entire thing moved over there, and the—you know, if there’s a tragedy when it comes to commons, you know, the tragedy is that it’s no longer a discussion. You know, it’s moved to Twitter and it’s now just, you know, that’s great or retweet are there’s no—no one is saying anything of substance on Twitter about anything.
Miranda: That is getting retweeted so hard right now.
Bell: But you know, for Design Observer it’s been, you know, it has actually been a big blow, we really—we valued that, and in fact, you know, we’re doing these books now and the first two are coming out this summer and they are essay collections from the site, that span quite a long period of time on the site and they—there are posts that we’re reprinting that we’re reediting and reprinting that had, you know, really rich discussions in the comments section and we’ve decided to reprint those as they appeared on the site, because as I said, you know, they were as much a part of the discussion as the original posts were, and you know, if there’s one way we can resurrect that or you know, try to stoke that a little bit more, that you know, that’s one way. Another way is that we have encouraged our contributing editors and our contributing writers, you know, we don’t ask much of them, usually but we do hope they’re reading the site every day and we want them to at least comment. We don’t need they will to go into some big philosophical discussion. I think a lot of our readers would love to see Michael and Rick and Jessica back in the comment section and our other contributors, but it’s a momentum issue and we should try to start that up again, because you know, the Facebook and Twitter just aren’t really compensating for the loss of that.
Schouweiler: Has the making a public objective worked for Temporary? I mean, you get some pretty good comments.
McAnally: I think it spans both audience and contributors that there’s a sense of there’s a stake in the conversation and think it’s not a site that is aiming for this kind of mass circulation, so I think that if you’re there, then you want to have a conversation, which I think does drive, you know, more interesting comments, like I appreciate when people kind of take the time to do it there where it’s searchable and but attached to the original source. We were running a book club for a while that was built around comments, the entire discussion was in the comment section, ours included, so there was just sort of a general introduction and then it was really intentional, like can you do that? Can we return? I think there are only a few sites doing it well.
I think it’s actually rebuilding a culture around that kind of thing, which I think e-flux conversations is trying to do, as well, and the think about Facebook and Twitter and the thing is it’s not really archived. It’s there, it exists but it’s not searchable, it’s not returning the value back to the original conversation and so ultimately like a really intense thing can happen and then it doesn’t return back to a community, actually that it benefits, however you define that community unless it’s just your friends circle because that’s false-reaching. Because I think we intentionally do invest in that, have a sense that our stake is the same as our audience as the same as contributors, and I think in that way it’s succeeding.
Schouweiler: Your editorial staff is volunteer, as well.
McAnally: It is, I am unfortunately the full time as the executive director of a nonprofit, but Temporary exists outside of those hours, it’s kind of extra to that. So I mean we have started—I mean again so we just started paying writers if they choose recently. Started paying our other editor is kind of like doing copy and managing the site and she gets paid a little bit for that, but it’s kind of comparable to the scale of the writers. So there’s no sort of extra infrastructure layer of like where does the money go in administration and all of these things, it’s really transparent and in that way works as a cooperative.
Schouweiler: How do you handle the decision making? I mean my experience with publishing started with print and that’s got such a top-down dictatorial power structure, like you know, my editors would decide how much we could afford to pay, a publisher would decide and the editors would decide who to assign and that shifting online to the good, I think, but those—the power dynamic of both money and editorial control, moderating conversations in the comments, like who pulls the plug in an overtly sort of collective environment? What if you brought in a writer who didn’t necessarily immediately fit into that public and was kind of an interloping voice? Can you envision a situation where there would be such discomfort where you would think we are going to pull the plug on that person or that’s not our kind of piece. As a collective entity, how do you make those decisions?
McAnally: I mean it’s not decentered in that sense—it is edited by two people and we make the decisions about those kinds of questions, including moderating comments and things like that, but also choosing what we publish and what we won’t. It’s not kind of a free for all and the decision in that sense are not—intentionally we don’t talk about ourself as a collective. Like it’s not collectively owned and anything like that, it’s really about transparently sharing what we do have. And I think that—but that doesn’t give up editorial control at the same time. I mean I think that’s the thing that’s been kind of the question of, you know, a lot of it for a few years, it was kind of what people would send or we would seek out and specifically ask for certain pieces from people that we knew and it was kind of a broad thing. As it’s become more and more popular, those things are, you know, people just send us stuff, we have to be a lot more careful, I think, with our editorial process.
Schouweiler: A brass tacks question here from Katie Hill. She wants everyone to talk actual numbers. Is it always a dollar a word? Does anybody make a dollar a word anymore or real writing about the arts? I haven’t for years.
Miranda: Well, I’m staff now, so I have this magical thing that happens where every two weeks this money materializes—I can go to a doctor, too, without having to go to Mexico. As a freelancer, the pay rate was all over the place, depending on the outlet I was working for. I did have dollar a word assignments, and dollar a 50 word assignments, occasionally I could even get 2. Which was magical. Oftentimes it might be a flat rate, so many of the art magazines would be like, OK, an 1800 to 2500 word feature, but we’re paying, you know, $1700 and that’s, you know, but I always tried to negotiate something that was in the range. Like I needed to be a dollar a word does not assure a comfortable living. It assures a living. It’s like I’m not talking about, you know, vacations in Cancun, I’m talking about I can pay my rent, I can pay my bills and maybe I’ve got some money left over for a happy hour PBR.
Schouweiler: I don’t know anybody who starts at a dollar a word. I don’t think you spring fully formed out of Zeus’ thigh.
Miranda: And I’ve done work for free and I’ve done work for 50 bucks and a hundred bucks, because sometimes you negotiate it was sort of putting that checklist through my head of you know, is this worth it for me, am I really passionate about the topic, am I subsidizing someplace that doesn’t really need subsidizing. Like if the questions stacked well for me, I really feel this is a personal decision, so it’s not necessarily a template. You know, yeah, I’d do a 500 word piece for 50 bucks, like I wasn’t—but I needed the dollar pieces to survive. I was also an on-air critic and so that was a steady stream of revenue that I had as a writer.
Schouweiler: For freelance work I sure don’t know of anything like an industry standard. It’s all over.
Miranda: The web writing, yeah, it used to be a dollar to two dollars a word but web writing turned it into here’s 25 bucks and like a small scrappy outlet doing something interesting who’s like OK but you know when the Daily Beast is approaching you and says we want a 2,000 word reported feature in two days I’m like tell Tina Brown to take a cut on her lunch expenses and pay me a living wage, like no.
Schouweiler: No thank you, Huffington Post.
Miranda: Yeah, thank you. Bye.
Bell: Well, Carolina as a freelance editor, I’ve kind of had these thresholds—you know, when I was working for, if I was doing a book or you know, exhibition copy or something for a nonprofit artist space I’d have one rate that was way below, you know, the rate I would charge if I were, you know, copy editing a 500 page catalog for The Met or something else of that size if I was working for a commercial publisher, there was another rate. Though working for a commercial publisher is usually just a big flat lump sum, you know, like Isaac’s, like his tattoo of you know, don’t read the comments, mine would be never amortize, like you could never, you know, never think about that, you know, because those jobs, and those editing jobs that some editor or publisher promises are going to be three month gigs and they become seven because the main essay doesn’t come in for months, you know, there’s that part of your life that you’ll never get back. Speaking as the editor of Design Observer, we have a two-tiered rate system for what we consider short pieces and then long pieces, and —
Schouweiler: What’s a short piece?
Bell: A short piece is anything up to about 400 words.
Schouweiler: What’s the rate. We got a specific question.
Bell: I’m happy to say.
Schouweiler: It says, OK, what’s the rate?
Bell: Our rate for a 400 word piece or up to 400 word piece is about $125 and anything in the 500 to 800 word range or longer for that matter, you know depends on how much longer pieces become, sometimes we serialize pieces, is $250.
Miranda: I mean I honestly used to negotiate a rate sometimes like oh, our website pays 40, I’m like, great, pay me 50 because it’s like you’re going to get clean copy from me, it’s going to be well reported, like there’s also certain things when you’ve been doing it long I feel like there’s a certain something you can bring to the table and be like great, you’re just going to pay me a little bit more than you pay everyone else. Like, just a little.
Schouweiler: Carolina is going to take that bar and lift it with this shoulder.
Bell: Similar to this, you know, it took me a really, really long time to start saying no to jobs that didn’t pay enough and I think as a freelancers you are just so, you know,—you’re terrified, you know, you think you say no, you know, to some gallery, and you know, the no in your brain your neurotic brain, my neurotic brain is that oh, they’re never going to call me back, which is completely asinine, that’s not true. If they value your work, I was talking to somebody about this, who said, you know, who was trying to point out how ridiculous my thinking was, she said but you as an editor tore who commissions writer and they said you know what, I’m writing an essay for a book, I don’t have time to do that right now, she said would you never go back to that person because they don’t have time this week and of course the answer is no, so —
Schouweiler: It got you for a while to be able to have that kind of freedom.
Bell: Perhaps, I don’t know but the same woman I was talking to was also a book editor, said to me, you know, I’ve been editing books for many years, and you know, she told me, she told me point blank, she said act your age, like you’re at a point now where you don’t have to take, you know, like, you know, the $300 gig to edit a gallery guide, but you have a Rolodex full of good young editors and writers who would be great at that and would you know, kill for that opportunity to work for a big commercial gallery and on something and she was absolutely right and it seems to me it finally dawned on me, it was like right, this is the point in my career as an editor and as a freelance editor where I should be kind of beginning to nurture people. Next generation of editors, whether they’re freelance or otherwise. That I should be helping out, giving that work to. So that’s one way.
Schouweiler: So you barter.
McAnally: Yeah mostly we allocate ad space, artists guest writers choose, then our rate it generally 50 to 150.
Gueyikian: Yeah we have different tiers depending on the type of writing it is so something like an investigative piece that take a little bit longer might get 100 or 150. Something that’s a blog post, 500 words, we usually start at 50, and we hope to raise that in the fall to 75. Since we’re not paying a dollar a word, we’re generally working with young writers who need the opportunity. We publish about 12 posts a day, so we have a lot of opportunities to publish new voices. And our editors work really hard with them, so we’re nurturing kind of a new generation of writers. I think that’s part of the value we can provide now.
Schouweiler: Along those lines of value, who values this work is what James Bridle asks, which is a great question, and who should be paid like doctors and who pays doctors and do you want to be paid by a system like that? But I would add an addendum—whose work gets valued like that, and that’s seems to be a really critical question about access and actually diversity in arts writing and who can afford to go through these really low levels of unpaid work to reach the point where you can command a seat at a negotiating table where you can say I’d like – you know, how can we as editors and publishers, how can we open the door a bit wider, like what are the economies of that for a young writer?
Miranda: I think magazine writing has always been problematic for that reason. When you’re starting out you’re not going to be making very much money. I mean, when I started out, I started as an intern at The Nation, which was a full-time job, Monday through Friday, 10-6, then I got paid $75 a week living in New York City, which meant I did moonlighting at a bakery, I stuffed cannoli like nobody’s business. So I mean I didn’t come from a family that could support me. Like I was not the cast of Girls. I had to make a living, so I worked at night. You know, slinging coffee, and cannolis, and yeah, and it gets really frustrating and exhausting and you’re sleep deprived, and you know, you don’t have the advantages that another more affluent person might have. It’s not like I came from a family, I ran into a lot of people in New York it’s like their uncle was so-and-so at time Time magazine. I didn’t have that.
My parents are immigrants from South America. I grew up Southern California this was not their world or mine. What I do think the Internet was done in terms of diversity is that it has, you know it’s allowed voices like mine, you know, would I have been hired by a major daily under the old system? You know, to do what I do now? Probably not. I don’t have a degree in art history. I don’t have some of the paperwork it takes to get some of those jobs but I think through doing work online and through my blog I was able to prove that you don’t necessarily need that. You can be a good writer and a good reporter and do the homework without the piece of paper, so I think the web there has provided an outlet for different voices and also allowed voices like myself to build an audience, because you know in a print publication they’ll be like oh, Latin America stories, nobody cares about those and it’s like no, I know people who care and on the web you can publish them and kind of show that there is an audience for it.
Schouweiler: And I think building that audience, means writing the stories as an article of faith that the audience will come if it’s a good story. Do you find that with the more global arts coverage that you’ve been doing? I mean you’re unusual among the Brooklyn based outlets for being really intentional about having national and international.
Gueyikian: Yeah, we really want to highlight diverse art scenes in different parts of the world and I think people now come to us to learn about that, and to read about different things going on, and I think we’ve developed that audience.
Schouweiler: David Truman and then you in the back I see. Could you hold on? Think, as Orit would say, think of the Internet. Let’s be mindful of people listening remotely.
Audience Member: I think my question is, are pay rates the same for writers here as—say for example in Europe? Are European writers paid more for doing arts writing? Do you know?
Bell: In Europe or if we commission European writers.
Audience Member: No, I’m talking about in Europe.
Bell: I have no idea.
Audience Member: Here’s the basis for my question. Are writers outside the US paid differently because the public has a—maybe a better educated, more interest in the arts?
Bell: Not for the with web, I don’t think so. I mean my little experience with that and other editors I know doing this kind of work abroad, no, I think the pay is paltry as it is here.
Miranda: I think in most parts of the world being an arts journalist avowed poverty. If there was a country where I could get rich doing this, we’d all be there right now.
Audience Member: Hi, thanks, this is a great conversation I’m so glad for the transparency of it. The publication I founded titled Momus, I forgot to mention that at the earlier session.
Schouweiler: I love Momus.
Audience Member: I’m paying 200 per piece right now, that’s where I started and I’m about to bump up to 300. I’m sort of disappointed to hear the rates that I’m hearing. I’d like to think that my rates are sustainable. We’ll see. I guess my question is this: With, say, Hyperallergic, why not publish less and pay more? Is the only way that you can maintain the relationships that you’ve built and the traffic that you’ve built at the pace that you’re publishing?
Gueyikian: I mean that’s kind of our thinking, that we really wanted to grow the audience and we really wanted to capitalize on the momentum to create a sustainable foundation and then build from there. We felt like if we just published once a day or twice a day that we wouldn’t get the critical mass and momentum behind us and it would peter out and die after a couple of years and I think that’s how we approached it and our goal is to raise those rates and our goal is to build something long-term and we always had a ten-year plan. So the first five years was about building this momentum and then going forward we’re going to be building the business around it and building up all of the infrastructure that supports it.
Audience Member: So I work for an LGBT, pretty much alt-weekly in my region. While I’m a young reporter interested in going national, a number of my colleagues aren’t. They really do want to have the opportunity to tell these stories in our community. But we all have clearly had different, more specific forms of ad revenue than y’all clearly do. Do y’all have any experience and I guess maybe Carolina may the most, but with like—how will we survive? How can we tell these rich stories, too? I mean granted I work for an LGBT weekly and we just write about how people want to beat us up every week but you know, it comes with the territory. I’m not guilting you all, calm down. But where does the role of community journalism in all of this? Not citizen journalism. But places like ours?
Miranda: I’m a little confused about what the question is. Is it how do you make a community journalism story a national story?
Audience Member: Well, we will localize a lot of local stories. I’m seeing this as a lot of national conversation but what is a way that could be relevant to bring this to bring this discussion to alt weeklies, regional magazines, yeah.
Miranda: It’s really interesting that you ask that question because now that I’ve been at the LA Times for a year I’m in this interesting position where I do think about national, but I have to think about local. I can’t justing writing stories about the New York art world. Or what’s going on Basel. I really think if there is a place that is vibrant in journalism it is in community journalism, because you are there, because you can do the face to face reporting, you can go out, not just be behind your desk talking about some expert on the phone, like you can be out on the scene in ways that some national reporter doing it as a phoner just isn’t going to be.
And I always think of it as every story I do, as it having the potential to be both local and national, that when you’re doing a profile of an artist, that when you’re telling their story, you’re telling a story, and if you tell a good story it’s going to attract readers regardless-of-where they are. I mean how many times have you clicked on some viral story in Facebook about some guy in Alabama saving his cat or some guy in you know New York doing whatever, like there’s a real power in storytelling and I think sort of untold power of community journalism is being able to be there. And so it’s getting out, not just being behind the desk it’s not just doing the phoners, it’s meeting people and making sure that your stories reflect your profound knowledge of having been in the place.
Schouweiler: There’s a local outlet. Is Alan Berks here? He and his wife, Leah Cooper, another playwright, founded Minnesota Playlist, and they do the most innovative interesting critically sort of meaty theater and performance criticism you’ll find, and it’s for profit and they’re making a go of it because they’ve enlisted the community of actors and performers who have a stake in something coverage like that, much like Veken, they’re not drawing them in specifically on the back of that content, they’re offering them a service, they’re offering them a place to put their head shots and audition announcements and advantage of having this high-level critical conversation, but to me like the huge success that they’ve had and other platforms like them is actually enlisting their community members as stakeholders, whether that’s regional or a community of interest, because I think Hyperallergic has been great about galvanizing a community of interest.
Gueyikian: Right and I think we’ve figured out how to create a model that works for individual artists specifically in New York and LA and I’m going to spend the next few years in how to revert that and make a model that might work for local community journalism or community publications where sponsors are interesting in reaching those communities right now. Those communities are interested in reaching what’s happening in New York and LA and sponsors are interested in reaching those people but I want to figure out how to flip it and to see if sponsors want to reach audience around the world and around the nation.
McAnally: That kind of gets to the heart of our model and why ads don’t really work and why we never started there because it was in some ways starting at that opposite place of starting in small communities, so in a sense like our entire model was we would be working in a community that we would ask what’s important to your community and that’s what we would cover and they would kind of—there would be a back and forth and exchange there. But I think that we actually underplay the value of small communities, like advertisers are looking for a mass market, but a lot of the most meaningful work, there might be five people in the room, and I’m not interested in an art world that is kind of catering to this mass audience that kind of an advertiser is going to look for, you know, and I think that there’s kind of at the heart of that a really problematic model of, you know, it’s why museums commercialize, it’s why galleries are looking for this populist theme and it all gets to this question of what can we value and can we value a small one and can our model accommodate that and I think that that’s really important. It’s why certain things move to be monolithic in that process.
Audience Member: Thank you. I’m going to stand up so you can see me because I realize it’s hard to deal with disembodied voices. My question goes to that word community that you were just talking about. My name is Bean I am an art critic. I’m also the Editor in Chief with Daily Serving. Wearing both of those hats I totally agree that paying writers is really important. But I’m also an artist so if you want to talk about getting paid. Buy me a drink. Let’s go. So my question is as people who are communicators and people who have outlets for our voices what do you think is our responsibility, perhaps an ethical, even a moral responsibility, to talk about the fact that artists are not getting paid because we have parallel tracks, we’re talking about writers not getting paid and artists are talking on their own track about artists not being paid and I wonder if you think that overlaps and whether we have a sense of community and solidarity.
McAnally: I have to say initially yes, that’s one of the main kind of tracks I’ve been thinking about is we sometimes think of publishing and arts publishing as a separate sphere and I really do think that it works together, you know, it is about the work that artists are making and the galleries taking risks on them and then us as writers and publishers working with that and responding to it, but taking it all seriously and I think there is a sense of solidarity. I think that—I think that it’s building structures that work, because obviously they aren’t there. You know, if we keep talking about this, there’s more money in the art world than ever and it’s not going to artists and it’s not going to art writers, well, then there’s something wrong with that picture, I think.
And our approach has always been to sort of look around, who is there, who’s with us, who’s complaining about that fact, and then start there, because, you know, working inside the system to date has not gotten us very far, I think.
Bell: And a think a lot of the reason, you know, a lot of writers will agree to write for low rate or for free is because they view their writing in the same way you visualize your visual arts. It’s what you do, and you can’t not do it and you’re willing to do it at your level. Or whatever the stake is. So I think there’s definitely solidarity there. I don’t think we really answered James’ question about the value of writers, but the same way that writers, great novelists down to art criticism, you know, is a contribution to culture and society, you know, artists are, you know, equally so, and yes, there is, you know, a necessary value that is not recognized by the status quo, and we just, you know, have to find that—I mean we’re not really answering questions here, we’re just sort of talking about it, but —
Miranda: I guess coming from a news background it’s like sort of looking at the angle of how—I have been following the debate about, for example a living artist getting paid to help out produce like a survey or retrospective for a museum, because you hear the story about like the artist and the museum installing his big show and he’s the only one not getting paid. Curator is getting paid, the museum marketing director is getting paid. Everyone is getting paid except for the artist under the idea of well, like, this show will give them exposure, but you know, is that artist’s time there valuable? So that is a story I’ve been kind of following it like in terms of covering it, I also work for a general audience that’s not necessarily an art audience, so it’s like I always need, for stories like that I need a little bit of a news hook to write about them. I’m interested in writing about them, but for example there’s been this whole case going through the courts in California there’s resale law that when a work of art gets resold in California, like an artist gets a cut of that resale. That law is now up for question. I forget where it is but it might be shot down.
As a result a lot of people sell their art in other states so that they can cut the artist out of it and there’s been this whole question about should artists benefit. It’s always like I always need that little, given the platform I write for, I need kind of something—I need news essentially. That it’s a harder, it’s harder for me in the position I currently have to just write the big picture questions like should artists get paid? It’s a great question, but my platform doesn’t necessarily lend itself to it. But I do follow it and I especially think of it in the museum setting where artists will devote weeks of their time to installing a show and if they’re not a commercial artist they’re not going to reap any benefit from it whatsoever and in the mean time they’re sacrificing pay.
Schouweiler: At Mn Artists, we see a lot of solicitations for donations in the pipeline. People having a silent auction and what not.
Audience Member: Back to the pay issue, I’m wondering if getting paid by the word is an outmoded way of looking at things. Because Christopher Knight said one of the things that the Internet does is open up space. You don’t have to worry about column width. And yet isn’t interesting that art writing online is short. I’m a big fan of Hyperallergic and your columns are short and tight and to the point. So how can a writer make any money if what we’re asked to do online is you know, condense down?
Gueyikian: We actually—I think you could do talk to Hrag about this, but our editorial team prefers shorter pieces that are more accessible and I think sometimes it’s harder and takes longer to write than longer pieces and so we actually prefer that writers work on shorter pieces and I think we work with them to really hone them and focus them a little more.
Audience Member: And I appreciate that so that’s why by the word doesn’t really apply.
Miranda: I mean there’s one. Like there has been the flat rate method, that can sometimes work. That can sometimes work pretty well, especially if somebody wants a short piece, but that for example requires an intensive amount of reporting, so they want the 600-word piece, but boy, I’m going to have to work the phones for it then a flat rate makes more sense. So yeah, it’s not a perfect. I don’t think we have figured out a perfect system for how to bill and I’ve done for example like photo essay driven things where I’ll choose a bunch of artists we have them photographed and then what I’m writing are essentially very large captions so in that those cases I’ll negotiate a flat rate ahead of time, because obviously the amount of work that I put into it is not reflected in the word count.
Audience Member: Thank you. I just wanted to bring it up.
Schouweiler: I could put on my editor’s hat for a second and the whole by-the-word or even flat fee: if I’m being really candid with are you, it’s more nuanced than that. Because not every word is worth the same to me. Because there are a lot of factors that go into that. It’s not that it’s not valuable but if I have to spend a tremendous amount of time cleaning up copy that isn’t ready to go or close to ready to go, that costs me something. That word is worth a bit less to me than somebody who’s super dependable, turns in really well work—if I’m going to have to fact check everything because there are sloppy details, that costs me something as an editor, and so I guess if I had a tip to give, it would be sort of to echo what Carolina said, write about a number of things.
Cultivate a sort of diverse number of subjects, some of which may pay better than others that you’re comfortable writing about, and even if you can’t always get paid what you’d like to get paid to write about the thing that you love, like cultivate your expertise in that, and make your copy really clean, check your facts, link your text, make it easy for your editors, have nice pictures, you know, think about the medium for which you’re writing, and I’m going to be way more inclined to bump your pay by 10 or 20 bucks if I know like you’re going to give me a really well developed piece that’s ready to go that I know is going to be engaging and get me traffic so it kind of cuts both ways. It’s still like the bar is too low, I think, but, yeah.
Miranda: Yeah, I mean I’ve worked as an editor, that’s why I felt comfortable. It’s like turning stuff in on time, let’s start there, you know, just turn it in on time. What is it that we don’t understand here. Like. So I felt like oh, I always turn in my stuff on time and it’s generally relatively clean. I kind of felt like after working as an editor for a summer, like oh, I can ask for a little more money that’s OK.
Schouweiler: I think we have one more time. One more question.
Audience Member: Yeah, it’s a question specifically for James. I love your anti-profit model and that you’re trying to do something else. You’re trying to do something different, and I suppose it’s a romantic notion in a way, but how do you look forward to—I mean you’re bringing in people that you know, people you want to share that information with but long term what’s your sustainable model I feel like if you didn’t want to do anymore you and your partner, it would just dissolve. And I would feel betrayed if I was working for that. So it’s great on the one hand, how do you look forward with that?
McAnally: I think that’s an interesting question because it is completely kind of in the editor’s hands of that sustainability question. I think that ultimately we are attempting to build an alternative, you know, and talk about sort of alternative spaces and they do ebb and flow but some lasts. We’ve set it up to be profit agnostic is a way to think about it. We do bring in money at this point, we do start to sell ads, we do get some grants, things like that that can bring in I guess a question of sustainability within finance. I think the important thing for us is that as we return to it, that money will never dictate the model and I think that that’s the difference, and I think that in living in a community around working with an art world that is so saturated with profitability and kind of money changing the terms, essentially, of what is possible, that I think that—I think that there’s always a community that’s willing to keep that going, and I think that if it succeeds, something that I always go back to, it’s about the broader field and a broader way of working succeeding.
I think that that’s how I talk about it in terms of Temporary is if we last, then that’s one example, but if a kind of way of working takes hold, then that’s an entire different conversation and that’s something that I would be proud of and I think that sort of extends much beyond the kind of site itself is I think—I mean we’ve already seen a lot of sites start in response to what we’re doing, not exactly the same model but I think that we are we work with a lot of smaller publishers, there’s a recent partnership we had, we had like 30 Twitter followers or something but what they were doing was amazing and I think it made an audience but the fact is that it works both ways that we’re not the model, the example and if people contribute to our model that means they’re invested in the idea of it and the site itself is just an example of that, I think.
Schouweiler: Do you think sustainability is really always necessarily like—is that really—should that be the top objective in our minds? Is it enough to survive or should we embrace the idea that some publishing projects will have a natural life span and they’ll rise and maybe they’ll involve pay maybe they won’t. I think we get stuck in the idea of it’s got to live. We’ve got to make it survive.
McAnally: I think that’s why everybody becomes a nonprofit. If you start to bring in that term, you just think that you necessarily have to go down a certain path that it is sustainable, that it is a broader community is responsible for it.
Schouweiler: The Internet in particular seems antithetical sometimes to the idea of indefinite project. It really seems to have projects that have a life span and can rise and go away. Do you guys have questions for each other? Is there anything we didn’t cover? A lot. Optimism. I don’t think anybody up here is saying the sky is falling.
Miranda: I wouldn’t do anything else. I wouldn’t do anything else.