While I was away, news broke that Outside Magazine – yes that slick, glossy outdoor magazine – is still not paying its writers on time. Here's a very long (and amusing) thread by Jamie Lafferty, who as of late September, hadn't been paid for a story they published in March.
If you've been a subscriber to this newsletter, you know this is not a new problem for Outside – I wrote about it in 2020 (and disclosed my previous bad experience with the publication). But here's why I was surprised they're still doing this: Outside was sold to Pocket Media in February (in a move it may now regret, Pocket has since rebranded to Outside, Inc). In March, they made a big, bold statement that the company was going to "move towards new-30 terms for all creative contributors. We know you have bills to pay, and we will not make you wait," according to CEO Robin Thurston.
In response to Lafferty's thread, another writer came forward to say that this isn't just a one writer problem. I've also been contacted by freelancers who have had a similar experiences but didn't want their name used because fear retribution given that Outside editor in chief Chris Keyes has previously been a judge for the National Magazine Awards (something the American Society of Magazine Editors might want to have a conversation about).
So what did Keyes do in response to being outed as a non-payer? Well, he certainly didn't help himself.
@megaheid I've been EIC here for 16 years, and since we were acquired 6months ago, there has been a massive and sincere effort across our company to fix our payment issues. Your case shows we still a lot of work to do, and I'm very sorry to hear about your experience with us.
— Chris Keyes (@keyeser) September 29, 2021
What's stunning about this statement is that Keyes thinks this makes him look good. He's been in charge for 16 years. He's the one who created this "we're just not going to pay writers" culture, and now he's the one who's going to fix it? On what planet?
To make things worse, two former staffers came out and said that of course management knew about the problem, but forced junior editors to keep assigning stories even though they all knew Outside was already late paying people, and wouldn't be paying for these new batches of assignments anytime soon. Who's at fault for that? Well, not him of course.
And I stand by that decision. We had a founder/owner with the financial means to fix the payment issues but refused to do so and would not listen to us until there was a crisis. Ask our edit team to take furloughs and pay cuts so he can sit on his money? Not on my watch.
— Chris Keyes (@keyeser) September 30, 2021
First, if Keyes thinks that the former owner was going to do this, he's incredibly naive. Rich dudes have been underfunding publications since at least the newsboys strike of 1899 (which inspired Newsies). Even if Keyes thought the former owner wasn't funding the magazine properly (which is very possible!), he was still assigning new stories when they were still thousands of dollars behind in paying for work that had already run.
Second, not only did he create a living hell for freelance writers who had to fight for months to get paid, but what kind of work environment is he fostering where junior editors were told to assign work that they knew the magazine couldn't pay for? It doesn't escape me that both of these former staffers are young women. At least one of these exchanges also happened at – of all things – a diversity, equity and inclusion meeting. I'm not surprised they left. I would have too.
Not only is this bad for Outside, who is already on the Do Not Pitch list for so many of us, but the stench of non-payment now overs Outside Inc.'s other titles too. I wouldn't pitch any of them if their title publication can't pay its writers on time. I feel bad for the good people who work for these publications. They certainly didn't ask for this. But as freelancers, we need to protect ourselves and not risk doing work for publications who have a history of just not paying their bills, even if we like some of the editors who work there.
As for Keyes, I'm agog that he still has a job. Someone who thinks so little of freelancers doesn't belong in this industry. And boy does all this "we're entering into contracts we know we can't honor" also sound like fraud.
I'm sure Keyes thinks I'm a nobody (he certainly didn't feel the need to respond to my tweets). But that's OK. I have pushed/pulled at least a dozen writers away from Outside over the last 10 years. Maybe he should start paying attention, but what do I know? I'm just some disposable freelancer who, like every other freelancer, doesn't deserve to be paid on time.
If you're a media reporter who wants to dig into this, please do. I'd also ask about how their big pledge to be equitable in coverage played out in how they treated their own people, staff and freelance. Because my own experience writing for them once showed that saying you're going to give equal coverage in your magazine didn't translate to how they treated people who weren't cis white men, if they were the ones doing the actual work.
What a waste.