Ebony’s Freelancer Crisis Rages on as Litigation Looms
"We'll see you in court," says the National Writers Union as self-imposed deadline passes.
Last month, in the immediate aftermath of a wave of reports in this outlet and several others that Ebony and its new owner, Texas-based private equity firm Clear View Group, had stiffed at least a dozen freelancers for work contributed to the magazine as far back as 2013, Ebony Media finally released a statement to NBC BLK saying only that it "regretted the inconvenience" and "should have this issue resolved in the next 30 days."
That was June 3rd. The National Writers Union, which now claims to represent "30 writers who are owed about $60,000," says that since then, only 11 of those writers have been paid a combined total of $18,000, so it's taking Ebony to court.
"This is completely unacceptable," wrote NWU president Larry Goldbetter in a statement released last week. "We took them at their word, in good faith, despite some freelancers going more than a year without payment. Now, we move on to the next step."
Neither Goldbetter nor the NWU were explicitly clear about what "the next step" entails, but the statement's headline, "The National Writers Union to Ebony: 'We'll See You in Court!'," affords some clues about the union's intentions.
The embattled brand took another public hit Thursday, earning the "Thumbs Down Award" from the National Association of Black Journalists, sharing the 2017 iteration of the dubious honor with Fox News.
Citing staff cuts, the relocation to Los Angeles from the title's longtime home of Chicago, and the "very public and sometimes offensive responses to reports of late or non-payment," the NABJ's VP of print, Marlon A. Walker, said in a release, "Many of the decisions being made by Ebony's new owners seem counter to the vision of founder John H. Johnson … Johnson is probably rolling over in his grave."
The "sometimes offensive responses" the NABJ references are part of the company's inconsistent and at times completely baffling handling of the situation, including but not limited to blocking aggrieved freelancers on Twitter and general radio silence on the issue, reportedly punctuated by occasional thinly-veiled attempts at intimidating journalists covering the story.