Why Prominent Industry Brands and Outlets Have Become The Enemy
They swallow you whole and shit you out in bits
Some weeks ago, a friend reached out to me, and excitedly announced that one of the premiere travel blogs that cater to people of color, finally responded to her application.
They were looking for globally-viable contributors who possessed her level of expertise when it came to scoping out hard-to-find deals. She also needed to be armed with essentials that are typically listed in the realm of being at the very least — a pseudo-influencer.
Editorial gigs are hard as fuck to come by these days, and even when you do manage to snag an assignment, the feeling is that gratitude should cover a good chunk of your pay.
It’s not like it used to be in the good days of old, which would be exactly a decade ago, when long overdue writers like me, who suffered through the drought of the late nineties to early 2000’s — getting the side eye from Black women editors who weren’t motivated to throw us a bone — were able to make up for lost time by producing a shit load of daily content while getting paid accordingly.
The trajectory of the industry seemed to indicate that better days were ahead.
You were able to live the classic tale of juggling the mandatory day job for the sake of the Lexington Avenue studio with the view of the skyline, as well as the passionate pursuits that gave you the right to introduce yourself as a writer.
Unfortunately, the model of “quality over quantity” wasn’t sustainable, and over time, online publishing evolved into a content churning mechanism that demanded less and less substance, and more recyclables for overly-crowded pages, that were starting to resemble what happens when a word-processor can’t stop vomiting.
My much-younger friend missed the era when things were good, and is now stuck in this current shitfest, where bad things happen most of the time. She’s also wrapped up in the addictive phase of brand worship, and how being “aligned” with notable outlets is worth the risk it takes to secure those “partnerships.”
And so, when she was asked to invest hours in a very extensive writing test that had to be completed within 24 hours, she was willing to go for it — despite the fact that she had no idea what the pay rate would be if she were to be hired. Not to mention how unprofessional and inconsiderate it was for the editors to assume that her schedule was flexible enough to accommodate a last minute project — that she wasn’t getting paid to complete.
She was really pressed for time, and wanted to know if I thought she should go for it. I discouraged her from falling for a trap, but she envisioned the commitment working in her favor, once she wowed her potential employers with her efficiency and library of hits.
Almost a month later, after a brief phone interview, where she learned not very much at all, and still had no clue what the pay rate was, there’s the brutality of how my friend was bamboozled into submitting thoroughly-researched material — that was ultimately applied to future posts, under the byline of thieves who use the brand they represent as bait.
The devastation is seared in the fact that this is an outlet that caters to people of color, and is comprised of mostly Black writers. The hope is always to collaborate and excel in an atmosphere that surrounds you with creatives who share your core interests and mission statement.
But what happens when your best intentions work against you?
My empathy for my bruised and battered comrade is fueled by my own past experiences as a relatively new writer, who used to also buy into the falsehood of the pristine nature of brand names in the editorial world.
It’s hard not to be dazzled by the prestige attached to bios that are glittered with endorsements from illustrious publications, that are durable enough to gain you immediate attention and respect.
But what happens when you take the bait and then get so badly bitten, that the infection never heals?
Between the years 2015–2017, I was subjected to the hardcore lessons in why prominent brands and outlets shouldn’t be fucked with — at any cost.
I was based in Los Angeles, trying to revive the dream of finally being able to make a decent living as a digital content producer.
My freelancing schedule expectedly paired me with a variety of options, including a flourishing startup that recruited me and a handful others to help launch a highly-anticipated travel app. When ABC Disney came calling, I readily abandoned the lesser-known company for the giant of all giants, because it was a no-brainer that I needed to be “aligned” with a bigger brand.
My stint with ABC didn’t end well.
I discovered the damning regimen that mercilessly mindfucks hardworking and ambitious creatives, who always hold up their end of the bargain, only to be tossed away like garbage when their time is up.
The idea is to bring in as many as required, offer them more work than they can diligently handle, as well as non-negotiable pay rate that never matches output. And the kicker is the hovering threat that despite the causal promise of future full time hire — you can be sure that after a year and a half as a contractor — you will be unceremoniously dropped from the team you fell over backwards supporting.
As I observed the heartless treatment exacted on those around me, I was determined to maintain my status as a free agent.
That only lasted until the irresistible opportunity for stability with another well-known brand literally fell into my lap, and my new sublet in El Segundo forced me to swiftly accept.
As always, it was presented as a temp-to-perm, and during orientation, I was assured by new co-workers that I had hit the lottery of editorial jobs because they could attest to the loyalty of a company they had served for more than six months.
It started off without a hitch, as my role of web producer with the benefit of working from home seemed to be tailor-made for my immediate needs. But as the weeks flew by, there was the daunting realization that my job duties were increasing beyond the scope of the initial description, which meant I had slid into the category of “over-worked and underpaid.”
There was also the matter of contributing to the deplorable state of affairs in the editorial world, as I lethargically performed the robotic moves that demanded the re-shuffling of recycled content from folder to folder. My verticals needed to be refreshed with timely fare from partners who were rapidly supplying generic jargon, that made the homepage appealingly dysfunctional.
Luckily, I was abruptly let go from the torture of being a writer who was getting paid to highlight really bad writing, and that was when I confronted the glaring evidence of how the hype around well-respected outlets would never again measure up to the reality of shady operations.
My summation carried over to earlier this year, when I got a surprise email from the HuffPost Blog Team, explaining why the contributor platform was closing. There was no advance notice to adequately prepare bloggers like me, who had been invited to the platform based on our credentials — for the shut down of a space that we relied on for professional endeavors.
The message ended with a “thank you” note, that expressed gratitude for how the celebrated platform that was known for notoriously poaching work for free, had benefited immensely from habitual thievery, which naturally ushered the re-activated phase of “exclusivity” at the expense of those of us who had outlived our usefulness.
Before the much-needed makeover, HuffPost was an unregulated explosion of content that thrived from the traffic of bionic eyeballs, that couldn’t possibly laser into any article for longer than a minute, and once again I was part of the virus.
Back in 2016, when an editor from HuffPost reached out via Twitter, and asked to republish the viral essay on Medium, that I had curated on the anniversary of #BringBackOurGirls — I was jubilantly validated.
I had tried to blog for the platform before, but my requests were never acknowledged, and so this stroke of good luck that provided the opportunity for wider exposure was a welcomed “big break.”
The invitation to join the community of bloggers followed, and so did future requests by editors, who were obsessively monitoring Medium’s viral bucket for applicable loot, that could be dumped in HuffPost’s messy hive of activity. This shabby portal served as the prototype of how things were deteriorating for an industry that was no longer adhering to once-revered traditions.
Slowly but surely, we’re backsliding into the laziness of ensuring that trends are represented with more than enough variations of a topic, that are all showcased in tightly snug corners, that host long enough to be replaced by the more clickable.
I remember how long it would take for me to locate the essays I stupidly gave away for free, due to the pain of having to sift through heaps of material, that were strewn about to create the replica of a junkyard.
The former bloggers for HuffPost did indeed play a vital part in securing the relevance of the platform in the competitive race of being the “one-stop” source for hot topics on a global scale.
And so, it’s the ultimate betrayal to not only be booted without notice, but to also discover that the portal you supplied free content to, is presently engaging non-Black editors to produce the shit that Black writers should be paid to write. It seems that the new direction that Black Voices has embarked on, isn’t as specific as it was back when Black writers like me were persistently harassed for our expertise, in exchange for the honor of being labeled “HuffPost Bloggers.”
Big name media companies are really just “big” in name only because the value system that we used to rely on as our source of nourishment has been distorted beyond recognition.
The trickery of raping the brilliance of eager-minded and naive creatives, who are desperate for the chance to prove their worth, is the currency that keeps greedy brands afloat.
And even with the latest coup that has blasted Beyonce into the sphere of extended adulation, as she prepares for yet another ambitious Vogue cover shoot, with the armor of a history-making moment after recruiting the first-ever Black photographer for the occasion — there’s a general sense of cluelessness that heralds this presumably “momentous” occasion.
Vogue magazine, like the other staples that swim in the pool of symbolic nostalgia, has evolved into a trashy cesspool of purposed stagnancy, that stems from the shameless hookups with Instagram-inspired fare, that don’t resemble the drawing board of influences that used to showcase futuristic gems.
Beyonce’s decision to secure a Black photographer for her Vogue cover seems to be an admirably bold statement to those who still buy the bankability of a magazine, that has spent a century avoiding the stain of the Black aesthetic.
But to naysayers who share my discontent, it would be a lot more appropriate and revolutionary, if the “woman who rules the world,” simply refused the invitation from the White woman who rules the elite world of fashion — who has also spent her entire career editing out Black models from covers and pages of what is still misguidedly considered the bible of trends.
One has to wonder why Beyonce feels obligated to be associated with a brand that doesn’t cater to her community, and in fact thrives off of her viability as a way to periodically assuage the appetite of people of color, who rely on Naomi, Bey, Rihanna and Lupita for the sporadically insulting interludes of “diversity.”
After Beyonce concludes her “epic” outing, the status quo will be restored, and Vogue magazine will continue to operate with an all-White editorial team, that’s supported by non-Black creatives both in front and behind the camera.
It’s definitely time for the veil of deceit to be lifted, even if the torched wasteland of disarray proves too potent for a quick glance.
There’s power to be garnered from the self-confidence that can only be gained from the belief that you don’t need to be “aligned” with established organizations, that are primed to swallow you whole before shitting you out in bits.
The earnest hope for the future is the shift away from brand names, and the expansion of ideas from progressives who aren’t waiting to be knighted by renowned media outlets that play both sides of the fence — in a quest for neutrality as opposed to the thrill of hard-hitting reporting that keeps us honest and humanly-motivated.
Brand worship needs to be regulated to the sphere of Instagram, as a way to nonchalantly pass the time. And when it comes to the business of expression and editorial endeavors, Black creatives need to be our own champions, as we draft the vision board that we used to expect White creatives to conceive on our behalf.
We’ve been working for everyone but ourselves for long enough, and now it’s time for our branding to begin.
We’ve earned it.