A few months ago I forged a connection with a fellow writer/journalist online. She became a very good e-friend, and when she found out that I write features and commentaries for publication, she asked me if I would write for her. Turns out that she’s the editor of a newspaper based in California and was interested in an essay I wrote here.
I happily reworked the piece to better fit the needs of an op-ed column and sent it in. That was the beginning of a very productive and professional relationship that included more features and editorials over the next few weeks.
When she subsequently left the paper, I wasn’t too worried. Her successor was happy to work with me, so I continued the relationship. I pitched ideas, the editor liked (or not) and approved (or not) them.
Very recently, however, that editor abruptly left the paper. I was in limbo for a couple of days while I waited to hear from a new editor on the pieces I was still working on. I finally was able to get a hold of the new editor via telephone, who reassured me that they were still interested in my work. I said that I had one piece that I would submit at the end of this week and another I could submit the following week.
Fair enough. The editor said that the schedule was fine and that he looked forward to receiving them.
The very next day, I receive an email from a different editor informing me that because of “cost-cutting” measures at the paper, they would no longer be able to accept any of my submissions. I fired off an email asking if that included pieces I was working on already (one of which I’d been working on for a few weeks) and that had already been assigned and greenlighted by both the previous editor and the new one. The reply was Yes, it included those as well. In other words, they were terminating my services.
Moral of the story? I’m not sure there is one. Veteran freelance writers will tell you that a lot of editor-writer relationships are such that contracts are often not necessary because of the trust that’s developed over a long period of time in such a situation. The first editor with whom I worked was great, and I never felt the need to have a contract. However, given that the paper had 3 editors in the relatively brief period of time I worked with them, perhaps that should have been a clue that I was not dealing with a stable organization. In such a situation, a contract should have been the first thing I requested when my editor-friend departed and a new one took her place. I would have been spared the experience of working on an “assigned” piece and then ultimately getting booted by the paper. What they did was unprofessional and unethical (after all, verbal agreements often hold up in court, and I had email trails to prove the assignments), but that doesn’t help me recover the lost time and effort I’d invested in the articles.
What do you think?