I'm working for a cokehead at a free arts magazine

She promised a raise and didn't deliver, and acts like I should be grateful!

By Cary Tennis
Published September 27, 2007 2:20PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I am writing to you today with an ethical dilemma. But first, a little background: I work at a small, free arts magazine. I do most of the writing (I have a degree in studio art and art history), plus I do all of the secretarial duties as well. The latter has been a source of contention between my boss and me because she has been promising to hire a part-time receptionist to help me out but keeps saying we don't have the money.


Well, about six months ago I applied for, and succeeded in getting, another job at a small local paper. I wouldn't be writing about art but I'd be writing, and that's really the crux of what I want to do. After I gave notice, my boss cried and cursed me, then came back with an offer I felt like I couldn't refuse. Central to that offer was a pay raise of 30 percent in six months, when I'd be scheduled for a raise anyway. Keep in mind, however, that I get no other perks. Sure, she'll occasionally toss me a free bottle of wine or take me out to dinner, but I have no paid time off or insurance, and every vacation day I take I feel like I have to bargain for. (Even though she's regularly out of the office, she likes for me to be there.)

But I put up with all of this because, overall, I'm happy here and I also dread change. So when she offered to take me out to lunch the other day, I accepted without qualms. Well, it turns out that she invited me out to tell me that I won't be getting my promised raise when she said I would. Instead, it'll be implemented over the next three to six months as finances allow.

I am beyond angry and just hugely disappointed. My fiancé and I had planned to use the raise to help save for our wedding, among a host of other things. I truly feel undervalued and underpaid, in addition to a sort of simmering hostility. Oh, and the cost of my raise, I'm pretty sure, is about the same amount of money that she regularly snorts up her nose.


Over lunch she kept reiterating not how sorry she was, but "what a huge jump in pay it was," as if I had to apologize for seeking industry-standard pay. The more I type this out, the more angry I feel myself getting.

My initial reaction is to leave; however, after consideration, there aren't a ton of writing jobs in my area, less so for art. But I'm not sure I can stand it to stay. Any insight?

Despondent and Disappointed


Dear Despondent,

Do yourself a big favor. Leave this job. Find a job with paid time off, fixed hours and insurance. Write for yourself. Write what you have always wanted to write. Write on your own time. Form a writing group. Join a writing group. Form a small publication. Self-publish a book. Freelance. Do what you love.


But stay away from this toxic situation. This person lied to you and manipulated you. She induced you to give up something you wanted in return for something she promised but could not deliver.

Maybe she told herself she would deliver. Maybe she had no intention of delivering. Either way, she screwed you over. And she refused to admit it. She tried to sell you bullshit. It is destructive to work for a person like that.

So call the newspaper and see if it is still possible for you to work there. If there is no full-time position there, see about freelancing for the paper. And think big. Go directly for what you want. Start querying the big art magazines that you read. Develop story ideas. Use the contacts you have developed at this small, free arts paper to develop stories for bigger, more established magazines.


This has been my experience with small, arty publications run by needy, manipulative cokeheads who treat you like their nanny: You think you are giving up material satisfaction in exchange for some journalistic and artistic freedom. This can be true to an extent. You get access to the world of artists. It is interesting socially. It confers status. It opens doors. But needy, manipulative cokeheads will always screw you over. It's their nature.

There are other problems too, ethical problems. If you find yourself developing an independent view that deviates from the commercial needs of the paper, your livelihood is in jeopardy.

General-interest newspapers are different. When you write about a traffic accident or a jury trial, there is no one advertising segment whose interests you are serving; your audience includes working people, teachers, students, business owners, professionals ... that broad, unruly mob we call the public. There are still difficult power relationships that influence what you can say without being fired for saying it. But the power is diffused.


I could say more but let's leave it at this:

Small, free arts paper run by cokehead?


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