The following is an open letter addressed to The Globe and Mail‘s editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse, and its publisher, Phillip Crawley, regarding the serious financial crisis the newspaper is apparently currently weathering.
22 March 2011
John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief
Phillip Crawley, Publisher
The Globe and Mail
I am writing to express my deep concern at the troubling and increasingly inescapable evidences that Canada’s august and historic national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, has fallen on hard times, and, further, to offer my apologies if I myself have been in any way responsible for the newspaper’s present difficulties.
Allow me to explain.
Last September I was commissioned to write a travel article for the special relaunch edition of The Globe and Mail that appeared on newsstands on October 2nd, 2010. (Let me just add as a sidenote: Love the gloss!) To my delight, I was able to negotiate a fee for the article that was well in excess of the frugal freelance rates The Globe is normally obliged to pay in the digital age, and indeed was nearly at the level of the premium rates that used to be in effect when I first started freelancing twenty years ago. At The Globe’s insistence I was also allowed to put all my expenses on my own credit card rather than on The Globe’s, thus accumulating points toward eventual free travel. Since my expenses included international flights, the points I was able to rack up were considerable, enough, say, for round-trip business class travel between Toronto’s island airport—were it not that political considerations make using that facility awkward—and the airport at Buttonville (had it not closed).
I had cause to regret exacting such onerous conditions from your newspaper, however, when, nearly two months after I submitted an invoice, I had yet to receive any payment or reimbursement. Enquiries to The Globe soon made clear where the problem lay: Due to cutbacks, I was told, the accounting office that dealt with payments to freelancers had suffered numerous layoffs, by that point reduced to a single secondary school student logging the community service hours she needed in order to graduate. I became concerned, on learning this, that it had been unduly selfish of me to have negotiated a fee increase or indeed to have insisted on reimbursement of my expenses, given the travel points I had accumulated. This concern grew to alarm when, after four months had passed and still no payment was forthcoming, The Globe was unable to provide any new explanation for the delay, which suggested that not only had its accounts office been gutted, but its public relations office as well. Now nearly six months have elapsed and my enquiries have ceased to receive a response of any sort, leading me to fear that despite the hope expressed in The Globe’s October relaunch, of which I was proud to be a part, whole wings of the newspaper’s offices now stand abandoned, victims of the unreasonable demands of greedy freelancers like myself.
My intention in writing to you, then, is not to lament my own fate but to express my fear and regret for yours. As a writer, I am accustomed to living frugally, and have come to believe I am a better person for it. We all know writers who through one fluke or another have come into sums of money approximating a living wage only to descend at once into profligacy, indulging in Mexican all-inclusives or brand-name clothing or, worse, allowing a distasteful optimism and joy of life to creep into their work. I have no desire to be among that class. Nor, indeed, is the carrying of debt of any great concern to me, since for the past number of years I and my wife, also a writer, have lived almost exclusively on the line of credit afforded to us by the unreasonable rise in real estate values in our city over the past decade. Unlike our unhappy neighbours to the south, whose economy was laid low by credit line excesses, we Canadians seem to have managed to limit our use of credit to the sort of bridge financing that recessions or the non-payment of fees sometimes make necessary. For writers, the arrangement is especially propitious, and indeed may represent the solution to every problem of arts funding that has ever plagued this country. Here is how it works: Every month my wife and I borrow as much money as we need to maintain the lifestyle we have grown accustomed to, our only obligation being that we make a monthly interest payment that can itself, wonder of wonders, be borrowed from our credit line. The added bonus is that should we ever reach our credit limit—which at current rates is not likely to happen before the fall, or even later, should we decide to suspend the university educations of our two eldest children—we need only turn over our home to our bank, and our entire debt is expunged.
So my concern here, as I say, is not for myself, but for your venerable newspaper, and, more particularly, for your own situations, given that people on fixed incomes like yourselves often have much less leeway in organizing their finances than those of us who are self-employed. Should it be then, that my unreasonable demands for payment have in any way compromised your newspaper’s finances or interfered with the speedy processing of your own paycheques, please let me know and I will at once cease and desist in those demands.