The Week That Was

Introducing a Discount for Underpaid Media Workers

The biggest challenge of building a subscription business for New York media workers has been the profound income inequality in this industry.

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tl;dr: Click here to request a subscription discount for underpaid media workers at $4.99 per month or $49 per year!

One of the main reasons I launched The Fine Print was to test a hypothesis: the editorial infrastructure necessary to deliver original reporting can be supported by subscriptions from readers who consider that reporting relevant.  If we can pull this off with New York media, a community near and dear to my heart, I hope to expand with beat reporting in other places and fields. I’ll probably write about those grand ambitions another time, but today I wanted to talk about one of the biggest challenges we’ve had so far in building a subscription business aimed at New York media workers: the profound income inequality in this industry.

Our current subscription costs either $99 for a year or $11 per month. There was no scientific method in setting those numbers, mainly just market research (i.e., googling around to see what kinda similar newsletters on Substack charge) and a lot of informal discussions with people about what they would be willing to pay. Lots of them — often people in executive-level jobs that come with generous expense accounts — have told me that we’re charging too little. But far more often, I hear from people — many of whom are freelancers or work in low-paying staff positions or for nonprofit publications — who say that $99 is out of reach for them.

There are plenty of successful publications with sky-high subscription prices and a small, elite group of readers who can afford them: Bloomberg charges $415 per year; The Information costs $399, Digiday+ goes for $395, Punchbowl News Premium is $300, Adweek charges $199, and the recently relaunched New York Sun offers a $2,500 annual “Sun Founder” tier which, unlike its cheapest $120 “Sun Reader” subscription, comes with a weekly briefing from its editors as well as “limited-edition signed memorabilia.”

I am a big believer that the history of the media teaches us that business model is destiny. If an industry’s most highly-paid people are the only ones who can afford a publication’s subscription, then that publication will only cover the industry’s most highly paid people. While The Fine Print cares a lot about the media’s power elite — sometimes quite a lot — we want to be relevant to and read by the entire media community. That inclusivity is a guiding principle for deciding what we cover, whether it’s New York City minimum wage law, freelancer payment policies, vanishing job offers, or union actions.

Anyone who’s ever tried to start a career working in the media knows there’s a big gap between the lower and top tiers of the industry’s pay scale. That gap has been an uncrossable chasm for many, contributing to the industry’s continuing problems in attracting people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. Thanks to the wave of unionization that has swept through media in recent years, there have been more overt efforts to close this income gap and document it with hard statistics.

In 2019, the Post Guild found that while the median salary in The Washington Post newsroom was north of $100,000 (though there was a nearly $20,000 pay gap between male and female employees), employees who had started as interns or in entry-level positions often had the lowest pay. “One news reporter hired as an intern nearly 20 years ago said he still makes less than $70,000 a year,” their report said. “He’s thinking about getting a part-time job, he said, possibly driving for Uber.”

A 2020 pay study by The New Yorker’s union found a similar “loyalty penalty” on its editorial staff. Editorial assistants, who as a group had worked in their jobs longer than the rest of the union members, had a median salary of $42,000 compared to the unit median of $64,000. Their report added, “Despite a median tenure of twenty years, proofreaders, in the copy department, have a median salary of $57,000.”

But even these employees are faring much better than many freelancers. According to a Freelancers Union study in 2019, the average earnings for freelancers in New York City was just $23,434 — and that’s without benefits like health insurance, sick and vacation pay, or the assurance of steady work.

In recognition of this income inequality in the media industry, The Fine Print is now offering a discounted subscription — $4.99 per month or $49 a year, or half the cost of our standard rate — for members of the media community who would not otherwise be able to afford a subscription. There are no specific eligibility requirements — if you think our regular price is too much for you, you qualify for this rate. The discounted subscriptions come with the same benefits of our regular-priced ones: the same newsletters, archive access, and, we hope, very soon invites to subscriber-only events. (There is no signed memorabilia … yet!)

The way it works is: fill out this form (we only ask that you tell us a little bit about what you do in the media), and we’ll send you a private URL to sign up for a discounted subscription.

Like everything we do at The Fine Print, this is an experiment. I’d love to hear what you think about this discount rate and how we can make our subscriptions more accessible. Please drop me a line.

Some of the excellent media reporting you may have missed in The Fine Print…


Into the Abyss in Ukraine

By Andrew Fedorov

A week and a half ago, there was still time for journalists to hang out in Ukraine. When freelance conflict reporter Jack Crosbie, who previously covered the conflict in the country’s Russian-backed separatist regions in 2015, flew into Kyiv on Sunday, February 13, the country was already swarming with reporters. Russia had started maneuvering troops nearby, and a wider war seemed to be on the brink of heating up. “This is the biggest story in the world right now, obviously,” Crosbie told The Fine Print. “Everyone wanted to get to the front,” said Kenneth Rosen, a former staff reporter for The New York Times turned freelancer for Politico, The New Republic, and elsewhere, who showed up for a roughly two-week stint in early February. “A media representative for a frontline brigade told me he’d upward of 70 journalists staying overnight (generally a one-night tour) in the last two weeks.” … >> READ THE REST

War and Sanctions Hit Ukrainian and Russian Editions of U.S. Glossies

By Andrew Fedorov

Last Thursday, Marina Shulikina, a web editor at Vogue Ukraine, woke at 5 a.m. in Kyiv to the sounds of Russia’s invasion of her country. Her thoughts quickly turned to work. On a typical day, Vogue Ukraine’s staff starts work around 10 a.m., but with bombs beginning to fall on her city, this day was utterly abnormal. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. It was obvious we cannot write about fashion and any related events anymore because nobody cares about it here at this point,” she said. They had articles scheduled to run on the site, but those felt immediately irrelevant. “It was a very long five hours figuring out what we were going to do next, in terms of work, in terms of staying in the city or leaving it. I just texted my editor-in-chief and she said that what we are up for right now is basically covering all of the events regarding the war. Now all we’re writing about is how you can help the army, how you can help people who’ve been displaced, and providing all the needed information that can help people in Ukraine.” … >> READ THE REST

G/O Media Goes Out on Strike

By Sara Krolewski

Members of the GMG Union weren’t expecting to find themselves outside the G/O Media headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on a blustery Tuesday morning, protest signs in hand. “We were just surprised that it’s come to this,” said Raphael Orlove, features editor for the automotive site Jalopnik, who has been part of the GMG Union—which now spans the G/O Media publications Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, and The Root—since it approved its first contract in 2016. “I mean, we presented [management] with every opportunity for a fair contract, and usually it comes together. This is all very easily averted.” … >> READ THE REST

The Ellies Long March Back to Normalcy

By Andrew Fedorov

Adi Ignatius, the editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review, doesn’t want you to know which National Magazine Award category he led the judging for. “If you said I was judging leader in one of the General Excellence categories, that would be fine. I guess I’d really like you to not say which category,” he told The Fine Print. “I think people avoid it because they don’t want people to know what category they’re in and then be pressured or asked for an early, ‘Did my magazine — are we going to be a finalist or not?’ I’ve worked with editors who just could not stand the uncertainty and would work the phones and figure out who’s who and just, ‘Goddamnit, I need to figure out beforehand whether we’re a winner or not.’” He was speaking just before noon on Thursday, and the finalists for this year’s awards were scheduled to be announced at 3 p.m. Ignatius wanted to be clear: he was on vacation. He wasn’t one of these obsessive, impatient editors. “I have no idea if Harvard Business Review — if we’re going to get a nomination or not,” he said. “It’s soon, right?” … >> READ THE REST

Is Harper’s $40,000 Assistant Editor Salary Against the Law?

By Julia Thomas

A couple of weeks ago, the salary in a Harper’s job listing for an assistant editor position sparked the ire of underpaid media workers. “Responsibilities will include fact-checking, copyediting, proofreading, and working with the managing editor and art staff to run the production process using InDesign,” reads the posting. “The ideal candidate will be a meticulous editor with a keen ear for language who is familiar with the magazine’s history and style.” As for compensation, “The salary is $40,000 a year, and the benefits package includes a generous health-insurance plan.” For some, that number was hopelessly meager for a New York City resident. As Frederick Melo, a reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, tweeted, “in NYC means you’d have to eat cold mac and cheese someone threw out their Uber window leaving the bar,” and added, “Biggest barrier breaking into this journalism is you basically need generational wealth.” But others, such as Morning Brew executive editor Josh Sternberg, wondered, “Is this $40k salary against the law?” … >> READ THE REST