Is Condé Nast exploiting marginalized writers?

Let’s be real: being #woke is all the rage these days. In an era that is divided between the uber conservative and the proud left, people are more determined than ever to be on the “right” side of history. Understandably, this extends to the business world. Particularly in artistic fields, it’s common to see specific callouts seeking the work of assault survivors, people of color, queer people, and/or nonbinary folks.

However, what if those callouts are all talk and no action? That seems to be the case when it comes to the ever-increasing notoriety of Condé Nast’s exploitation problem. Let’s start at the beginning: just a few months ago, Condé Nast’s pride and joy, Teen Vogue, made headlines across the country for contributor Lauren Duca’s piece on Trump’s gaslighting. Sure, the piece was halfway decent — but nowhere near as revolutionary as it has been deemed by the media. Much of the surprise was because it seemed foreign for a teen-oriented publication that presumably publishes “fluffy” content to produce such an analytical take on current affairs. But politics were nothing new to those who had been following Teen Vogue for years. Regardless, Duca and Teen Vogue have been hailed by the public ever since.

Another one of Condé Nasts’ golden publications, Allure, has a nonbinary Latinx beauty editor. This is amazing, and an absolute step forward in visibility for nonbinary people. But where are all the other marginalized voices that these editors claim to want for their publications?

According to multiple freelancers, these voices are waiting in Condé Nast’s editors’ inboxes. Sure, editors are typically swamped. Especially in a case like Teen Vogue where all of a sudden you surge in popularity and thus have even more writers fighting for a spot, it’s understandable that every writer wouldn’t receive a response. Unfortunately, that’s not the only issue occurring at Condé Nast publications. The reality is more sinister: many writers from marginalized groups have their pitches accepted and drafts subsequently written only to end up ghosted by the editors who they sold their pieces to.

Take Roslyn Talusan for example. She sold a piece to Teen Vogue’s wellness editor, Vera Papisova, about her experiences as a survivor of sexual assault. The editor gladly accepted her pitch and asked Roslyn to move up her deadline in order to submit an immediate draft. Wanting the byline and passionate about sharing her story, Roslyn went out of her way to oblige Vera and get the draft to her early. After being sent in circles, sending additional documentation, and following up multiple times, Roslyn finally emailed Vera weeks later to withdraw the piece. Of course, Vera responded immediately to that email, after having wasted Roslyn’s time for far too long. Situations like this confirm that this isn’t a phenomena easily explained by editors’ full inboxes; this is a deliberate effort to ignore writers even after accepting their pieces and soliciting their work.

Freelance isn’t free, and it’s ridiculous that a media juggernaut like Condé Nast repeatedly accepts stories and then ghosts writers, never to publish their work or pay them for services rendered. And when these writers are paid, it is often pennies to the dollar when compared to non-marginalized writers. Teen Vogue editors have offered $50 for 1,200 word pieces for their website. That is pitiful and unexecusable. You can bet your bottom dollar that Teen Vogue’s little cherub Lauren Duca is getting paid a heck of a lot more than $50 for her pieces. It’s offensive that marginalized writers are being treated so horribly. What’s the point of being #woke if you’re actually still contributing to an environment that puts POC, queer, and nonbinary people down? These are not isolated experiences; there are a slew of individual experiences that Roslyn Talusan has documented on her Twitter account thanks to writers who have spoken up and contacted her via Twitter and Facebook.

Meanwhile, while marginalized writers are being ghosted and essentially working for free, Condé Nast is publishing white and white-passing writers’ nonsense about why their back tattoos are stupid — an article that was quite literally just a couple lines of trash — as well as how another editor (Sarah Kinonen) was raised on welfare and magically ended up as a beauty editor in NYC. It’s white (passing) privilege at its finest.

Like, wtf? Seriously. And white freelancers receive the same privilege. One writer spoke up and admitted that unlike many of the marginalized writers highlighted in DMs above, she actually received a kill fee for her article since she took the time to write it but Teen Vogue never published it. Where are the kill fees for all these other writers, Condé Nast? Why is such exploitation happening across one of largest media entities that claims to be progressive nowadays?

I used to daydream about being published in Teen Vogue. It was one of my favorite publications in high school and although it had some problematic content and a lack of diversity, I dreamed about changing that one day. I’ve pitched various editors at Teen Vogue and been ghosted by entertainment editor Ella Ceron and wellness Vera Papisova myself. Not because my ideas were trash — because why would they have been accepted in the first place?— but simply because… well, I don’t know. The same reasons all these other writers are being exploited and submitting work only to be blown off for weeks and months.

So in my case and the case of marginalized writers across the country, it looks like our time is better spent not chasing after editors that deliberately ignore and exploit marginalized people on a daily basis.

Condé Nast editors: do better. I know you can.
(That is, if you truly want to.)

[Update 6/2/17: More writers come forward]