By Jazmine Joyner
Entertainment Journalism is a reflection of the industry it investigates. A whitewashed landscape with very few POC (People of Color) who are usually dealing with niche topics that the white writers can’t. I am a black femme entertainment journalist, and I know firsthand—the industry is not kind to black women. Just like the films and television that we cover, we’re the one voice that is resoundingly underrepresented. My experiences pitching and writing in this world have been a mixed bag. There are publications that embrace me, my lived experience, my blackness, and value having that point of view represented on their website. Then there are others who could honestly care less.
It can be extremely difficult to navigate this white male-dominated world as a woman of color. Whether in day to day life, or in the pursuit of a career. In May of 2017, I pitched Teen Vogue. I naively attached a draft of the piece to the email and then was promptly ghosted by the lauded publication’s editors. A week later they released an article eerily similar to the one I pitched them and included in my email. The main difference was that they gave the piece to a white woman they had on staff. This experience wrecked me. I worked hard to come up with a heartfelt piece about injustice, and ableism in media and pitched the “woke” Teen Vogue who had just promoted Elaine Welteroth, a black woman to Editor in Chief. Only to have my ideas appropriated and used, and I disregarded.
I was not alone, many women of color followed suit when Roslyn Talusan came forward and shared her adverse experience with the magazine. Many of us messaged her and told her our experiences with being ghosted, our emotional labor exploited and then not hearing back from editors. The injustice I experienced alongside these women, unfortunately, set the tone of my involvement in the entertainment journalism industry.
In late September of 2017, I reached out to SYFY WIRE editor Jordan Zakarin after he sent a call out on twitter for new contributors. I pitched him a piece about one of my favorite directors Guillermo Del Toro and his love of FX makeup. My pitch was accepted and I was elated. This would be my first paid job as an entertainment journalist. I wrote the piece that weekend and turned it in a week before the deadline. I never received any edits or got to see the final piece until it was placed on SYFY’s website. Zakarin made edits and cut down my piece into something I didn’t approve of, then published it without even asking me to look over or make edits in the first place. I was heartbroken because I’d spent days researching and writing the piece I submitted. If it wasn’t what he’d wanted I would have been happy to get editorial feedback and adapt it—there was certainly time.
On top of that Jordan asked me for pictures that could work for the article. I sent him a selection and he proceeded to use completely different pictures from the ones that I sent him. Again, I have no issue taking editorial advice, but sadly none was ever offered. I filled out all my payment forms sent in my direct deposit slip and waited to be paid.
As you read this it has been over 105 days since the article was put up on the website. And unbelievably I have yet to receive payment for my work. I emailed Zakarian and he forwarded me to his assistant. At first, they were pleasant until I asked for the email to the head of the accounts department. I received curt responses from then on out and after awhile I was ghosted completely. Before that happened I was asked by Jordan Zakarin to write pitches on certain subjects. I would write pitch after pitch only for him to ignore the emails or to shut down my ideas completely. After a while, I realized he was not taking my work or my time seriously and discontinued contact with him.
It seems that NBC Universal SYFY doesn’t plan on paying me for work that they still have on their website and profit on. My emotional labor, research, and work was clearly not deemed to be worth the fee we agreed on. What’s interesting to me is I have heard that many freelancers get paid in a timely manner by SYFY. So it is curious that I am having this experience with them. But then again, I hear that from many of their white freelancers. I have had numerous friends who have had run-ins with SYFY due to the unprofessional way that they run their business. And I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that they along with the one other contributor who confirmed they get paid late are all people of color.
The sad thing is, I’m not convinced that this article will change anything. It probably won’t even get me the money that I am owed by a huge media conglomerate. Similar to every other job in America, entertainment journalism thrives on patriarchal white supremacy and the silencing of marginalized voices. Whether it’s as simple and insidious as excluding diverse staff, to as blatant and dangerous as stealing their work. It is a space in which white writers are given the chance to thrive and grow, and where black women specifically aren’t presented those same opportunities.
By speaking out against this system I could be condemning myself to never working within it, or jeopardizing my chances at working with other major magazines. But I have chosen to speak out because I believe black women should be paid for their labor, and a situation like mine shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Companies like NBCUniversal, shouldn’t be able to use their power to silence freelancers. As a black woman, I have always known that to succeed I have to work harder and do more than my white counterparts just to get a chance. I have written and submitted multiple pitches to numerous publications on a daily basis. Focusing on ones that have sent out call-outs for freelancers, and only to never get a response.
I have pitched ideas to publications only to see them take my pitch and give it to a white writer. Black Women have to fight tooth and nail to be seen, it’s gotten to the point where we had to start our own publications just to be heard. Places like The Establishment, Wear Your Voice, and Racebaitr were all born out of the necessity to find spaces that support our marginalized voices. It’s time we, Black Women are not just accepted into the mainstream, but our voices are seen as valuable in the entertainment journalism landscape.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a disappointment” – Rosie Knight, msenscene (December 5, 2017)
“Ask Roxane: Is It Too Late to Follow My Dreams?” – Roxane Gay, NY Times (December 30th, 2017)
Jazmine Joyner is a freelance writer who has written for Woman Write About Comics, SYFY, Wear Your Voice, Ms En Scene, and Bookmarked. In her free time, she likes to read comics, and watch anime. You can follow her on Twitter @Jazmine_Joyner