Thursday, February 11, 2010

Safrea Fail(ures) Part 2

Safrea. This glorified Google Group takes itself very seriously, and has meetings and a treasurer and an Exco and they spend a lot of time doing admin type stuff, and perhaps not that much time actually working.  There is some good interaction and sharing of ideas, especially when one has a grammar fart, and occasionally when one needs a contact, or advice, or confirmation of a dodgy client/publication/editor.  Of course sometimes a dodgy editor turns out to be someone elses paycheque, and that's when things get complicated.  As they have for me.  It's not a huge deal for me as I get 95% of my work myself, so Safrea, whilst useful, isn't an essential resource for someone like me. Believe that, or not.
I have to add that lately, when I've provided news of recent successes - and there's been a lot of it - the interaction has slowed, become muted and eventually the silence has been deafening.


So you'll see one tannie (not necessarily Ueckermann), who is married, and calls herself a freelancer, but actually only submits one story every six months, and only manages to publish one out of every two, you'll see her crowing about a review she did for a coffee shop in a local knock and drop (ie she probably wasn't paid). The praise and reinforcement is impressive.  Some people need validation, and validation can be important.  I'm not sure I am one of those people who need validation as badly.  Part of why I must share my successes is simply the PR - it's not me crowing about my success as much as me drawing attention to an article (hopefully a decent one) in a publication (hopefully a decent) one, and my PR can help get the eyeballs and traffic and sales going, and help keep the publication on a good wicket.  Ie their success is my success, and mine theirs, if that makes sense.

So on Safrea, you'll get someone like me mentioning an eBook, or cover feature (one of several), or new column, and the silence is deafening.  You mention that, and the silence is deafening.  Now let me be even more specific.  One of the tannies at Safrea is a dame by the name of Helen Ueckermann.  Ueckermann I guess is pronounced Yooker Man, or Yuck Man! She's part of the impressive structure of this enormous organisation  admin side of this Google group that calls itself, impressively the South African Freelancers Association.  Hey, it suckered me into paying 500 bucks.  

How you start cottoning on to an agenda with these guys and dolls, tannies and internet trolls, respected authors and over-the-hill dooses is...well, they ask you the freelancer to send them your tips and tricks, and then they publish it under their own name, quoting you briefly of course, but getting their vital 'marketing' done for and on behalf of Safrea (which is a nice little earner if you're doing the admin of all those R500-membership fees).

These tweets were sent today yesterday afternoon but I'd also emailed Ueckermann a few times previously to ask what had happened to those paragraphs that I'd painstakingly written.  She had acknowledged receiving them, and I had acknowledged her saying - after weeks, then more weeks - that she was snowed under on deadline making a cup of tea very busy.

Have a look at the date (June 23rd) of the email below and notice the first words of the email...'a few weeks back'.  So we're talking about someone sitting on something they've asked the group to do, but because you've contributed...well, how to explain this to the jobs-for-pals club?  (Details further down)

The irony of course is it is Ueckermann's job not only to do PR for Safrea but also for its members.  Errr...I am one of those members. So in being selective about who she represents and who she throws under the bus rug, she exposes a bunch of not very nice things.  Bias.  Dishonesty.  And worst of all, an agenda.  I am not paying R500 to be part of your agenda at sabotaging or maligning my career.  I really don't want to be part of any google group association who not only doesn't support your efforts, but actively supports and endorses one'enemies, one's opponents in the industry.  And it's a non member!  Someone who has skived you out of R15 000 in committed, delivered work and then crowed about her victory in social media.

And Ueckermann,tasked with Safrea's discplining and censure (amongst others) gives this non member PR in public! Whaaaaat?

The problem with someone like me is when you start to achieve too much power, they can't control you, and also, their pulling of strings at the top of this rickety house of Google-sticks becomes a little untenable.  I guess that's what's going on, because I don't have any other explanation why this tannie would invite these tips, and then you would invest some time sending her this info (it's PR for them, sure, but also for me) fail to use it.  Eventually you become wise to the fact that under the radar certain peopleare maligning and criticising you, and forming a coalition of resentment.  Now that's what I call 'embittered'.
And stupid.  Do you really want to parade your clique of dishonesty and double dealing in public?  I mean, wow, you do realise twitter isn't like Facebook, even if you block them their conversations are still public.
You did know that, didn't you?
  And you realise I'm one of those guys writing about the Oscar Pistorius trial, and that's my bread and butter - following the crumbs and clues, analyzing it all, joining the dots?  And you're seriously going to parade your disloyalty in public?  Helen! No! Clive Lotter! No! Hagen Engler! No! Sue...I don't know you but you tell me you followed me on twitter because a friend of yours that doesn't exist told you weeks ago about my eBooks...but you've decided that I am stirring shit with Safrea's full of you want to follow me to keep an eye on my...eBooks?

Hang on....Hagen Engler.

What's odd is this is the first email I've received from Hagen in ages, and I realise...he is a published author who I have not only congratulated but offered to review his book.  For free. As a buddy.  It suddenly hits me, as he congrats me for the first time, that although the book has been out for well over a month, and I have been alerting the silent masses group handful of freelancers on the Safrea google group on numerous occasions how the books are selling (top 40, top 20, top 10 etc)...Hagen hasn't thought to once show his support.

Because to do so would alienate him from the other haters.  So sad! Sadder still is the tactic of this email.  Hagen is doing here what every editor basically does when there's an incident.

They say, whisper really, hey. this is a small industry, and you don't want to rock the boat.  You won't seem likable (and how you seem matters more than the merits of a case, just as we see with the Oscar Trial)...and there's a special mention of maintaining key relationships.  To not do so is risky.  

Time Out

Well, I recognise maintaining relationships is key.  It's an essential part of success.  But so is breaking them.  The dishonest ones especially.  Also, I gotta tell you, I'm not about being a successful freelancer based on snivelling and relationships and the little inner clubs I belong to.  I don't have time for that.  I'm kinda more about the work.
I get that overall, wherever possible, maintain class and maintain relationships where you can.  I draw the line at maintaining relationships with people so clearly biased, roleplayers in an association who are paid and required to further everyone's interests.  No just their own, and certainly not cover for editors who rip you off.  It happens a lot which is why Hagen mentions it.  And most times we do dust ourselves off and move on.

If I dug in my heels every time I had a pay dispute I would never get any work done.  It takes so long for the little bit of money to come through as it is, it's just better to keep the train moving.  I recently was supposed to get paid by a major woman's mag for a story I did and invoiced in February.  By June 30, long published, they still hadn't paid and the reason: it hasn't been authorised.  You sort those things out, but they're not fun.  That's the undercurrent to the very tricky, unregulated, uneasy truce between the hungry-for-content editors and hungry-to-pay-rent freelancers.

So yes, it is good to maintain relationships if at all possibe.  But in some cases there are exceptions.  This is such a case.  Because you discover, to your dismay - and yes it is first heartbreaking, and then it makes you angry - your friendships with these freelancer folk whom you are networking with and sharing (but they have strategicvally withdrawn from doing the same) are now doing you more damage than good. That's riskier, and worthy of some airing in public, or a courtroom, or a blog.  Just to shine some accountability onto the bullshit, and the bullshitters.  And on myself.  Hey, I get this may not put me in the best light for any of us to be in, but if we're talking lighting, and I'm pretty good with that stuff, I'm guessing you're not in a great light either Hagen.  And Helen. And Sue. And Clive.

In fact, I would ask members of the public, people in the industry, those who you approach to trust you, and tell their stories, those who trust you with their images and words, those who trust that will be accurate, and give a fair and honest and accurate representation of them, I would ask them to just keep in the back of their minds your names. And then these impressions. The Bullshitting.  The Maligning.  The Jobs for pals. The  Deceitfulness. The Dishonesty. The Disloyalty.  The Untrustworthiness. Because that's what's going on at Safrea, and you're RUNNING Safrea.  You're representing freelancers, and the cause of freelancers, but I can tell you, you don't represent me.  That's for damn sure!

Jeepers, you know I have never felt the need to sabotage other people or malign them, or lie, or gossip, simply because I have things I am doing, and I wouldn't know what to say or who to say it to.  What I am doing here, please note, is none of these things.  I am simply holding people accountable to their own words and deeds.  If I went further that would be defamation, and I'm not interested in that.  At all.  But when it happens to me I care.  When I catch people, first intuitively, then practically, and then worse, I care.  And it makes me angry.  I wouldn't do that to you, so why do it to me?  So you can be part of a club and have drinks together and belong?

If that's the case I can't comment, because I have never really been a schmoozing, ingratiating, networkers, busy little bee nosing around.  Some people are only those things, and that defines them. I'm a different animal.  I'm a truly creative person and I'm more interested in stories and pictures than people.  Seriously.
That's been the case since I was a kid drawing my little pictures whilst all the other kindergarten kids played outside.  I didn't need validation then, well, not by other people.  By the work.  That's what's always stimulated me.  People will say I am arrogant, but I think the Impala who has his harem is a little arrogant and has to be.  It takes energy to secure your treasure, and energy to hold onto it.  And you do have to keep your ears pricked for the random opportunists lurking in the undergrowth.

They are out to get you and take away what's yours, whether by fair or foul means.  That's not conspiracy, or paranoia, it's the way of the world.  And it's right.  If they can wrest your harem from you, they should.  That's how the world is rigged.  On the other hand, if they can't, they won't.  And one of the ways the Impala rebuffs these opportunists, these interlopers hoping to steal his thunder, is by confronting them.  Butting horns.  Clashing.  Which is sort of what I'm doing here, although to be honest, this is more of a little bit of a rap on the knuckles.  I have realms of filthy correspondence, and realms are cringeworthy social media, and I only have so much time to dedicate to this blog post, and so do you, the reader.  So I'll go sparingly on them, shame, and sparingly on you, and that will free up a part of my evening to watch some football and TDF.

One of the nastiest participants in this industry I have worked in for a short ten years is this lady.

Cookie Monster

There's actually a funny story how we met up.  I had a huge relationship with a girl called Samantha Flint (yes, related to that other Flint, Miss SA, Nicole).  She married and became Samantha Penny.  I googled her and came across Samantha Perry, and in a sleep-deprived delirium, actually got her mixed up with my Samantha.

Even so, she was quite receptive to my (as it turned out) mistaken advance (you know, reconciliation and catching up with an ex) but we met up anyway.  This Samantha has a deep, in fact gravelly deep voice.  This Samantha, Samantha Perry was an editor (she is officially a freelancer now, as far as I understand, it's hard to keep up), but at the time she was an editor looking for contributors.

Long story short, we met, with a little underlying romance implied (as I say, it was a case of mistaken identity) and of course if there was any attraction either it wasn't mutual or it was never there to begin with.  But subsequent to meeting her she did invite me to work for her, and to actually work directly for an employed, contractual worker.  There would be an interview process of course, and if I made the cut, I'd be in.  As it turned out, I went to Australia after that, and when I returned, headed to Port Elizabeth - suddenly keen on the surfing lark.  But I contributed, as a freelancer, for Perry's magazine and did so pretty consistently.  I did more, and more, and more work, and they asked me to do more, and more and more work.  Eventually I was earning a substantial salary from just this one company.
In fact I was doing so much and earning so much I was struggling to do other work.  I was struggling to maintain this independence and variety that is the stock and trade of the freelance journalist.

There was work for ABSA Capital, and a CIO Directory, and a ton of articles besides a series I was doing for them on "World's Biggest/Fastest...etc"  The shit hit the fan when, on one random day, choked to the collar on work for her, I had the temerity to require a little more effort from a subeditor.
The subtext to this was I was feeling increasingly bullied and unhappy in this employed (but not actually) scenario, and they (the editor, subeditor etc) were making more and more mistakes with the content I was giving them.  Losing track of what they had, making huge editorial errors, and small ones, and those errors also reflect on me.  In the same way I want this blog post polished and errata  error free when I post it, I like the shit  stuff I send to publications to at least be edited.  

I do sometimes find myself asking the question: do editors actually edit?  What happens when your work is published exactly as you sent it, but with the odd typo?  It doesn't make me happy.  And then I, what do editors actually do?  If they don't actually edit, what are they doing?  As editors?  It's entirely fair to put the same question to me or to anyone else.  If I, as a writer, don't write, or as a photographer (that's my other hat) don't take photos, what am I doing?  I'll tell you.  I'm doing fuck all.  And I won't last, and I won't make much money.  So, I gotta tell you, I don't appreciate it when I am doing a load of work, and I start to notice a pattern of laziness creeping in from someone on the other side tasked with working with my work.  You know, working.  Doing something.


And here's the rub.  A good editor will appreciate someone (like me) who sets a high standard of work for themselves. That's what they should want for their own publications, and it also by definition makes their work easier.  Except, what was happening is after allowing a lot of small and huge errors to pass (don't bite the hand that feeds you kinda thing),  I criticised a subeditor who had once again asked a particularly asinine question.

This was the same sub editor who had forgotten she had a much larger original document which, since she had asked it to be butchered down to a much smaller word count, some of the butchered bits now no longer came together.  I reminded her that the answers to her questions she already had - in the original document.  But she kept coming back to me, with questions like "what do you mean by the company chief?"

I realised not only was this person chronically uninvested in my work, she wasn't even investing in ordinary human thought process?  So why are you even working for a magazine that claims to be cutting edge, filled with insights and intelligence?  As such I criticised her, which she took enormous exception to, and went crying to her boss (Perry).  Perry then demanded an apology from me.  By this time I was pretty tired of the pattern of lost, fumbled and God-awful messes that had become standard at their publication, and I told her.
Which prompted these responses.

But me getting it right wasn't the issue, it was Perry and her team fucking up my work again and again behind my back, and their lazy-assed attitude to it.  Perry herself had commissioned two stories and then forgotten she even had them.  She had to be reminded, and she didn't like this.  One of them was about Kodak. The Kodak story was the huge story I had delivered, and they tried to reduce, then were confused when it didn't make sense and came back to me again and again and again with questions.  The question about 'what do you mean by company chief' was what finally did it.  

It came from the lousy subeditor herself, Patricia Czakan:

And of course this email prompted me to ask for an apology from Perry, who refused.  I then said, I am pulling all my work, around R15 000 worth of work.  Now a lot of people had worked on these projects and stories - CEO's, Ronnie Apteker was one, a bunch of photographers, designers and me .  If my ego was so enormous, I decided, let's test that against the value of my work.

Unfortunately I under-estimated Perry's ego.  Instead of having her subeditor apologise (at the end of a second day's exhaustive work both of us had spent on one piece of writing), she decided to rather invalidate ALL our efforts, let alone the work itself.  Like I said, she didn't like to be caught out that she had lost the document (commissioned by her) to start off with.  But it was essentially about her making sure everyone (even her staff) knew who was boss in no uncertain terms.

Injustice makes me angry

I don't know about you, but I find that sort of behaviour unethical, dishonest and just plain mean on a number of levels.  I picked up on that meanness when I met her.  That gravelly tone, that tough cookie vibe.  I can tell you, it's not attractive in a man, it's particularly ugly in a woman.

But the ugliest thing of all to me, the injustice that makes me angry, is how people actually rally to her support when I criticise her.

Oh, you treated Nick van der Leek like shit, oh you didn't pay him, oh you screwed him over, Bravo. BRAVO!  Thank you, THANK YOU for shitting on someone I don't like, a rival, it suits me to a T (although it says nothing about my standards, my ethics, it just speaks volumes about my own selfish and petty aspirations).  

I did criticise her, and initially did so in a fairly measured way just as this post is actually a lot more measured than it could be.  There are reems of negative, nasty correspondence, but I also only have one life, and my harem needs attending.
Here's what makes me angry:

Remember that tannie I told you about?  Ja the google group admin lady Safrea Exco. Turns out she is Perry's deepest supporter, not only that, Helen Ueckermann is prepared to back her man in public.  The fact that the underlying Retweet is for ITWEB (the company Perry used to pretend to be an editor at) shows just how invested Ueckermann is in Perry, as are my fans rivals at google-group you have to subscribe to Safrea.

Nevermind the fact that Perry doesn't actually work there, officially any more, or that Perry isn't actually an official member of Safrea. 

So the irony now is Perry, who in my 10 good years as a freelancer is the worst editor I've ever dealt with - now calls herself, one of us.  But not quite.  She's still dancing between the two roles, handing out jobs for pals at the drop of an email, and then basically doing a lot of delegating and very little actual editing.

I earned a LOT of money working for Brainstorm, and ITWEB and Perry.  But who I am as a person, and who I am as a writer, isn't beholden to money.  There are ethics involved.  Work ethics.  Standards of work.  Accountability. And personal accountability.

That Perry actually went and defended her deceitfulness at the CCMA, where I - as an independent contractor - had a snowflakes chance in hell of winning, shows to what extent she will stick to her ego balls to prove the essential point:  I will show you whose boss. I will make you fucking miserable, and crow about it, because watch me - I'm such a strong fucking person.

Yes, you are. And I will show you to the world.  The world seems to like you, and I'm not sure why.  I don't particularly care.  But I do care when the rumor mill is circulating suddenly as my harem expands.  

As I say, it's an odd feeling when you promote yourself on Safrea, and everyone is celebrating your success except your fellow freelancers.  The silence is deafening because it's jobs for pals, communal grudges and under the table mudslinging.
It's nice of them, of course, to proclaim their club membership within the club, on social media for all to see. Including me. As the dominant Impala male, sorry should that be arrogant Impala male, it pays to be vigilant. And so I am. And so this doesn't escape my attention:

When you see these sort of names:

But I guess you have to be careful if your narrative - who you are and what you are doing, isn't up to scratch. One minute you'e a god, the next, a battered trickster.

[Hulk flattens Loki with repeated smashes into the floor]
The Hulk: Puny god.
True strength, let's face it, lies in the authentic narrative, in the authentic life, and in honest living.  That's what I stand for, that's why I've written about here.  What do you stand for?


Anonymous said...

I have read your two pieces. I too worked for the cookie monster. I too had a fall out with her. Yours is not a rare occurrence. Perry and her incumbent - Patricia Czakan - left more than a few warm bodies littered along the way. The ITWeb group has a penchant for hiring abusive editorial staff at Brainstorm Magazine. There are many, many freelancers who have been abused by this publishing group. They just don't speak out because the local publishing pool is very small. But Perry, in particular, has personality issues and the management there have refused to do anything about it. There have been numerous complaints, but for some reason the management kept her on despite the attrocious behaviour and despite her abusiveness. Czakan is no different.

Anonymous said...

I heard about your blog from a friend. Blimmin' funny, and yes, I too was given the Perry treatment -- subs rehashing my piece (badly), fact-checking some inconsequential (and Googlable) fact at the last minute, never replying to emails... I imagine working there must be bedlam, because the quality is going down the toilet. I won't write for them again.

What made me laugh the hardest here was her tweet about resigning. After working 6 years at a tech-focused magazine, she has to ask, "Ideas where I can get a website?" Seriously? Does she even know how to Google? Clearly Wordpress is way out of her league -- maybe she should stick with Facebook.

I don't know how she's surviving as a freelancer because, from what I can see, her level of competency is about Grade 10 (being generous).