Yesterday, November 9th 2017, Nita told me over the phone she was killing a 2100 word story because I wasn't prepared to add "a few sentences on Walter Battiss' interest in orgies" to it.
I'm not sure what orgies have to do with Country Life, or why a 2100 article needs more padding, and I'm especially unsure how reading about orgies in Country Life are in the reader's interest.
After Nita had signed off on the original draft, I made the mistake to casually mention something Nita wasn't aware of, and she then insisted it [the orgies] be added to the piece. She implied that she could add it, or her sub-editor, and when she refused my suggestion that I add something along those lines in the captions [the body text already included several tasteful allusions to this topic], she threatened to pull the plug on the whole story unless I did exactly as she said.
She said this wasn't even what she wanted per se, but she was acting in the reader's interest. As a professional full time author, I assured her, I had an awareness of the reader's interest, and in terms of the art narrative, perhaps a clearer understanding than what she did.
I've been writing for Country Life for the past 7 years. In my very first pitch to Nita, who was also the editor then, she threatened to do the same, pull the story, - essentially blackmailing me to get certain things done on a very unreasonable basis, not based on important editorial objectives like grammar, format etc, but according to her personal whims.
After seven years and over 13 long form pieces, I'm disgusted that she's still the same person, still making the same threats, which is indicative that over 7 years no real respect and no real relationship was achieved between editor and writer, despite a lot of hard work, and a lot of toing and froing with Nita.
For this story, I actually had to drive out and visit the places in the article, all of which is a cost to me in time, energy and expenses. I cannot afford to do these trips, write these stories, and have all my work hanging on an editor's mood swing. As a result of this latest blackmail, I've decided not to continue taking these financial risks to myself.
Nita is well aware that culling a story hurts the writer, but doesn't affect her or the publication, as she simply digs into the freelancer pot. This win/lose strategy must work for her if she's so ready to use it, and so consistent in the use of it. In other words, treating a writer, even one she has worked with for seven years, as a disposable asset, is all in a day's work for this editor.
But actually it's not.
On this occasion, I called her on her threat, which she said she was doing in the interest of her readers. I asked her if she meant what she said about "putting the story on hold" and what that actually meant. After she explained it, and after I realised it wasn't simply an idle threat, I decided to cut ties with her/Country Life.
Nita has not only lost this story, but all further stories in this series. That's something the readers, other freelancers, the artist and their families who were invested in [and contributed to] this story, and the owners of Caxton ought to take an interest in.
This level of flagrant dishonesty and to be explicit - meanness - needs to be reported, named and shamed. Besides emailing the ombudsman, I have bcc-d this email to some additional people in my network, but will be looking to escalate it to PEN and other bodies. It may not be that Nita loses her job, but it's important that other freelancers and also people working for Nita be aware of her draconian attitudes. I also hope Nita reading this email thinks twice when threatening other freelancers the way she's repeatedly threatened and tried to blackmail me. It's unnecessary, it's unprofessional and there's an element of malicious bullying involved that doesn't belong in this industry.
All of this means absolutely nothing to Nita unless it gets a far greater airing, and this includes the readers of Country Life. How would they feel knowing Nita torpedoed a writer's work to crack the whip on her personal whim?
I will also be posting a copy of this email online and sharing across social media.
Nick van der Leek