traffic analysis

Friday, July 17, 2009


Sometime in May, a post on The Baguio Writers Group Facebook page was seeking for a writer to do a feature for a national glossy that catered to stylish homes. I was interested in the assignment as it would be a great opportunity for me to go up to Baguio. I contacted Ms. G (the contact person of the magazine) and told her I would be available on the day of the shoot. I was supposed to meet their photographer, the interior designer, and owner of the house to be featured, sometime in late May.

Despite a 15-hour trip from Kalinga (I was up there for another project) and barely enough sleep, I go to the house 10 minutes ahead of schedule. I interview the gracious owner, a Korean national, and get the vital information I needed within 15 minutes. During that time, I had noticed fake plants, synthetic flowers, and fake grapes (Oh gawd!) in strategic portions of the house. Not to mention the cheap, unopened champagne bottle and the wine glasses (take note, not champagne flutes) by the bathtub. Also, the throw pillows still had their price tags attached to them as well.

The photographer arrives after some 15 minutes of the agreed call time with his wife, who I thought would be assisting him. The photographer's wife, all throughout was overly saccharine and patronizing not only to the owner (I looooove your house, I loooooove your toilet, I looove the jacuzzi, I loooove your throw pillows, I loooooove....) but to everyone present in the shoot. "Martin, I loooooove your bag! Is it Hermes?" stressing on the last word to let everyone know that she knew how to pronounce Ehr-MEHS. (How I wish my brown leather tote was Hermes, but no, the dingbat apparently can't tell Zara from Hermes).

And oh how Ms. Photographer's-Wife loved to name-drop. You could hear her voice more than the owner's during the tour of the house. This is the same woman (on-a-junket) who, when ordering during lunch (the Korean owner and his wife had treated us to a nearby restaurant after the shoot) decides on the most expensive item on the menu -- steak. She should've taken a hint when our Korean hosts shared a salad after which the wife had simple pasta while the husband settled for grilled chicken.

But I digress... umpisa pa lang ito.

That entire morning was not too inspiring. My interview with the Interior Designer was so-so. Just like her design. Safe and simple. I asked her what her inspiration was: "I wanted a modern look..." sayeth Ms. Young-Interior-Designer. I wanted to blurt out: "Modern?! Honey, it's contemporary not modern! You should know the big difference if you even came from a reputable design school!" But, I restrained myself, wishing she, the Interior Designer, restrained herself design-wise and not suffuse the house with non-biodegradable materials.

And puhleeze, in all my years as a Production Designer and Interior Decorator -- I have never used plastic/fake items for decor. In hindsight, I am just so glad I did not mention other houses in Baguio City that would definitely merit a feature on a national glossy that catered to architecture/interior design.

A few days after the shoot I go back down to Manila and by June 4 I submit my article via email to Ms. G. I admit the article was rushed and 'basic' -- but no, I did not mention Miss Photogenic-Saccharine and how fake and plastic she was. Neither did I mention the fake and plastic plants in the house. I wrote about the architectural and interior design merits of the residence. The article truly lacked inspiration -- but that is my excuse. I, however, did tell Ms. G that they should feel free to give me their inputs and that I was willing to do a re-write. I also got the owner's email address so I could correspond with him in case the editorial team needed more info. Ditto the email address and contact numbers of the interior designer.

In the same email, I told Ms. G upfront that I received email (two days after the shoot) from the owner saying he wanted me to state in the write-up that 'he was selling the house and plans to build more houses in the future'. I also told Ms. G that the interior designer had emailed me separately (again, some days after the shoot) asking me to put her name and contact details in the article 'just in case some readers have questions'. I asked Ms. G if the magazine allowed this and if so, I would just put it at the end of the article. Being familiar with international design magazines, all contact details regarding a specific article are given a separate page/s towards the end of the particular issue.

Now I am not insinuating payola here, heck, even Oprah shamelessly plugs products on her show. I have nothing against advertorials as well. But if indeed this stylish home magazine featured the house because of a 'request' from the owner and/or interior designer, then the magazine has lost integrity-points on this writer-designer's meter. They are supposed to be design gurus, aren't they?! To continue...

I do not hear from Ms. G nor from any representative of the magazine. But wait, this story gets better...

By July 2 I emailed Ms. G:

"It's been a month since I submitted the article on (location and name of owner of house) and still no feedback from you. I think you owe it to update your commissioned writers/contributors. Especially if we went out of our way to pursue an assignment."

Ms. G replied: "I am certain your article merited publication. If there was anything lacking or necessitating change, editorial would have gotten back to you immediately... For your payment we would need your name as you want it to appear on check, your mailing address and TIN."

I replied saying 'thank you' and supplied her with her request. I told her I was willing to pick up the check as I am Manila-based.

Again, I did not hear from Ms. G or any of the editorial team or staff members of the magazine. Now, here's the part that's fodder for newsies, writers, etc.

Last July 14, the Executive Editor of the magazine whom I will now refer to as Ms. VD, emailed me:

"We regret that you felt that it was taking us time to get back to you with feedback. However, we'd like to explain the protocol of (magazine), which is standard for the national glossies:

"A magazine that commissions a writer for a story has an obligation to remunerate that writer and let him know when the article comes out, but it does not owe the writer feedback. All our contributors, who are also regular contributors to other national magazines, understand this.

"However, we respect your request for feedback and will be honest with you: the article was not up to the usual standards of the magazine, and given the time constraints, it was impossible for us to send it back to you for refinement...

"To be fair, I'll email you your original article and the new one. We regret if you, after comparing the two, still feel aggrieved -- although please note it is the prerogative of the editorial team to try to get each article up to at least the minimum standard of the magazine...

"We, of course, take into consideration that perhaps the subject matter wasn't your forte, and that you are capable of great work elsewhere."

I take a look at the attached article and... lo and behold... they used my Title, my Introductory Paragraph, and cut&pasted phrases / sentences from my original write-up. At the end of the article was my name above the other writer's name. Pumanting na ang tenga ko (my ears were in jeans)!

I email Ms. VD:

"After mulling over your email, I have decided to appeal to your sense of fairness and now graciously ask you to:

1. Not use my title for your article

2. Please tell your writer/s to re-write the entire article without quoting and/or copy-pasting any of my phrases and sentences and more importantly not to use my structure and tone and rhythm in their final write-up.

3. Kindly ask the accounting department and/or (Ms. G) to reimburse the expenses (transportation and other incidentals) I incurred when you commissioned me to do the writing assignment...

I am now quoting portions of your approved article that you attached to your email to show which portions I believe I had originally written and/or expressed and that you have lifted verbatim or otherwise...

(I proceed to type in bold font the Title, Introductory paragraph, and excerpts from my article. After which I continue...)

"Granting that my article did not merit "the minimum standard of the magazine" I humbly ask you to accede to my request above promptly."

Ms. VD replies (within hours but I only got to read the email the next day):

"The July-August issue is already in the newsstands. Unfortunately, it is too late to revise any of the articles.

You have a choice of two options, though:

1. We will reimburse your expenses, and we will print an errata in our September issue stating that we were mistaken in crediting you for the article. In this option, you will not be paid a professional fee.

2. We will not reimburse your expenses, but will, instead, pay you a professional fee, which you will receive at the end of the issue's newsstand life (in this case, end of August). Since we already have your TIN and mailing address, you will only need to supply us your bank account details so we can make the deposit.

Please let me know which option you decide on. While all this is an admittedly regrettable episode, I hope both parties can move on."

Teka, teka, teka! How dare Ms. VD use that tone! What Gall! So I replied:

"Dear Ms. VD,

"Thank you for your prompt attention on the matter.

"The first option you are offering me is another slap, not only on my face, but an insult to all writers who have been in the same predicament as myself. You must realize that this was not and is not an issue of remuneration. I am speaking for all the writers who in the past have been discredited, maligned, plagiarized, and under-compensated for their hard work in the past, by people like you and the publications you represent.

(I know I shouldn't have said 'in the past' twice, but I was soooo angry I didn't read through my email before clicking the 'send' button)

"Be that as it may, and lest I may be perceived as a difficult person -- I will accept your second offer if only to put to rest this 'regrettable episode'.

"The more important thing than moving on is for you to learn as well from this experience."

Ms. VD replies:

"The second option it is."

And it turns out, tada! Ms. Vd is actually a Mister as he so signed his last email.

I wanted to write another email, but thought, hey this is a good blog post, so here instead is my intended reply:

Dear Mister VD,

No, you will not have the last say. Nor the last laugh.

I am not going to give you my bank details as yet, for this will be a final test on your publication's sincerity and willingness to offer me a professional fee in the first place. If by the second week of September I do not hear from your office, then I will just have proven myself right that you would prefer getting writers, who are not on your payroll, to do assignments, and if possible to get away with it, not compensate these writers for their work. (Thank you MegatonLove for reminding me about Pinoys and their TY mentality).

If that happens I will email you by the third week of September giving you the bank details of The Baguio Writers Group as I wish said professional fee to be given to them instead.

It is no wonder that your output reflects the mentality of your editorial team. My sister was right in not renewing her subscription to your magazine a few years back. And just to show you how unattached my sister is to your issues, (out of a gazillion interior design/architecture magazines, both local and international that my sister subscribes to) your magazines were the first she let go when she had a garage sale. But even at the low price of P20, no one bought your magazines.

Aw, Mr. VD, that leaves us with no recourse but to donate those issues to the palengke -- in the hope that it just might elevate the lowly tinapa -- sosyal ng pambalot 'no? Hindi newsprint ha?!


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