Usually when newspapers or magazines are struggling financially, they look to cut back on costs. They may curtail their freelance budgets. Local entertainment magazine What’s On seems to have another strategy—not paying its freelancers.
There may be as many as 20 writers who haven’t been compensated by the magazine since the spring. “My only concern is that I hope the writers get paid,” says former editor Martin Stein, who was laid off from the magazine at the end of May. (Full disclosure: Stein used to work at Las Vegas Weekly. Fuller disclosure: What’s On competes with the Weekly’s sister publication, LVM.)
Local writer Pj Perez says he’s owed around $250. He says the money isn’t a big deal as much as the fact the magazine is giving people a hard time about getting paid. “It tells me your business practices are questionable.”
Perez wrote one story in April, submitted his invoice and then ... nothing. He says Stein sent an e-mail out to freelancers explaining that there were, says Perez, “changes behind the scenes” at the magazine, but he was still working to get everyone paid.
Forrest Lee, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times, wrote several stories in the spring for the magazine and is owed around $1,100. Both he and Perez have tried to contact the magazine about getting paid but haven’t been able to reach anyone.
Ink-stained scribes going hungry may only be the tip of the iceberg. What’s On is owned by Kellogg Media Group, which is a defendant in several lawsuits filed in District Court in the last year; all essentially allege some sort of nonpayment. Two suits were brought by printers Creel (which prints the Weekly) and Trend Offset Printing Services; they claim KMG owes them a combined $1.5 million. Another lawsuit, filed by City National Bank, alleges KMG owes another $300,000, although KMG, in one of the few documents it has filed in any of the cases against it, denies the allegation.
Creel also alleges that KMG head David Peeler signed a $50,000 promissory note in exchange for a $50,000 loan advance from Creel—and failed to pay back the promissory note.
Tom Davis, an attorney with Howard & Howard, is representing Creel. “Peeler persuaded Creel [that] with this cash infusion he could get over the hump. Obviously we found out there are so many creditors out there it doesn’t appear possible to get over the hump.”
Calls to KMG’s vice president, Andrea Collier, were unreturned. The Weekly reached Peeler on his cell phone, but he declined to comment about the situation with the freelancers and referred comments back to KMG’s PR office.
One writer, who asked not to be identified, notes, “The pathetic thing is they still actually expect freelancers—not me—who haven’t been paid since February or March to continue producing.”
It’s unclear whether any of the writers will take the magazine to small claims court. Lee says it’s probably not worth it to come to Vegas and deal with the headache of a lawsuit. Still, he notes, “I’ve never encountered anything like this, and I’ve been doing this over 20 years.”