Earlier this week another writer took to twitter to criticize an article by one of my staff because a header picture didn’t contain the subjects of the article and was unlabeled. Then he called us amateurs.
This confused me, because like me and the author of the article, this particular writer has a second profession. Then he said it was a matter of whether you are paid or not.
Do people think I’m not paid for my writing? I am paid, as it my staff. But we are not paid a lot. And the payment is often in the form of stipends and expense reimbursement rather than a salary.
I do think this is wrong, that writers are paid so little. I work as hard as a writer as I do as a web developer, but I am paid 1/6th as much. Tech typically portrayed as being hostile to women and while I do acknowledge sexism exists, the quality of life is better and the pathways to advancement are easier and faster to tread compared to writing.
Tech is said to have a glass ceiling for women. Writing has a brick ceiling for everyone. You know the old arcade game Breakout? That’s what it is, at the higher levels of the game when the walls are multi-level and require multiple hits to break.
But once you break the top wall in writing as a writer or editor, you have pretty much made it. And you’ll stay there unless your publication folds. And it might, since these walls here are built by a management class that is beyond incompetent. That can’t see beyond using the same 7 writers, mainly older dudes, over and over again. And can’t ever ever fire a terrible editor unless they murder someone or they just happen a woman that no one likes. Which makes passing through the middle section of the break wall incredibly frustrating.
People ask me why I don’t write full time. And it’s because i’ve been on the edges of it and seen what it is like. Maybe when these publications all fold they’ll be replaced with something more vibrant, but right now food writing is a world for people like Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Mark Bittman and not many others. Some might say I don't try hard enough, but having a living wage is a priority for me and not having that is not a risk I'm willing to take.
And while data isn’t available, I suspect income inequality between those kind of writers and lower and middle level writers is pretty dramatic, with the lower and middle end writers barely making ends meet. To contrast, even as a junior developer I was paid pretty decently and had full benefits.
The staff that does the hiring in writing doesn’t look for new voices adequately and they keep using the same few people over and over again, they also often ignore lack of integrity in these established writers and editors. There is sadly no data on this, but it’s something I’ve experienced and I’ve heard over and over again from other writers.
The reality of most sexism is no sexist wears a racy shirt covered in scantily clad women- they are usually normal-looking people who simply turn a blind eye to complaints from lower and middle level staff about upper level staff because the latter are considered more valuable.
It also looks really bad when an industry is mostly one gender, but the best jobs on the higher end are mainly held by the minority gender. Food critics for example- I took the top 30 publications (magazines and newspapers) that have food critics, counted the male and female critics and weighted by circulation. The result was women only represent 26% of that number, indicating women are less prevalent and hold less desirable positions. Overall there are 1.5 male food critics for every 1 woman.
There are probably even more male web developers than female, but that’s mainly because women don’t enter this industry at all, not because they are hitting a brick wall and are unable to obtain jobs.
I am enjoying writing more about food. And that’s why I don’t quit. In the long term I’d like to either join or start an online publication of some kind to just circumvent the pathway. Many of these kind of publications like Food52 actually have higher circulation numbers than traditional publications. Here the joke is kind of on the old guard - they aren't doing well financially, and I suspect at least some of that is the staffing status quo they don't seem to see a problem with. But an industry that won't invest in newcomes is not one that will survive.