JazzTimes “temporarily suspended,” staff “furloughed”

JazzTimes confirms rumors first reported here the 38-year-old monthly magazine’s deep financial distress requires it to stop publishing. Its management hopes for a brand-sale and re-emergence. But in a longer email to freelance contributors, those same managers adopt a can’t-help-you-pal shrug toward the brand’s freelance contributors.

“The brand and operation will undergo reorganization and restructuring in order to remain competitive in the current media,” according to the brief note on the mag’s website. In the iteration of this message that went out to Jazz Times’ contributors, though, that assertion was followed by words of dread to freelance writers and photographers: “. . . payments for previous assignments remain in limbo, as the JazzTimes ownership seeks the necessary financing.”

Payments In limbo? What would a carpenter, plumber, landlord say? “I’ll take the shelves back.” “Your toilet’s in limbo.” “No rent, you’re out!”

But freelance editorial contributors are “unsecured creditors” — most often without contract stipulations regarding surrender of properties in the case of default — and way down on the list of payees when a company becomes hard-pressed or worse. Stories (warnings) about this are legion amongst editorial freelancers, so we try to to stay alert to bad signs in our outlets.

Are a publication’s pages noticably, repeatedly fewer? Are payments taking longer to arrive? Is there turnover among  administrative staff? Are  noticably fewer articles commissioned? This sort of thing is a major topic of conversation amongst any group of freelancers. (In better times it’s “Who’s buyin’?” “What exotic junket am I covering next?” and “You won’t believe what I just did with who!”)

I have colorful memories of being maddened by non-paying publishers, and at my reference to JazzTimes’ admission that it can’t say when/if its bylines will be recompensed for their very real labors, a radio colleague responded he’s had the same problem recently trying to get his due from Chicago-based Johnson Publications for work on EbonyJet.com. “I wasn’t owed so very much,” he said, “but some of the others, it’ in the thousands.”

Writers, a desperate lot, tend to keep scratching out their pitiful fantasies and offering them for public distribution in eternal hopes they will be read, recognized and regaled with the riches they so richly deserve. A good rule of thumb is not to keep writing for any publication more than three months in debt to you. Don’t do it!

One contributor has copied me on his response to JT:

We all work hard for a living and it is only fair and just that we
will be paid for the work we have completed for JazzTimes. I think I speak on
behalf of a large number of contributing creatives that the notion of
payments for previous assignments remaining in “limbo” is utterly
unacceptable. This will simply not stand.

Another veteran writer complains,

You people are ignore the human factor involved in this.”Namely, all the contributors who are being stiffed. . . Considering that 100% of my income is derived from freelance writing, this is a devastating hit for me to absorb. I’ve been stalling my landlord since April. . .

Sadly, this is what happens when economies contract and businesses collapse: Their workers suffer. It naturally leads to speculation and accusations about what went wrong, who’s to blame. In a previous post I alluded to JT‘s loss of a summer program book contract from the JVC Jazz Festivals, which aren‘t taking place this summer across the country evidently due to the production company’s over-abitious plans.

Since Jazz Times had long produced the “Industry Track” activites of the annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education, which collapsed and disappeared in spring 2008 so there was no such conference in 2009, that was likely another income stream gone dry. Add in also the decline in record company ad budgets, and one can imagine how the Jazz Times’ braintrust could have gotten themselves into an untenable situation. It’s a real shame, and if there is any hope of a sale of JT’s “brand” and whatever assets (besides liabilities) come with, JazzBeyondJazz votes that it is realized.

But we’re not Pollyanna‘s around here, and have attended enough publications’ ends (starting with the Chicago Daily News in 1978) to know that resurrection is unlikely. Transformation might be possible. Settling debts is a matter of honor.

“New information and statements will be posted at www.jazztimes.com as they become available,” JazzTimes Management concludes its “important message,” suggesting simultaneously the cause and the answer to its current dilemna. (A website! How ’bout we operate a website?). May these not be JazzTimes‘ last words: “Thank you for your patience during this challenging period.”

As if the period that follows won’t be?

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