Hip-hop bible The Source has everything a magazine could wish for: It enjoys soaring ad pages, slavering business-page stories, and for the most part it has avoided the editorial and executive turmoil that has engulfed competitors like Blaze and Vibe. But lately, The Source has had some bad vibes of its own to contend with: Writers and photographers who maintain they haven't been paid by the magazine for their work are fighting back in court -- and winning.
Mike Golden, a freelance writer commissioned by The Source to write a feature about the reopened investigation into the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., completed his piece for the magazine's December 1998 issue, but the story was killed. Golden says his editor agreed to a 50 percent kill fee, but after the writer made repeated attempts over seven months to collect, he still had not been paid. Golden took his case to small-claims court and was awarded $2,201 on May 13.
"Mike was doing some pretty crazy shit, like driving 100 miles and expensing gas," counters Source editor-in-chief Selwyn Seyfu Hinds. Says Golden in response: "He's a liar. I have a $6 gas bill."
French-born photographer Patrick Ibanez was thrilled when he got the assignment to shoot the magazine's June 1998 cover featuring Silkk the Shocker, DMX, and Kurupt. Ibanez agreed to a $4,000 fee -- but didn't sign a contract. "We're not used to doing that in France," he says with a sigh. "I've learned my lesson."
Ibanez says that after looking at his work, Hinds said, "You are my hero," and adds that the art director agreed to double his fee for several extra days' work -- so he was shocked when the magazine paid him only $4,000. Ibanez says that repeated attempts by letter and phone to address the nonpayment were ignored. Last September, he took the magazine to small-claims court and was awarded $3,165. He took the magazine to court again, and last month was awarded an additional $1,100.
"While what happened with Patrick and Mike is unfortunate, it is not indicative of the way The Source treats people," Hinds says. "Our record is no worse than any of the other big magazines'."
Or is it? A writer who requests anonymity says that after she turned in a review for The Source's September 1998 issue, not only was she not paid for her work, but the review was rewritten and credited to what she claims was an alias for Hinds. And a freelance editor who worked for the magazine in the summer of '98 says it took a lawyer's call to extract his payment. "I know plenty of people who won't work for The Source anymore," he says, "because they haven't been paid."