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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Charlatan of a Publisher



Back in November last year I met up in London  with  the owner of a Zagreb-based real estate research company, named Red Star (http://www.redstar.eu.com/), who I had previously contributed articles to his blogspot. I was there to discuss an idea both he and I had to launch a new real estate magazine covering Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

We brain-stormed some ideas and agreed that I should go away and think of a structure for the new publication. Through a fair bit of trial and error, as is the case in these situations, I came up with one, which divided CEE into three sub-regions, North-Eastern Europe, Central Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe. I also set about recruiting another two journalists, one based in Budapest, who would write about Central Eastern Europe – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania – and the other South Eastern Europe, consisting of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria. My own patch, North Eastern Europe, would involve following developments in the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. Having worked for other commercial property magazines I knew this structure was an original one. During this time I was also engaged in other preparations for the magazine: liaising with the publisher and helping to get a sales representative on board. This lasted for a period of some months during which I received no pay.

Admittedly, when the first issue did come out, I was well remunerated but given the efforts I had put in leading up to that I didn’t think it unjustified. The magazine was also very well-received.

Real estate is a tough sector to write about, more difficult than covering other parts of the business world. As one source once said to me “in some languages the name for it is ‘immobilia”, that is it doesn’t move much”. Finding news on the market can be frustrating. But that did not prevent me from trying and I thought we came up with some original and varied articles, focussing on the different sectors of office, retail and logistics from as many of the countries on our beats as we could muster. Getting hold of company representatives to do interviews with us was by no means easy half the time, given that many were on business trips or were on holiday. The publisher also had a habit of disappearing without notice for weeks at a time as well, only then to turn up expecting everything to be in full swing.

With the third issue, which was due to coincide with an annual event Red Star held every year, things took an alarming turn, at least for me as a journalist. After being away from work for several weeks the publisher contacted me on a Tuesday and said he wanted us to arrange an interview with a company within the next few days before the CEO went on holiday on Friday. This, after I had already given the other journalists and myself a set of assignments. I told him that this was a very tall order to arrange at such short notice, which he acknowledged.

What I did not realise at the time was that this article was supposed to be paid for by the company being interviewed. In magazine publishing this is not uncommon but it invariably involves informing the reader that the article has been ‘sponsored’. However, in this case, the publisher had no intention of pointing this out and was happy for it to be presented as a normally-researched article. This contravenes all the ethics of journalism, which anyone with a modicum of intelligence will be aware of.

That particular article went unpublished and now the owner of the company appears to be reluctant to pay me for the four articles I wrote for that issue, as well as three others I spent a good deal of time editing. He has accused me of wasting his money, when this situation should never have arisen in the first place. Had things continued in the same vein, my job as editor would have become redundant anyway, as he seemed perfectly willing to go over my head in order to fulfil his squalid, money-grabbing aims. What had begun as a decent magazine was in the process of becoming a mere brochure.

All businesses need time to flourish and perhaps magazine publishing more than most. Not realising this is, in my view, a route to disaster, one the head of Red Star seems ever keen to follow.

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