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Best Practices for Best Practices
Friday, August 30, 2013 (All day)

The Best Practices Guide was intended to encourage publishers, editors and writers to treat each other with respect in the long-term best interests of the magazine business. In 2008, I suggested to then-PWAC executive director John Degen that the magazine publishing industry could use a document that defined the day-to-day working relationships of writers, editors and publishers. It might just as easily have been headed “How We Can All Get Along”. It grew out of online research and a series of roundtable consultations across the country.

Though the document is brief and clear, there is a surprising lack of awareness and enthusiasm about The Guide among Canadian magazines, and it has yet to achieve the broad industry consensus that was intended. Among many reasons is that writers tend to shy away from asserting their rights for fear of endangering assignments, and publishers and senior editorial management apparently see little upside for them in contributing to such a consensus. Without assertiveness from one side or another, The Guide is pretty much an orphan. As much energy as writers have invested, it counts for very little if they won’t stick up for it.

If magazine writers want to be treated with respect, they will have to insist on the reflection of The Guide’s principles in their day-to-day working relationships with editors and publishers (and other writers). Writers have a vested interest in provoking discussion about the professional obligations The Guide details. These guidelines were, after all, derived from the shared experience of writers, editors and publishers. Only by citing those experiences and expectations in negotiations and disputes will writers accustom publishers and editors to regard it as a reasonable, broadly acceptable way of working together.

The Guide is presented as a set of obligations. Some relate to producing the best work possible—by everyone. Other obligations are about observing good business practices for mutual benefit, such as putting terms of work and fees in writing. Still others encourage the exercise of courtesy and consultation between writers and the magazines for which they work.

But The Guide also addresses the specific issue of copyrights, legal protections and fair compensation, and asks publishers to respect writers by, among other things, not asking them to waive their moral rights. Agreeing to the scope of work and going to bat for their writers is considered a professional obligation of editors. And so on. In other words, it’s not all about the money. But it is always about respect.

There’s not room to go into obligations here in detail (read The Guide) but it should be noted how obligations are shared among the various people whose prosperity depends on the health of the industry. Each list—for publishers, writers, editors—contains the same wording:

Observe these best practices guidelines and try to see them reflected in their day-to-day working relationships…

And among the shared obligations:

Recognize the mutual benefits and obligations of writers, editors and publishers in the publishing of the magazine(s) and act accordingly.

The Guide is not a manifesto, but a tool, drawn from the current realities of the Canadian magazine industry. It was never intended to be a contract or a prescription or a set of rules, but an expression of agreed professional standards. Promoting those is in everyone’s interests.

It would be nice to hope otherwise, but writers will really need to take the lead if both the principles and the obligations in the Best Practices Guide are to be observed by everybody in the interests of getting along.

D. B. Scott (the D. stands for David) is a consultant, daily blogger, teacher and part-time academic coordinator at Ryerson's Chang School, -- and all of it is about magazines. His blog is Canadian Magazines and his website is impresa.ca.

 

- D.B. Scott

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