I Am Not Anonymous
By Amber Nasrulla
I’d like to sit down with the person or people at TC Media who penned the new freelance contract. As Story Board reported last week, they’ve refused to negotiate improvements or meet with anyone from the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) saying they prefer to meet with freelancers individually. If I met them I’d ask: Do you value quality work? Do you want interesting stories? Do you want passion and crisp, energetic prose in your magazines? What is your time worth? Why is mine worth less? Do you want your readers to come back again and again? But the folks at TC won’t come out into the open. They’re afraid.
I know how they feel. I’ve been afraid too, although I wasn’t when I refused to sign the TC contract back in January and thus ended 10 years of writing for ELLE Canada (a Transcontinental title). Ending the relationship was the right thing to do.
To recap: TC’s contract requires writers to waive moral rights to their work so that the company can alter a story’s meaning; a writer’s byline can be removed; TC also owns the rights to material in “all forms of media now known and hereafter invented.” Offensive? Yes. And yet, I found it alarming to speak on the record. And so, after sending the contract to the CMG, I agreed to speak anonymously to Rachel Sanders for her first Story Board article on the subject.
Why anonymously? I feared that other editors would think I was whining or being a brat, and not want to work with me. I’ve always had a great relationship with editors. I get my copy in on time and on word count. When we chat, I’m cheerful and stick to business. I don’t talk about how the cat is sick, or my car broke down, or even my beautiful new shoes. Editors have demanding schedules and 15 other freelance writers to deal with once they’re done with me. They don’t have time for chit-chat. Yes, I was afraid of being labelled histrionic.
But as I write this I think of where my work has taken me. I’ve been freelancing since 1999 (minus the 3 years I worked at CTV) and have written hundreds of stories for publications such as the Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine, Cottage Life, National Post, Chatelaine and Reader’s Digest Canada among others. I’ve even been a judge for the International Regional Magazine Association’s (IRMA) annual awards.
Along the way, I’ve cleaned and drained bullet wounds. In Pakistan, I choked back tears while speaking to a mother who had third-degree burns all over her body. Her husband threw a kerosene lamp at her. She died. I’ve also written about my trip to Mecca. As a cub reporter, I covered an awful police shooting in Toronto’s Jane/Trethewey area and stayed past sundown until I was offered drugs. I’ve survived pick-pockets in Old Delhi. I told Kiefer Sutherland to put his cigarette out when I was interviewing him. I was seven months gigantically pregnant. He glared but complied. And then there was the crazy fortune-teller whose thugs wouldn’t let me leave her living room unless I paid her $400. I thought I would die that day. All that sass and somehow being judged or ostracized still scared me. And so I chose to withhold my name.
I also chose to be anonymous because I’m not a type-A person. I’m the kind who likes to blend in. I’d rather be the one asking the questions than answering them. I love unearthing facts, telling other people’s stories but not my own. I never felt that talking about what was happening to me personally was of any importance. In fact, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to mine my life for ideas, parenting stories and such. They’re not complex or revealing – I’ve written about the time my son barfed on me public for the first time, for instance…
Now that I’ve had three months to collect my thoughts and lower my blood pressure I’ve reconsidered the principle of anonymity. As journalists we know that anonymous sources can undermine the quality of a story. They call into question the value of the facts. I can’t be anonymous because I’ve no doubts that the TC contract is flawed. So I’m standing up.
It’s apparent to me that, without the strength of our numbers – writers, artists, illustrators, photographers – magazines won’t have content. Obvious, right? In other words, it’s crucial to stand up, speak the truth, and be counted.
We have to fight for our names, for our worldwide copyrights, intellectual property rights, and moral rights. The folks at TC have to explain their actions. And change their way of doing business. Not behind closed doors but out in the open….just as I am here answering for my former anonymity. I’m one drop of a large tide. I’m Amber Nasrulla. No longer Anonymous. Join me.