Nov. 30 2011 11:57 AM

They don't fully understand deadlines, but I love 'em all the same

Thanksgiving postcard circa 1900

Some of CityBeat's regular freelance contributors haven't quite grasped the concept of a deadline. They seem to think of it as something to shoot for rather than a distinct, clearly drawn threshold, which, if crossed, means death. Deadline = Dead + Line. Deadline. The problem is, there's no genuine death, and rules without real consequences are begging to be broken.

But that's the only significant item in my bag marked “Things that bug the crap out of me about my freelancers.”

I reflected on this last week as I plowed my way through a plate loaded with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, veggies and bread. When I asked myself, What am I truly thankful for? I thought immediately of my contributors. They write for shamefully little compensation while juggling separate careers and families, and they utter nary a peep of complaint.

I sometimes forget that many readers don't understand the leanness of CityBeat's operation. There are 14 people working in our office, not all of them full-time. Six of the 14 work in the editorial department, not all of us full-time. The rest of those folks you see closer to the beginning of our staff box at the bottom of this page are freelance contributors who get paid per piece of work.

Together, these contributors form one of the legs of the stool that is CityBeat. They are responsible for the content on more than a third of this paper's pages every week. What gets me most about them—maybe more than their abundant talent—is their loyalty. Even with that quaint little paycheck they get, even as I ask the regular contributors not to write about the same general subject matter for other local publications that they write for us, they stick with us. I think it's because they enjoy it, but it's also because they give a damn about the mission we're on. There's a special place in that lump in my throat for my longtime contributors—and, yes, I'm sure it's not remnants of Thanksgiving dinner.

Columnist Edwin Decker has been with us so long he actually precedes us. Yeah, he was here when we arrived, writing for SLAMM magazine, the thing we were before we were this thing. And we became this thing in 2002. He's written more than 300 irreverent, provocative columns in that time. Meanwhile, we used a handful of film writers during our first three years. And during the ensuing six-plus years, we've used one, Anders Wright, and you'll never meet a more agreeable human being. He's authored more than 300 film reviews and seemingly millions of quippy little movie blurbs.

Four months after Wright's tenure began, columnist D.A. Kolodenko's stint started. He's since written roughly 150 columns. A year after Kolodenko joined, we convinced another columnist, Aaryn Belfer, to come aboard. I'm guessing she's written about 130 columns. Politics columnist John R. Lamb was with us when we published Issue No. 1 on Aug. 21, 2002, and continued for a few years before embarking on a stint at City Hall. He rejoined us as a biweekly writer nearly four years ago. Enrique Limón started writing for CityBeat a couple months later, probably losing money for most of his tenure because so much of it was writing about experiences in bars. Seth Combs was a freelance music writer for us starting in 2004, later joining our full-time staff for a spell and now contributing on a freelance basis again.

These are our long-timers—along with occasional music writer Dryw Keltz, who started in the SLAMM days, and Jim Ruland, who also wrote about music for us for many years and recently started writing more regularly about books, and music and culture writer AnnaMaria Stephens. And now our retail-shopping columnist, Clea Hantman, has already been with us for more than two years. We hope newer folks like Jenny Montgomery, Ian Cheesman, Marie Tran-McCaslin and Amy Granite become longtimers.

The original pitch to our contributors was that as CityBeat established itself in the local market, and as advertisers gradually realized they needed to be in this paper, the measly pay would grow, little by little. Well, thanks to the recession, which seemed to hit just as we'd started to make some headway, that measly pay hasn't grown much at all. Yet, these talented people are still with us—through the very little thick and a whole lot of thin.

It almost makes me want to forgive each of them for the next missed deadline. Almost.

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