Who's got the bar tab Venmo?
When journalists get laid off, other journalists get 'em drunk.
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Who’s got the bar tab Venmo?
If you take a job in media, you will be asked this question at some point. Or you will be the one asking it. Actually if you spend any time in this permanently imploding goat rodeo of hacks and flacks, thinkfluencing grifters and metro-desk drifters, you will both ask and be asked.
The bar tab Venmo is one of modern media’s great, terrible traditions. It means, in plain terms, that some writers just got axed and need to go get drunk.
You know that thing that dude who peaked in high school used to say, presumably at his high-school peak? “Every time you do [thing], god kills a puppy,” or whatever? Well, every time you see someone tweet “Who’s got the bar tab Venmo?” a media company lays off a journalist. Usually more than one, in fact! Here is how it typically goes.
Act 1: The Shortfall
A publication realizes it doesn’t have as much money as it thought it did. Maybe this is because the ad-supported media model is broken beyond repair, or because executives with obscene salaries are disinterested with the basics of modern publishing, or because a private-equity firm has decided to bleed that company dry to make a small group of very-rich people even richer.
Maybe it’s all of those reasons, or some other ones. How should I know? I don’t get invited to those kinds of meetings.
Act 2: The Cutting
The publication’s leadership decides that the best way to solve the problem (which is not always of their creation, to be fair) is to make some cuts. Trim the fat! Lean and mean! Sometimes these leaders take paycuts in a faux of solidarity, which is like a show of solidarity except across class lines and therefore not.
The also, more often than not, lay off some journalists, whose salaries are also obscene but in the opposite direction, and who are usually so beaten down by an industry decimated by 30 years of corporate consolidation, head-in-the-sand digital denialism, and bad-faith attacks from shitposters and shitposters-in-chief (among many other things) that they figure they kind of deserve this, anyway.
Will this stop the bleeding? Maybe! But the specter of more cuts is always lurking just beyond the reassuring all-hands meeting at which the survivors are told there will not be another round of cuts. So stay on your toes, humps!
Act III: The Drinks
Now we have some laid-off journalists on our hands. If they’re lucky, maybe the got some decent severance pay for all the work they did serving the community and improving the product over years or—shudder—decades. If they’re not lucky (seems likely, considering they just got laid off!) they got nothing.
Their fellow journalists, who are only marginally luckier in that they still have jobs that still pay shit, want to help. What would actually help would be Medicare for All and real unemployment insurance and universal basic income and a bunch of other no-brainer shit.
But we’re just journalists! We can’t singlehandedly create the political will amongst the electorate to demand a better answer from the political establishment than the ol’ “bUt WHo wILl paY For iT?” tripe. Certainly not in a timeframe that would help our erstwhile colleagues.
So instead, we create a bar tab Venmo. Someone who knows the newly unemployed well—usually a former coworker—puts word out on social media that they’re passing the digital hat for their pals. They list their Venmo handle, and lo: from across the country, other journalists and sympathetic readers pony up the money they can and send it in via the app. The bagman/woman/person then distributes it to the ones who need it most, how they need it most: drinks. (Used to be, we’d go to a bar and do this in person, but the pandemic has taken so much from us, and the sad, electric ritual of media layoff drinks is not exempt.)
It’s hardly a solution to a disintegrating business model/society, but it’s something. After all, if we can’t shield those laid-off journalists from the endemic brutalities of late capitalism, at least we can get them so drunk that they forget about how fucked they are for a night.
Fingers editor goes down
Texts I got from a fellow journalist in another city after getting laid off this week.
I got laid off from my job at the local newspaper this week. It’s a bummer but then again everything is a bummer these days, so why not this? At least I wasn’t replaced by a racist newsbot powered by artificial intelligence. That’s something!
In a decade of working in media, this is the first time I’ve ever lost a job. In this business, that makes me very lucky. Even luckier: the paper gig was part-time, and did not include health insurance, so my workload and finances and everything were already set up so that this won’t halt my entire cash flow or sever my lifeline to affordable medical care. (I know that’s a perverse way to look at it, but today’s media ecosystem is nothing if not perverse.)
Sincerely, really, and truly: I’m fine. A lot of really wonderful people from both inside the media goat rodeo and beyond its fences said a lot of wonderful things about me on Twitter, and in text messages and emails and phone calls. I have enough money for now, and I have some other projects (including Fingers! tell your friends!) that I’m planning to invest more time in. I hope cutting me helps the paper survive the pandemic so no more journalists who work there get laid off, and they can keep doing the important work that they do.
Yes: these are all things you’re supposed to say. But I actually mean them in this case, I swear!
That said, I was not the only journalist laid off yesterday, and not everybody is so lucky. If you’d like to help out my former coworkers who lost their jobs, please consider contributing to this GoFundMe. I know the person running it and I know your money will go directly to those workers.
Or you could always Venmo me. You can trust that I’ll make sure the money gets into the right hands, and won’t drink it all away myself: days before getting laid off, I decided to go sober for the month of August. Figured it’d be good for me health-wise, and give me more time to bring in some stories I’d been grasping at for awhile. Talk about your all-time backfires!
“A creative riot demanding Black Liberation”
On a more positive note: Adrienne Williams is a photographer and creative type in Detroit. She’s the creative force behind MS. RPRSNTD, a digital platform for “skater girls of color,” and Wild Boys, a parallel “conceptual zine.”
At the end of July, Williams launched a limited collaboration collection of t-shirts, hats, skate decks, and, of course, a zine.
The world is a shit show and I wanted to do my part. I’m immunocompromised so I couldn’t protest. I’ve signed every petition and called every senator. I’ve donated what I could but it wasn’t enough. MS. RPRSNTD is this weird and amazing platform I’ve been building that advocates for skater girls of color. But, what is happening to Black Americans, especially Black/American cis-gendered and trans women is bigger than skateboarding. It is my responsibility to use my platform for good.
The good? All the profits from the sale will be sent to Color of Change in honor of Breonna Taylor, a 26 year-old Black woman who was killed by white police officers while she was asleep in her own bed earlier this year. “Someone once told me that no one will march or riot for Black women. This zine is a creative riot demanding Black Liberation,” Williams told Fingers.
Don’t drink beer with racists
And, reminder from last week: Fingers bought a bunch of “I Don’t Drink Beer With Racists” stickers to support people doing the work to make beer a less-racist industry. Want one? Make a donation of $1 or more to either BeerKulture or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and send a screenshot of your receipt to email@example.com, and I will mail you a sticker anywhere in the US.