Magazine freelancers say Edmonton publisher too slow to pay bills

More than a dozen freelancers say they have not been paid in a timely manner by Venture Publishing Inc.

'We will meet the obligations to these and other suppliers,' Venture Publishing president says

Photographer Jeremy Fokkens was paid by Venture Publishing after he showed up at the office and said he wouldn't leave without his cheque.

This week Jeremy Fokkens strode into Venture Publishing Inc.'s Edmonton office to demand payment for work he did more than 10 months ago.

It was the last straw for the Calgary photographer after dozens of emails that told him a cheque was on the way, or that he'd have to wait a few more months for his $861 payment.

"I took matters into my own hands and drove down there and told them I wasn't leaving their office until I left with a cheque," said Fokkens, who was paid Tuesday for work done in April 2016 for Venture's magazine Alberta Oil.

"It's horrible. It shouldn't have to come to this."

Fokkens' experience is one example of an ongoing issue between Venture and some of its contractors, according to the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) Freelance Branch.

CMG Freelance Branch president Don Genova said the guild knows of 13 contributors waiting for outstanding payments totalling nearly $40,000. Some are owed between $7,000 to $10,000; some have waited up to two years.

Their articles, photos and illustrations have appeared in Venture's various publications, including Alberta Venture.

"They have put in their invoices, they've done their work and they simply never get paid," said Genova. "And every time they call, they write, somebody says literally, 'The cheque is in the mail.' and then the cheque's not in the mail."

Edmonton freelancer writer Caroline Barlott said Venture owes her more than $2,600 for articles she wrote in 2015 for Leap, an Alberta Cancer Foundation publication and WE, a United Way publication.

She said she agreed to Venture's terms, which included payment six months after publication, but it's now been two years.

"The thing with freelancing is that you know that often times things don't come when you expect them, so I kind of had prepared for that, luckily," said Barlott. "But doing it full-time, you still do expect to receive the money eventually."

Barlott said Venture staff responded to emails, promising a cheque that never arrived. She said the messages she left for Venture president Ruth Kelly were not returned.

"I really empathize with Venture if they are having financial difficulty," said Barlott. "I just wish that they were a little bit more forthcoming with information … and trying to make things right."

Venture clients slow to pay

In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Kelly said Venture has been affected by the economic downturn and changes to media consumption, but remains stable.

"Venture is in exactly in the same situation with many of our clients, where we have had extremely slow or absolutely no payment, complete default," said Kelly.

"We understand the challenges, and as a person who's been in this industry for a long time, I certainly have deep respect and sympathy for all the freelancers out there. Like every other business person, we have to manage our individual challenges as best we can."

She said Venture's policy is to be "open and candid" with suppliers but direct communication has been more challenging as the situation escalated.

"We will meet the obligations to these and other suppliers just as we have consistently in the past," said Kelly, who would not say how soon contributors would be paid.

"They can certainly feel free to contact me directly and I will absolutely make a commitment to speak to each and anyone who does call me and make plans for them."

Barlott, Genova and Fokkens said other clients, which include local, national and international publications, continue to pay them within a reasonable amount of time, ranging from payment upon acceptance of the article to a few weeks after publication.

It's not the first time Venture has been criticized publicly for failing to pay contributors. Genova pointed to a 2013 blog post on Story Board, a web site for Canadian freelancers that also described the experiences of Venture freelancers struggling to get paid.

CMG Freelance represents freelance contractors at the CBC and self-employed media workers across Canada. It is part of the Canadian Media Guild, a local of media union CWA-Canada. CBC journalists are members of the CMG.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca      @andreahuncar