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A fight at the Food Magazine

The new Food Magazine has lured top-name chefs, but contributors complain they have not been paid for their work.

Culinary smackdowns are regular fodder for food magazines. But the vicious battle taking place at the Food Magazine isn't between star chefs. It's the publication's editor vs. some of its contributors.

The Food Magazine, which showcases celebrity chefs and their recipes, launched last winter, and its third issue will hit newsstands March 3. Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Candus Jane Zanghi says the magazine is profitable and moving forward. But two writers and one photographer complain that the magazine collectively owes them $16,500 for work done last spring. And they say they have not received timely or satisfactory explanations for the delay in payment.

On Feb. 18, one contributor took the fight public, launching a page on Facebook titled The Food Magazine Often Does Not Pay Their Contributors to air the grievances. So far, the group has 27 fans.

"My question is: Where is [Zanghi] getting the money for a third issue if there was no money to pay contributors to the second?" said Washington area photographer John Spaulding, who launched the Facebook page. Spaulding said the Food Magazine owes him $10,000, including $2,000 for travel expenses that he paid out of his own pocket.

Zanghi said she was shocked and saddened that in such difficult economic times the contributors would go "out of their way to harm me and my publication."

Zanghi, whose Twitter account lists her home as Arlington, Va., launched the Food Magazine in one of the toughest media environments in history. (Zanghi said she now is a resident of Washington state and that her company is based in Delaware.) Magazine ad pages in all categories have seen catastrophic plunges, and publications have purged staff. In October, Conde Nast shocked the food world when it shuttered the 68-year-old Gourmet magazine.

Zanghi, who formerly worked as creative director at the Washington news bureau of Scripps, nevertheless decided to push ahead with a new, independent publication. Her plan: to create a magazine that focused on a broad range of celebrity chefs, not just ones associated with a particular television network. In her first issues, she wrangled a number of brand-name chefs. An orange-clogged Mario Batali graced the cover of the premiere issue; Le Bernadin's Eric Ripert and Los Angeles star Wolfgang Puck have followed. Zanghi said she did not commit to a strict publication schedule. But she did secure a four-year national distribution deal that puts the magazine in 40,000 stores, including Barnes & Noble, Borders and Costco.

"I have to say that our secret is we aren't owned by a major media conglomerate. Just me," Zanghi commented on a February 2009 post on Endless Simmer about rumors that Gourmet would close. "We don't have all the expenses that other publications have."

Independence has its own pitfalls, however. Several deals with different investors have fallen through, Zanghi confirmed. She said the lineup of current investors is confidential.

Contributors had no complaints about the production of the first issue. They were paid for their work, and several agreed to work on the next issue, slated to be released in June 2009. But the magazine did not arrive at newsstands on schedule. When, over the summer, contributors contacted Zanghi about payment, they say they initially got a variety of excuses: a problem with the ad reps, a change of investors, for example. Then, they say, Zanghi stopped returning phone calls and e-mails entirely.

Lisa Cherkasky, a writer and food stylist (who has also worked for The Washington Post), said she is owed $4,000. Arnie Cooper, a freelance writer based in California who wrote a story about olive oil for the second issue, said he is owed $1,500.

"I called many times. Her phone voice mail was full and not taking messages," Cooper said. "This whole thing could have been avoided had she simply made the effort of contacting her writers. Instead she chose to ignore people, and I suppose it never occurred to her that when writers are owed money they may start writing about the situation."

None of the contributors signed a contract with Zanghi.

Zanghi acknowledges that some contributors have not been paid, and she had several explanations. She insisted that the magazine is profitable. But she added that the payment "process is complicated" and that "any outstanding invoices will be paid."

However, she also suggested that Spaulding and Cherkasky had not been paid because their work had been subpar. Cherkasky's articles, Zanghi said, had to be completely rewritten. She said Spaulding's travel expenses, including a stay at the Hilton in New York, were excessive. Zanghi said that for the most part she did not convey this information to most contributors, however, because she did not want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Both contributors dispute Zanghi's allegations. Cherkasky said her pieces were printed "verbatim." "To be perfectly honest, I was horrified that my stories were not edited," she said.

Spaulding said that Zanghi did complain about the quality of his work, but only when she was three or four months late in payment. "We are all great friends when she needed the work done quickly," he said. "As soon as she owed people money, there was a problem."

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  February 24, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Media  | Tags: Jane Black  
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Sounds like they are bitter. The Lisa writer admits she was horrified by her own pieces and the cover does look amateur. Not sure why something like this would run in the Washington Post. However, it states Lisa worked for them so my guess is they are doing her a favor by airing their grievances here. Great to see a new and exciting magazine is available about food and chefs, though.

Posted by: jtr1030 | February 24, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

There is no need to vilify a victim of this situation. Who wouldn't be bitter for working without promised pay?

Freelancers of all kinds have always been very vulnerable to this kind of abuse. It is simply theft when clients are unable/unwilling to pay after work is done in good faith. Freelancers have mortgages and families to support with their earnings, like everyone else. The situation is only getting worse in this economic climate, especially in the fields of publications and advertising.

Lisa Cherkasky is a veteran food writer and one of the finest food stylists in DC, if not the US. As a professional art director, I have worked many times with Cherkasky and know her to be one of the few real perfectionists I have ever encountered. Her attention to detail is almost excruciatingly skilled and artful.

Most veteran professional writers working for established professional publications (such as the Post) probably are accustomed to submitting work through traditional, professional editorial channels -- and then being compensated as promised. "FOOD" magazine represented itself as such.

Even excellent writers benefit by the touches of an excellent professional editor. If Cherkasky was horrified that her work was unedited, it is probably because she is accustomed to a professional workflow which traditionally would have made alterations to the copy submitted.

It sounds like the nontraditional editorial operation behind "FOOD" magazine amounts to a skeleton staff that doesn't include careful copyediting. Maybe they didn't think it was important to hire an editor; maybe they hired one, but then didn't pay her, so she quit!

Posted by: efstewart | February 24, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I fully believe contributors should get compensated for adequately fulfilling an agreement. But, a major food blog story re: late payments seems a little premature, and way biased when you take into account one of the Food Mag contributor worked for The Post. Could have been jucier (bad pun) in Reliable Source. It gets a 'meh' from me here. Yes. The economy pinches everyone.

Posted by: jiji1 | February 24, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Nothing 'premature' about it, the work was done last Spring.

BTW I wonder what the subscribers think, who paid $12 'for 12 issues' and so far have gotten 2 issues in a year....

Posted by: spauldij1 | February 24, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Jtr1030, way to twist words. Ms. Cherkasky wasn't horrified by her articles, she was horrified that they weren't edited! Even the best writer needs an editor. (And by the way, what are *you* so bitter about? Freelance article get rejected by the Food Section, perhaps?)

Posted by: northgs | February 24, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

This is newsworthy for the Post?
This reads a lot more like somebody knowing someone and using the press just to get back at someone else.
Both the photog and the writer who are owed money are current or former employees of the Post (and probably friends with the writer of this article).
So a small business is late paying some vendors. This is NEWS? It's vindictive and petty is what it is.
An independent publisher trying to make her way in what has been traditionally been an old boys/big media club is a much better angle IMO. Small business owners need our support more than ever.
Shame on the editor for running this.

Posted by: wped07 | February 24, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't paid yet either, but I have stayed in contact with Ms. Zanghi and feel confident she is doing as much as she can to fulfill her obligation to pay all her freelancers. I know her struggle has been very hard as it has been for most of us. The next issue is due out on newstands March 2nd. Let's give her a chance to get this magazine up to speed. We've all waited this long, give the girl a chance. We knew it wasn't a big publishing company when we agreed to participate and with that always comes risk. At least I was aware it was a one woman shop. Maybe others didn't know?

Posted by: LizArndt | February 24, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

I didn't read anything about her not intending to pay the writers or past due bills. I like this magazine - given the fact that it has come this far in this economy on a national level, i'm sure the publisher will find a way to keep succeeding and take care of the outstanding balances.

Posted by: member8 | February 24, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

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