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Did Nerdist Hire Me Out of Guilt??


*Disclaimer* There are names I don’t remember. This is also not a hit piece. I know the brand is taking steps to improve. I’ve seen freelancers and contributors of color writing frequently for the site. This is not an attempt to get the company or anyone working there canceled. This is just my personal experience with Nerdist, as I’m trying to discover the purpose of why I was there.

I remember my first big gig was writing for major website Nerdist.

I was in the audience for the 2016 Wondercon Nerdist staff panel. If I remember correctly, the panel featured all the major section editors on stage. There was one man of color, Malik Forte on the panel, and the rest were white folks–one of them being Chris Hardwick.

He mentioned something about diversity, and that’s when I got up and ran to the mic. I wanted to know if he’s about diversity, what the hell is up with the demographic on stage. I asked why things weren’t more inclusive. I don’t remember what Chris Hardwick said, but I remember thinking it was an excuse that made me roll my eyes.

‪He invited me to meet with him and his staff after the panel. I met Hardwick backstage, and he introduced me to the team. They all seemed nice enough. I told him I was a writer and all the outlets I worked for. He introduced me to Dan Casey, who I exchanged information with.

As soon as I got home, I sent Dan some writing samples and waited to hear back. As always, it took forever for me to hear from him, but I finally did. He liked my samples and thought I would be a good fit for writing about anime content. I thought it was strange that a big brand outlet could pay an abysmally low rate per article, but I figured it was standard, and I wanted the byline.

I joined a slack group with many contributors and editors—Malik and I were the only Black folks that I knew of. Editors assigned story pieces, but there is also an opportunity to pitch. My first news piece was about the Dragon Ball Frieza arc manga.  Things were moving along, but the wait time to hear back from editors about pitches was ridiculously long. I had to send several emails to follow up. I know they are busy brand and were probably swamped, which I understand. I thought it was customary for things to take that long, but thinking back on it, I realize it’s something I haven’t experienced before or since writing for them.

‪I was there for a few weeks now and never had an issue with any editors. Beyond a few small edits in each piece, I never received complaints about my writing–until it came time to write about Vocaloid queen Hatsune Miku.

There was an associate editor (I believe his name was Luke or something that starts with an L. I wish I could remember.) He was overseeing the editing of this piece. He and I exchanged 40 or so emails back and forth about edits he wanted me to make. As the emails went on, he got more and more impatient, and the emails became harsher. Granted, it was one of my first narrative pieces, but I didn’t think I did that bad of a job. I asked him for writing advice, which he gave curt responses. He eventually gave up asking me for edits and rewrote parts of the article. I’ve reread the article recently and man, it doesn’t sound like me or my style–even in 2016.

‪A week later, after still waiting for answers about pitches I submitted, I finally got approval to write an interview with Key and Peele for the film Keanu. Back then, I had no concept of doing interviews beyond the standard q&a, and they don’t do q&a’s. I did research, asked for advice, and did the best I could. I turned in my writing waiting for notes. Instead, I got fired. Rachel Heine emailed me to say that my lack of writing experience is why I was being let go. My last published article about a baseball game.

I’ve been thinking about my past writing experience and I often wondered  why did Nerdist hire me in the first place? Was it out of guilt because I called them out at Wondercon? Did the previous editor influence the decision somehow? The timing just didn’t make sense to me, that’s why it felt like such a confidence blow–but I could be wrong. I sent them my links, and I’m reasonably sure I explained I had minimal experience. I thought editors were supposed to help shape their writers. I don’t know. Maybe I missed where they needed folks to hit the ground running. I was very new and had a lot of expectations that Nerdist was able to shatter. That’s not a bad thing because it was a big dose of reality.

‪This was five years ago. In the present, I see people of color writing for Nerdist as contributors often. It’s a step in the right direction. Chris Hardwick is no longer there and Malik Forte has moved on, but I can’t tell if things are more inclusive now because the masthead is not available on the site (unless I missed it). I’ve been asked to pitch, and saw request for submissions online from for people of color to submit, but I just didn’t feel comfortable working with them again after that experience.

Not sure if they pay more per article, but I hope to god they do Freelancers deserve to get paid what they are worth. Writers of color even more so because I know there are outlets out there that pay them less than standard.

This may seem trivial to some folks, but as a Black woman being hired to contribute at an outlet that isn’t known for its inclusiveness, only to be unceremoniously fired feels terrible. Even if that wasn’t the intention on their part, its easy for me to feel like I was set to fail from the beginning–like I’m some diversity hire. That shit sucks!

It’s important to know your worth early on. That way, you don’t exhaust yourself to death, working for large companies that pay pennies. Additionally, be sure the outlet is doing its job in making you feel a part of the team, and not as an outsider. Make sure they want you there because you are what they are looking for. Anything else is just not worth it.




Valerie Complex View All

Writer, Critic, and passionate about comics, movies and equality on the big screen.

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