A fundraising campaign to pay The Pool’s journalists has reached its target of £24,000 within five days as the organiser says reporters are owed more than £65,000.
Julia Kingsford, agent and co-founder at The Good Agency, launched the crowdfunder on Friday (1st February), after the lifestyle website fell into administration. The Go Fund Me scheme has raised £24,000 to help The Pool's staff and freelance journalists.
The online women’s magazine had faced mounting criticism over late payments to freelancers, freezing commissions earlier this month, and soon after it emerged that its 24 employees were working without having received January’s paycheck.
On the crowdfunding page, Kingsford wrote: "Thank you to everyone who has given… BUT I've now had 31 staff and freelancers tell me what they're owed and it adds up to over £65,000 - and there are a lot more who have been in touch but not yet registered the amount they're owed. I imagine it will be in excess of £100,000… We have decided to close the fund at midnight on Monday 11th February and have asked all freelancers and staff to fill in a form we have created by then so that we can, as quickly as possible, have a full view of what we have raised and how much people haven't been paid and to start making payments as soon as possible."
Many in the publishing industry paid tribute to The Pool, which was formed by radio presenter Lauren Laverne and ex-Cosmopolitan editor Sam Baker in 2015. It hosted significant books content with frequent interviews with authors, a regular Bedtime Bookclub feature as well as various literary partnerships including many with Pan Macmillan.
Kingsford told The Bookseller: “I loved The Pool, I really was incredibly sad to see it go and realised there would be writers who were now struggling. It is a chance for people to step up and help. I can’t make much of a difference on my own but I realised we could make a difference together.
“I thought I don’t know what I would do if I thought I would get paid and then the money wasn’t there. I am lucky because I have a safety net from people who love me but some don’t and this is money which people have earned.”
The agent described the fundraising target as an “arbitrary” one, based simply on the staffcount, and has urged people to continue donating as the amount owed to The Pool’s writers is believed to be much more, with the crowdfunder remaining open.
“I don’t yet know how many people were owed what, I have been in touch with 40 people…. I set it at £24,000 as an arbitrary figure and people are owed much more than that, altogether people are owed in excess of the six figures [the Observer also reported the final figure owed would total six figures].”
Kingsford is working with The Pool's editor Sevilla, who joined the website in September, to verify and administer the amounts owed, asking all those affected to contact her by next Monday (11th February), and revealed she had already made a few emergency payments to people over the weekend “who were struggling to pay rent” while “some have said I don’t need it as much as other people so I don’t want to draw on it”.
Kingsford, who launched The Good Agency in 2017 to champion under-represented voices, described how The Pool’s demise has impacted on the publishing community because of the space it afforded books in an ever-squeezed media landscape.
“There is a clear venn diagram of women in publishing and what the Pool reflects…. It was important for the publishing industry because it was very geared to books at a time when lots of publications are giving less space to books. They really gave books and writers a special space featured established writers but it was also a place for up-and-coming talent.”
The Bookseller has reported on mounting pressure on books coverage in the media with the Independent going online, the Telegraph cutting literary specialists in 2016 as well as scaling back on the Guardian’s website, Glamour magazine and the Press Association (PA) in 2017. On Tuesday, hundreds of freelance journalists posted an open letter to media editors urging for an end to payment on publication, respect for late payment fees and calling to update a “not fit-for-purpose payment systems”.
Kingsford believed The Pool helped nurture writers’ careers, with many of its staffers and freelancers writing books, and believes the publishing world will be poorer because of this.
“If I was a commissioning editor I would be interested in what these writers will do now,” she said. “It would not be uncommon for people who are freelance journalists to be commissioned for a book for £5,000 or £10,000 and when you look at younger people who end up with less because of the costs of living, journalists often end up earning less [than in their day job] when they take a sabbatical to write a book.”
She added: “We are not at arm’s length at what is going on in media. These changes in the media impacts on the publishing industry, we are not immediately excluded from it and it is not that far removed from us. It also comes back to some deep philosophical conversations about what you commission and what you pay... The publishing industry has dilemmas about this currently, this is discussed in board rooms and in pay grades way above mine.”
On Monday, Sevilla revealed she and other staff had lost access to their work email accounts and said she has yet to be provided with the administrator’s contact details. It has not yet been announced the name of the administrators.
Sevilla told The Bookseller of the fundraising campaign: “We're very grateful to Julia for setting this up, and we're so overwhelmed by the response. Myself and one of my colleagues are in contact with Julia and we're working with her on verifying who is owed money, and how much. We're agreeing on a system to make sure funds are allocated fairly and appropriately. Myself and a few others are exempting ourselves so the funds go to those who need it most.”
Many authors lamented the closure of The Pool with debut novelist Caroline O'Donoghue, who previously has worked for the website, urging people to pay for the media they consume: "If you're sad that The Pool is dead, please consider buying a subscription to a UK news organisation (the Times, the Telegraph, idc) and tell them why you're doing it.... Say you believe in paid media."
Former Pool staffer Zoe Beaty told the New Statesmen: “We can’t ignore the fact that this model for journalism isn't working, and that creative services are skills that can no longer be consumed for free."
Meanwhile many writers have continued to pay tribute to the website's championing of books. Author Kerry Hudson tweeted of her forthcoming memoir of growing up in poverty, Lowborn (Vintage): “I would never have written it if it hadn't been for The Pool columns and how the response to them helped me through the process of writing it.”
Fellow author Lisa Owens also paid tribute to The Pool, saying “It was also hugely passionate about books & new writing, and I will always value the support it gave me as a debut novelist.”
Writer Eve Thomas said on Twitter: "I can understand why creatives who don’t work in journalism/media aren’t sounding the alarm on this but... folks, just wait til you want coverage for your cause, album, book, business, event, etc. A smaller pool of paid creators — and people to pitch to — hurts everyone."