There aren't that many businesses as fucked up as this one (sorry, but there's no better word for it). Far-flung editors treat the people who write for them with little or no courtesy - failing to answer emails, never responding to queries, or failing to acknowledge that they've received a pitch or a commissioned piece.
Perhaps the most integral part of the machine that creates the product that sells the magazines (the writers and photographers) are basically expendable, and are treated as such. There will always be more writers and shooters in line, trying to slip into the fewer and fewer pages of print available out there. So who gives a shit if you pay them six months late?
Where there was once room for a 2,000-word spread there is now space for a 400-word blurb. That means that if you have any original ideas or narrative packed into a travel or food piece, it will be excised in the interest of utility and brevity. Such is today's writing climate.
As magazines cut more of those editors i mention above (and who are holding on as tightly as they can) I'm seeing more lapses of judgment, factual errors, and grammatical missteps in respectable publications. I've also seen a lot of smart people leave this business in the past two years. Much of the writing in today's travel mags is being done by recent college grads who don't travel, and are hiding in cubicles in Midtown Manhattan, or Sydney, or London, relying on google and instinct. It shows.
The other side of the equation is the new online media, that seemingly lets anyone willing to give their words away for free a little space. Free is the new paid; exposure is treated like currency.
Then there is the current crop of people in my specific (food writing) industry that have embraced the tweet or the personal blog. What you get is a lot of distorted journalism - full of vainglorious, vapid, empty details that function primarily as promotional tools. But what about when the promotion becomes the story (because, really, that's what's happening). Who cares what you ate for lunch, or who you're sitting next to?
I'm seeing writers tackle weighty subjects with the same casual approach - like a piece I read today on poverty and the underage sex trade - in 800 words or less. Throw in a single anecdote and very little in the way of actual research and serve. I wouldn't publish something like that for fear of being slaughtered by my peers; but now, it's written, posted and quickly forgotten.
For those of you on the outside who are wondering how bad the current state of print journalism is on the inside, I'll say this: It's more grim than you think. And it's about to get a lot worse for those of us that actually care about a well-crafted story or a studied approach to fact checking, and want to read a publication that they know and trust (because those are changing too...)
It's high time we all start paying for information again. It's ridiculous that we ever thought it could come free. Nothing does.