“Look at what’s out there!” said Joe McGinniss, the veteran fiction and nonfiction writer, on the phone with The Observer from his home in Amherst, Mass., on Tuesday. “The magazine that paid well, Portfolio, is out of business! And here, at the other end of spectrum, you get paid $250 and you have to sign your life away.”
It’s the freelancer’s lament these days, and Mr. McGinniss was mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore. So when he recently took to the Facebook page of his son, Joe McGinniss Jr.—author of the novel The Delivery Man—to trawl for ideas for a new book, he also took an opportunity to swipe at Tina Brown’s Daily Beast.
“They said they’d pay $250,” he wrote on Facebook. “But then they said they’d only pay if I signed an agreement that is the nuttiest, most onerous, restrictive contract I’ve seen in 40 years of seeing contracts given to writers. I said I couldn’t sign it. Never heard from them again. And, of course, never got paid.”
The message was picked up by Page Six on Tuesday morning.
We got a copy of a Daily Beast contract (from another contributor), and looked on with Mr. McGinniss (virtually, anyway) as he noted what most infuriated him.
“All exclusive rights, title and interest of every kind and nature in and to the Material are owned by Company, in all languages, formats and media, whether now known or hereafter created, throughout the universe in perpetuity,” the contract said.
“They printed it one time!” he said of his article. “I wrote it. I would think the copyright should remain with me. If I wanted to use it some place else, they’re saying I can’t have anyone else print this because they own it!”
One part of the agreement stipulated that a writer agree to the Daily Beast’s confidentially agreement. Mr. McGinniss didn’t like the sound of this, either.
“You’re surrendering your right to free speech? If someone calls me up and reads that article and wants to ask me or interview me about something, I’m not allowed to do that under the terms of the agreement,” he said.
And there’s another part—a passage about how the Daily Beast has the “right to use and exploit the Material in any and all languages, formats and media … in whole or in part”—that he interpreted to mean that editors have access to his source information.
Mr. McGinniss has written for Vanity Fair, Playboy, The Times Magazine, Harper’s, Sports Illustrated and Portfolio, among other outlets.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
“The purpose of my writing this thing [on Facebook] wasn’t just to stir up trouble with the Daily Beast,” he added. “I’m looking for a good idea for a book.”
Although he has yet to find that book idea, it looks like Mr. McGinniss’ Facebook post worked out another way.
Shortly after we emailed a Daily Beast spokeswoman for reaction to Mr. McGinniss’ comments, we received an email from Mr. McGinniss telling us that he got a note from a Daily Beast editor that said “they can change the contract language and that I certainly will get paid whether or not I sign it.”
The editor also said he’d like Mr. McGinniss to write again.
As for other contributors? A Daily Beast spokeswoman wrote us this email: “[Executive Editor] Edward Felsenthal had a private conversation with Joe and intends to keep it private. The Daily Beast contracts remain status quo.”