As Told To

By Jewel Wicker

Think of all of the voices that we’re losing…

#3・
22

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Think of all of the voices that we’re losing…
By Jewel Wicker • Issue #3 • View online

Welcome to As Told To. I’m Jewel Wicker, a freelance entertainment and culture reporter whose work has appeared in Billboard, Atlanta Magazine, Pitchfork, The Hollywood Reporter, Teen Vogue, etc. Every other Wednesday, I publish this newsletter, featuring my most recent work (as well as a behind-the-scenes look at my reporting process), and timely commentary on what’s going on in entertainment and media.
I’ve always been a writer. I journaled a lot as a kid, although the older I’ve gotten I’ve found that I don’t enjoy analyzing my experiences and emotions so I often stray away from writing about myself. I spent much of my childhood writing poems, song lyrics, fan fiction (in which I imagined myself dating J. Boog of B2K) and other things, compiling them into an oversized binder and stuffing it into a memory box in the back of my closet. When I was 16, going through my first heartbreak and annoyed my friends didn’t want to listen to all of my music recommendations, I started a blog. At first, I posted pretty infrequently. Then I got an internship at a local studio and they offered to pay me a $500 stipend every two weeks if I managed my blog, hosted an entertainment web show and did some PA work for them. Before this, I never even considered that anyone would pay me to write. I kept this blog, The Jewel Wicker Show (hence my social media names), posting aggregated news, along with concert reviews and other original pieces, until I was 22 years old. My boss at my first newsroom job told me he was impressed that I’d taught myself SEO from running my blog and this was partially why he hired me.
I’ve always been a writer. When I got to college, I learned that my love for writing, natural inquisitiveness and passion for entertainment might lend itself to a career in journalism. I threw myself into student media, national conferences and internships.
But even with my love for writing and reporting, and my network, there’s no way I could’ve been prepared for newsroom culture. Many times throughout my professional career in the past five years I’ve questioned whether or not I was truly cut out to be in media. I never talked about it with others in the industry. I never wanted to complain or be dramatic about the unhealthy environments I worked in. Instead, I settled on expressing gratitude to even be in the rooms at all. It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how many Black reporters throughout the country have been doing the same thing. I’m not in a place where I’m ready to share my own stories, but I absolutely stand by my colleagues who are publicly resisting industry traditions and demanding change.
I recently had a conversation with a Black woman who is an OG in the industry about what’s been going on. We talked about abysmal freelance rates and staff salaries, abusive newsroom environments and how the choices for marginalized journalists often seem slim. Towards the end of the call, she told me I really needed to be clear on why I’m a reporter. The answer, she said, will help me navigate the rough patches but it will also help me walk away from opportunities that don’t benefit me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I enter my third year as a freelancer.
I have been very vocal in the past about the ways in which publications prioritize people of privilege by making pay for both staff and freelance opportunities unreasonably low. Someone asked me how much I get paid to write an article recently and I told them it depends. For example, I was recently paid $250 and $1000 for content on a similar topic and of the same length. The former was for a local publication and the latter was for a national publication. The variance in rates, the contractual attempts to force us to relinquish all ownership (and thus future profits) of our work and the fact that freelancers sometimes have thousands of dollars outstanding at any given time are all reasons why freelance is untenable for anyone who doesn’t have a safety net, whatever that might be. As I’ve said countless times, I’m not excluded from that. I speak out because this should not be the case. We lose important voices when we make it so that most people can’t afford to be a freelance reporter. As a freelancer, I’ve been able to prioritize my physical and mental health in ways that everyone should be able to, whether they’re self-employed or on staff. Whether or not they have a safety net.
Sadly, with low salaries, racist and sexist work environments, newsrooms aren’t much better. With the recent complaints about Bon Appétit, OkayPlayer, Complex, LA Times and other publications, it’s become abundantly clear that many reporters of color are at a breaking point. I know that if my career as freelance reporter hadn’t taken off (and if I couldn’t afford to wait for it to do so), I would’ve left the industry altogether.
Think of all of the voices that we’re losing…
I don’t know when things will change, but I know it’s a part of my purpose to be a part of speaking out about these things. My work in this industry and my position as a board member of the Atlanta Press Club means I’m in a position where I should be doing more than talking about it, though. I should be actively fighting for these changes.IN CASE YOU MISSED IT (a few of my bylines from the past two weeks):
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO & WATCHING:
-Mereba’s The Jungle is the Only Way Out
Mereba - Heatwave (feat. 6LACK)
Mereba - Heatwave (feat. 6LACK)
This is easily one of my favorite albums from the last five years. It’s a celebration of Blackness, strength and vulnerability that still feels extremely timely today. Mereba recently released an acoustic version of “Heatwave” for Juneteenth.
-Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour
Chloe x Halle - Busy Boy (Official Audio)
Chloe x Halle - Busy Boy (Official Audio)
What can I say about the Baby Beys (or Destiny’s Grandchildren) that hasn’t already been said? Ungodly Hour displays the confidence I wish I had in my early twenties.
-Miss Juneteenth (VOD)
I love movies about mother-daughter relationships, probably because I’m so close to my own mom. This film is a tender look at a Black working-class single mom and her attempt to push her daughter further than she was able to go herself. The scenes from this movie stick with you long after it’s over.
(Also, Kendrick Sampson is in this movie sporting fronts and a du-rag and I just want to say if he would’ve looked like this in “Insecure” then maybe Issa would’ve picked the right man.)
-Disclosure (Netflix)
This is required viewing. A thorough look at the way trans women and men have been portrayed on television and in film throughout history, Disclosure shows how the images we grow up viewing impact the way we look at ourselves and others.
RECENT READS:
-The Grammys Still Don’t Get It by Gary Suarez for Vulture
Imagine removing the word “urban” from hip-hop categories only to add it to Latin categories…
It’s been really disheartening to see how many media companies use NDAs to prevent employees from sharing their own stories.
It’s no secret how much I love Tayari and seeing her use our beloved southwest Atlanta as the backdrop for her work.
-Run it Back by Victor Luckerson
This is a newsletter on Victor’s reporting on Black Wall Street ahead of his forthcoming book on the same topic. He’s donating 10% of the proceeds from his work in Tulsa back into the community. This effort is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. As reporters, we’re often sent into communities to report on tragedies. What responsibility do we have to these communities who will deal with the aftermath of receiving national attention long after we’ve left and cashed our checks?
-The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I couldn’t stop texting about this novel in all caps. Buy it, now.
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Jewel Wicker

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