L.A. Alternative Publisher Martin Albornoz stiffs 1947project

(See update below) 

Gentle reader,

How pleased I was, during Sunset Junction week in late August, when the L.A. Alternative published an issue of their free weekly featuring my three-page pull-out crime map detailing the historic oddities and horrors of the Sunset Junction neighborhood. I heard from folks who attended the street fair that it was a big hit, with people walking around checking addresses and shuddering. (The Sunset Junction story can now only be seen right here at 1947project.)

A month after my story came out, publisher Martin Albornoz announced the paper was folding, but that he hoped to continue publishing online. Although at this point I was wondering where my payment was, I still dashed off a friendly email telling Martin that my husband Richard and I would be happy to meet with him and give him some ideas about how to pull this off, as we believed he and his writers had a lot to offer the community. He never replied.

Nor did Martin reply to my repeated emails, as the weeks ticked away with no sign of the $250 payment for the feature. I sent a certified letter demanding the money, which went uncollected. So I finally phoned and left a message, which resulted in the following email on November 27:

Hello Kim,
 
I just heard your message and Lesley had forwarded me your email last week. I'm not sure how much you know about the office and the state of LA Alternative but we aren't in business anymore. We stopped publishing the print and online version about a month ago. I haven't been in the office for about a month, I started a full time job, so I haven't had a chance to pick up any mail or cut any checks. We are trying to cover as many outstanding obligations as possible when money trickles in from our advertisers.
 
You are on the list of people who need to be paid. I will be writing some checks in the next few weeks. Thanks for all your help and thanks for your understanding.
 
Best,

Martin
 
To which I replied:
 
Hi Martin,

Yes, I am aware that you stopped publishing. In fact, you may recall
that I emailed you offering to advise you about your online options,
but received no reply.

Nonetheless, I wrote a story several months prior to the LAA closing,
and am owed $250 for it. I would appreciate your putting me high on
the list of people to be paid. I will extend the courtesy of
additional three weeks to you before pursuing other options. Please
ensure I receive payment by December 18.

I heard from Michele that Lesley thinks she remembers sending me a
check. So it is possible that you have already tried to pay me and the
check was lost in the mail. I would appreciate your checking on this,
and recutting the check if that is the case.

I would also appreciate it if you would mail me a stack of copies of
the issue with my cover story. Bulk rate is fine.

Thanks, and best regards,

Kim Cooper
 
He did not reply. Two days ago, I emailed to remind Martin it has been three weeks, and I have still not been paid.
 
Hi Martin,

It has been three weeks since I last heard that "in a few weeks" you
would be writing checks, and there has been no sign of payment for my
cover story, nor of the copies of that issue that I asked for.

Are you prepared to make good on this debt now, or must I go forward
with the plan for publicizing the non-payment and filing in small
claims court that I spelled out previously [in the certified letter that I later emailed to Martin]?

Please spare us both any additional bother and awkwardness and send me
$250 now, or let me know exactly when you will be doing so. I am
willing to work with you, but not to wait indefinitely for payment,
especially if you don't keep me informed of the situation.

thanks,

Kim Cooper
 
He ignored that email, too. And so it is with no pleasure that I am going public with this dishonorable tale, in hopes that it will inspire Martin to take responsibility for his debt and to let any other writers in the same situation know that they are not alone.
 
I've known Martin socially for more than a decade. I've consigned zines in his former zine shop in Silver Lake and had a Scram release party there. I've had nice conversations with him, publisher-to-publisher. I'm really shocked by how this has played out, and apologize to all of you for airing his dirty drawers here on 1947project. But I do think it's important to shine a light on wrong-doing, and so here's a blast of pure white.
 
Martin, send me my money, and pay off your other contributors. It's the honorable thing to do, and it will make the next stage of your life more tolerable. Otherwise, I guess I'll see you in small claims court. What A Drag.
 
*
Email received from Martin, 2pm December 20:
 
Hello Kim,
 
I just got word from someone that you've sent out an email about L.A. Alternative owing you money. I really am sorry about us owing you money, but we can't pay with what we don't have. We are owed money by some large advertisers and we owe lots of vendors money, hence, we went out of business. So, other than looking kind of petty, I'm not sure what you've accomplished. Like I mentioned to you, the newspaper will be filing for bankruptcy, which means you'll get a letter stating that you're owed money and once the process goes through, you'll get your $250 out of the sale of the assets. With what's owed to some vendors, I don't believe there will be much left over but I do hope that you won't be affected too harshly by this outcome. It really is unfortunate when a business can't survive, but considering the hostile business environment that newspapers are currently in, this may become more common. Our self-published paper did give the huge corporate weeklies a run for the their money and thank you for being a part of that.
 
Good luck with your project, which btw, we supported in free ads announcing your readings and in the article which prominently mentioned your website.

 
--Martin
 
My reply:
 
Dear Martin,

Why is it that the only way I can get you to communicate with me is to
send out a mass email and post on my blog? You have had several weeks
in which to respond to my polite request for information on when I
would be paid, and you've ignored me. You never mentioned bankruptcy.
You actually said you would be sending checks out within several
weeks, which did not happen, so I emailed you again, waited two days,
and then went public.

I'm very appreciative of the support of the local press for the
1947project, and am always willing to give time and assistance to
reporters who have questions. But I worked for two weeks writing and
researching a huge story for your paper, which is something very
different.

I wish you only the best, and hope that you will see fit to honor your
promise to pay for this story. And it would be quite a nice gesture of
goodwill if you were to send me those extra copies of my feature that
I have asked you for several times.

I will update the blog entry with any good news you can send, which
should be an added incentive to you to do the right thing.

best regards,

Kim Cooper

 

The Little Paper That Couldn't

Albornoz wrote: "So, other than looking kind of petty, I'm not sure what you've accomplished."

Please.

Kim, I think you accomplished much more and certainly none of it made you look petty. You were polite, considerate and set a time frame for action. It's Albornoz who comes off as petty and disingenuous. Not only did he ignore you with impunity, but first he says he's going to pay you and when he finally responds he says he won't. That's chicken-feathered bullshit but I'll refrain from slinging any other derogatories in Albornoz's bankrupt direction.

I contributed to an ensemble LAA cover story this summer on dangerous dining, and while I can't speak to the other participating writers getting compensated (one of whom was Ryan of Losanjealous)I was permitted little delusion of being paid for my services thanks to Michele who was very upfront with me about the paper's precarious financial footing. She even told me not to hold my breath in getting reimbursed for the meal I purchased and reviewed, but as the bill was ten bucks I didn't sweat it.

Having supported the LAA as a regular reader, occasional letter-to-the-editor writer and that one time as a bylined contributor I was saddened when it died, but not totally heartbroken. However thin Albornoz's resources were stretched in his attempt to compete with the other alt-weeklies, it appears he cultivated a pronounced culture of dismissive disregard towards writers that should not be allowed to stand and for that I'm glad it didn't.

Obviously my scenario is on a much smaller scale than yours. I remember that section on Sunset Junction sins. It was awesome -- one of the best things that paper published. That you didn't get compensated for it is a crime in itself.