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What Your Mary Sue Subscription Means to Me

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I love my job here so much that I feel like I have to dial back talking about how much I love it so that I don’t come across like I’m bragging. I’m floored that The Mary Sue exists, and I’m thrilled that we have as much freedom to do what we want with the space we’ve built. But I also know that a lot of our readers might not understand exactly who we are—especially me, since I still feel like The New Kid here, although I’ve almost been here for a year. So, this is me introducing myself, telling you about my history working in media, and how that has all led up to me feeling so proud and so happy to work at a place like The Mary Sue.

To be clear, I wasn’t asked by anyone to write this piece. I wanted to write it. This is what I, personally, want to say about The Mary Sue and why I believe in this place.

I’ve worked in journalism for ten years now, and I have experiences in a lot of different types of places, big and small, corporate and independent, each with their own upsides and downsides. I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary here at TMS, and unless my colleagues are all about to reveal to me that they’ve been messing with me this entire time, THIS PLACE is the best one. The best job I’ve ever had. No, seriously. I’m not being even remotely hyperbolic here.

Here’s my origin story, so you can understand where I’m coming from, literally and figuratively. My first job right out of college was at a local newspaper in Boston called the Phoenix; we were an alt-weekly, and we subsisted entirely on advertising. I started out as a “web intern” in 2006. By the time I left, I was running the entire web department. I helped to drag the entire newspaper into the age of technology and the Internet. I was the resident tech and video games reporter there; I won a NENPA award for this 2011 feature story I wrote about Penny Arcade, and I’m still well-known (and still harassed online, even now) for having written this story about sexism in the fighting games community.

As the years went on at the Phoenix, surviving on ads got harder and harder. It was always easy for us to sell ads in the print edition of the paper; readers tend to respond more positively to ads on paper, in comparison to how they feel about ads online. People have never seemed to like online advertising. But they love the Internet, and they don’t like reading text on paper anymore. That means that publications that subsist entirely on advertising—or revenue from the Classified section, which went extinct thanks to sites like Craigslist—are basically screwed. This is a big part of why it was so difficult for newspapers to move to online, and that’s a problem that the Phoenix had, as well.

The Phoenix went out of business in March of 2013, and I was completely devastated by it. I had been at work until midnight the night before (a regular occurrence for me—we were underpaid, understaffed, and on the brink of extinction), updating our website, making sure everything looked perfect for the launch of the next issue. Little did I know that it would be our last issue. For the next couple years of my life, I worked at all different type of media companies. I worked for independent tiny zines, but I needed money, so I also wrote for much more corporate places. I worried that my dream job literally did not exist anymore, in the current media climate.

In my head, when I thought of my “dream job,” I thought of all the best aspects of every job I’d worked. I wanted it to be independently-owned, like the Phoenix, so that I wouldn’t have to answer to some far-off collection of CEOs. I wanted it to be a place that understood the culture of online communities and fandom—a place that valued my understanding of both nerd communities and feminism. I wanted a place where I could be part of a team of creative, wonderful people—but I didn’t want that team to be so big that I felt like a forgettable cog in a machine. I wanted a place that could afford a collection of real, devoted full-timers; a “work family” where I could go every day, and just devote myself fully to that one publication and make it great.

The unmoored nature of freelancing can provide a sense of freedom, but as a person whose career is extremely important to her—it’s the most important thing in my life, bar none—it felt like floating out at sea, sailing, seeking a port and seeing nothing in sight where I could drop my anchor.

Whatever publication you’re thinking of in your head right now, yes I applied and yes I gave it my all and no, they didn’t want me. Perhaps I was too radical, too personal. Perhaps I complained too much about Street Fighter—I don’t know. All I know is that when I found a job listing for The Mary Sue, and I applied, they got back to me almost right away—and after some agonizing about whether or not The Mary Sue gig was truly as good as it seemed like it was, I accepted the job.

Guess what? It’s not as good as I thought it would be. It’s even better than that.

I mean, they’re technically paying me to tell you that, but I desperately want them to keep on paying me, because this is the job that I waited so long to get—the port that invited me to drop anchor and come ashore and sit down with a cup of tea and dish about the ending of Ex Machina. It’s not like the Phoenix newsroom, where we’d gather around a conference table in person and trade jokes and witticisms. Instead, TMS has a Slack chat channel, where our staff who live across the country can gather around every weekday. The dynamic of coworker camaraderie remains, in virtual form—oh, and now I’m finally in an office of people who understand all the same fandoms that I do.

At TMS, we trade puns and jokes, we commiserate over the harassment we experience online, we console one another and completely understand one another’s experiences when it comes to the type of work we do, and we debate with one another about the articles we want to write, the points we want to make, and the goals we want to reach. We may not always agree, but at our workplace, we consider that a strong suit. For long features, we take the time to have multiple editors look them over and discuss them, each of us bringing our own experiences to the table and recognizing one another’s perspectives as uniquely valuable. Our staff is small enough that we can actually listen to one another and take part in every decision we make, as a team.

At The Mary Sue, we love communication and cooperation—genuinely, like a bunch of lovey-dovey cornballs. When I describe the dynamic of our Slack chat to my own journalist peers, I watch their eyes grow wide with jealousy and longing. Other publications don’t have the same sense of direction and cohesiveness that we do. Maybe it’s because their staffs are too large, or because the staffs just … don’t get along as well as we do? Maybe it’s because they’re corporate-owned and they have to obey directives from on high. All I know is, The Mary Sue has a better working environment than any place I’ve worked before, or any other publication that I’ve heard about from my journalist peers.

All of this is possible for us because, like the Phoenix once was, The Mary Sue is part of a privately-owned media company. In the Phoenix‘s case, that was Phoenix Media Communications Group, which was led by Stephen Mindich, who owned The Boston Phoenix as well as a couple of other publications (e.g. the Portland Phoenix, the Providence Phoenix, etc). In the case of TMS, it’s a similar ownership situation—we’re owned by Abrams Media, led by Dan Abrams.

The Mary Sue probably would not even exist if we were owned by one of the big six (GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS). What’s more, there are fewer big media corporations that even exist now compared to thirty years ago. That’s not something that you should be happy to hear, by the way.

This is a place where I can write my “radical” opinions, and I will be safe. I won’t be perceived as a “risky hire” because of my politics—and I’m definitely not going to lose my job for having too many opinions about Street Fighter or whatever. Instead, my personality and my values are seen as a plus side here, as a voice that I deserve to cultivate.

On that same score, my colleagues never pressure me to write stories that I’m not comfortable writing. Sometimes I just don’t feel able to cover a topic if it hits too close to home. I’ve never gotten a directive from on-high demanding otherwise—not even once. I get to write about the topics that I feel passionate about, and I get to do it on my own terms. I have the input from my smart-as-hell colleagues to edit and aid me in my work, and I also simultaneously have the freedom to write or not write about my take on the news of the day.

Remember at the beginning of this piece, when I told you about my heartbreak over the Phoenix closing? That experience was so gut-wrenching for me, and it’s one that I hope to never experience again. Unfortunately, it’s a sad reality of many beloved publications now. It no longer appears to be possible to sustain a publication on the power of ads alone—even a publication with a small staff. It’s not just about ad-blockers; there just isn’t a tried-and-true funding methodology for supporting online media, right now. Advertising doesn’t cover all of the costs, but many people worry that subscriptions won’t cover all of the costs, either.

That’s why we’re now doing a blend of both here at The Mary Sue. You don’t have to pay for the subscription if you can’t afford it, and you don’t even have to turn off your ad-blocker if you don’t want to. However, if you can afford it, and you want to support valuable independent media, it costs you $5 a month. As you probably know if you’re already a reader here, that subscription will earn you an ad-free version of the site, a subscriber-only newsletter, and monthly live chats with our editors. It will also allow us to pay all of our contributors.

You’re also paying for The Mary Sue to continue to exist in the first place, and for us to be able to share more original content than we ever have before. I recently wrote about queer subtext in The Little Mermaidmagic in the MCU, and my thoughts on how to write better fictional robots. Those features took hours of research and time to write, and features like that would not have been possible without our subscribers’ support.

I do realize how annoying it is to be asked to subscribe to something. I wrote this because we have to ask you to subscribe, but also because I wanted to tell you my own personal story, because I think you have a right to know where each of us is coming from and how important this work is for every one of us. So hopefully you’ll understand, on reading this, why it’s so important to me and to the rest of my colleagues that you consider supporting The Mary Sue if you can.

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