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Widget’s Equity and Diversity Guidelines for Comedy Publishing
Widget is a website that publishes comedy in the form of satire and humour pieces from funny people of all backgrounds in monthly, themed collections.
Our tagline is “fart jokes and anti-capitalism.” Widget is committed to building community: we’ve used our grant funding to prepare open source documents/research (such as this) and free humour writing classes, as well as promoting and donating to charities and causes whose work aligns with our values, and frequently signal boosting (via RT, primarily) other humour writing sites and content creators, and our contributors in general, for no reason other than to help them reach a wider audience and make connections.
Through Grant for the Web, Widget received funding for a six month-long* process to pay their writers a fair rate based on union standards**, invest in these Equity and Diversity Guidelines for Comedy Publishing, and experiment with anti-capitalist thinking to create a sustainable publication.
To accomplish these goals, Widget’s editors commit to tangible actions of editorial accountability, designed to support marginalised and underrepresented voices. You’ll find these actions outlined in this document.
* January-June, 2021
** We initially based this off of rates at CARFAC, though we’d like to do more research to confirm if our benchmarks are accurate.
Centring diverse & underrepresented voices
Widget is an attempt to widen the pipeline for new and underrepresented humour writers at the very start. We will take measures specifically designed to bring in first-time, emerging, and non-traditional writers. We will also take measures to identify and support a community of contributing writers that reflects the diversity of voices in modern humour. This means bringing in voices traditionally marginalised by class, gender, race, neurodiversity, disability, and culture, but also continuing to understand and identify experiences of marginalisation that call for support and welcoming in comedy writing.
Leveraging established writers
We publish in monthly, themed “collections” that curate a series of pieces on a broader topic. Each collection features the work of a guest editor and partner publication as well as non-affiliated writers who submit pitches for review via an anonymous submission process on our website. For more established writers (for our purposes, defined as having published 5+ comedy pieces in several different outlets, worked with several editors and read several sets of guidelines), we will prioritise those from marginalised groups. Writers are expected to promote the work of the entire collection, not just their singular piece. Since one of the goals of this experiment is to support emerging and non-traditional writers, we will provide sample marketing tools such as pre-drafted tweets and social media assets that writers can tweak and use as appropriate, and general guidance on promotion expectations.
Fair & equitable publishing practices
Writers who want to work with Widget will be asked to pitch ideas by sending a brief, roughly 2 paragraph email first explaining their proposed piece to our editorial staff, and then a brief paragraph introducing themselves (including a few samples of published work, if applicable). There will be no fee associated with pitching Widget. Every writer may be published ONE TIME ONLY, at a rate of $200 for each approved piece, during this first, six-month experiment. We pay concurrently with publication (allowing up to 5 business days for payment to be deposited to the contributor’s bank account). We respond as quickly as possible to every submission with detailed, actionable feedback and encouragement.
Accessibility & readability
Our commitment to equity will also be reflected in the ability of everyone to access the work of our writers. We are dedicated to making sure our website is accessible to every reader, absolutely including those who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, and Blind readers. This includes launching with a baseline of accessibility measures that will be updated as we continue to evolve:
- Alt text on all images
- Transcripts for all podcasts
- Best practices as outlined here
Supporting emerging writers
We’ve created free educational resources, such as a 90-minute recorded seminar called “Writing Topical Satire…Fast!” taught by Cailin Kunkel, the creator of The Second City’s online satire writing program, and “Basic Satire & Humour Writing For The Internet” by prolific humorist Riane Konc. At least one additional class is budgeted for and being pursued, with updates to follow through our newsletter/social media. The goal of each of these is to teach a process to allow writers to use the form of short comedy and satire to express their personal beliefs and voice.
We’ve created repeating formats that newer writers can work in, so that they can see examples and have a clear structure to plug their own jokes and point of view into. This can be useful if you are newer to comedy writing, since there will be examples to refer to.
We share open source equity data of submissions and publications. We commit to using volunteered demographic data to ensure that each month’s collection features diversity across a variety of spheres. We will post this information each month.
Widget is committed to publishing authors from underrepresented backgrounds in the humour world (for examples, people who work primarily in other fields like science or politics, people without a college degree, or those from lower socioeconomic status. This is not exhaustive!), and a part of that commitment is making sure that the work we publish does not further marginalise our writers or the communities they come from.
We are committed to having diverse voices in our writing staff, and to not publishing work that could be deemed oppressive or offensive to marginalised people. This includes pieces that rely on “ironic” bigotry, slurs and insults against marginalised people, or work that parrots talking points from bigoted people without interrogating and delegitimizing them. We will always endeavour not to publish any oppressive content. If we do publish anything that our readers deem oppressive, we’ll be transparent in how we evaluate and potentially remove it.
Widget will continue to revisit and update these guidelines as our publication evolves. If readers or contributors want to offer their input on things we may have missed or things we can do better, we encourage them to contact us on our website or on GitHub to share their feedback and help us improve!
The world of comedy writing is not a meritocracy. Work on major outlets is overwhelmingly written by white authors (skewing male) and published by white editors. Many writers who go on to be in the “top” outlets (as defined by reach, prestige, or pay) often take expensive classes or had access to mentors at an earlier age (The Harvard Lampoon, for example). This leads to a homogenous voice that imitates and propagates itself, at the expense of new writers and new audiences.
In addition, these voices have often historically used marginalised experiences as a tool in their jokes or writing, sometimes profiting from an awareness of marginalisation, sometimes perpetuating oppressive narratives to the benefit of their personal profit and platform, and always making clear that their desired audience and the audience of their publication(s) is not those who they write or joke about.
As white, cis-gendered, abled editors, we feel it is essential to create a series of systems to attempt to address this historical inequity, and begin to level the playing field. We begin by detailing some of the challenges and our proposed solutions:
Challenge #1: Many writers have taken the same classes and received the same training — which all costs money and serves as a barrier to entry.
Proposed Solution: Free training classes for all potential Widget writers who want them. They’ll range in topic from Topical Satire Writing, to How to Structure a Piece of Comedy, to Mining Your Marginality for Humour. Free for anyone who signs up for our email list. Each of these classes is 90 minutes or less, and teaches a repeatable process that newer writers can try, and then customize as they continue to develop their own voices. The classes are pre-recorded and self-led, so can be taken at any time.
Challenge #2: Editors serve as gatekeepers, and tend to prefer writing and voices similar to their own.
Proposed Solution: Instituting collections with guest editors from partner publications, specifically working with populations outside of the Widget Editor’s experience. We will compensate and provide additional opportunities to writers for existing publications (for example, forming partnerships with prison journals or labour organizers). The Widget Editorial Team will also undergo training on equity in publishing, and commit to paid conversations with sensitivity readers when necessary.
Challenge #3: Humour and comedy writing can be coded as elitist.
Proposed Solution: Not untrue! Widget will be doing outreach (creating relationships with other editors, signal boosting and promoting the work of marginalised writers, creating active partnerships with existing publications) to underrepresented communities and writers to make sure they’re aware of the paid writing opportunity. We will be encouraging writers with experience in other fields to try their hand at comedy.
Challenge #4: New writers don’t have a wide reach to share their pieces, but more established writers can get bylines elsewhere.
Proposed Solution: We will publish in themed collections, and every writer in a collection will be asked to promote the collection as a whole and their fellow writers. Established writers will be boosting the work of newer writers as they’re featured in the same collection.
Challenge #5: Newer writers require more editing and explicit feedback along the way to their first set of publications.
Proposed Solution: Widget is dedicated to providing this editorial support, making time to work with newer writers, providing detailed feedback to help their work fit the voice of the site, and guide writers toward the goal of publication and payment. For that reason, whereas it’s common in the humour/comedy world to review ONLY complete pieces (which benefits writers who already know the system), Widget will reverse that and ONLY review pitches (to help writers shape their ideas for publication on the site from the beginning). We are also creating repeating formats that every writer is welcome to pitch on.
Challenge #6: Many writers can’t afford to write for free, and humour doesn’t pay.
Proposed Solution: Fair compensation to our writers and partners. Our goal is that marginalised writers that contribute to Widget will benefit from our editorial guidance and the connections we can provide, but we also know that people need to be able to pay their rent. Marginalised writers who have to contend with the gatekeeping we detailed above often have even less access to paid opportunities than their colleagues. Through their Grant for the Web, Widget pays every contributor $200 for their contribution. Payment is the same for each contributor, no matter their level of experience. By committing to working with marginalised writers, we are able to give them the chance to add paid professional writing experience to their resume in a field where it can often be difficult to gain. We’re also offering a financially viable way for entry-level or marginalised writers to gain experience without having to sacrifice time that might be needed to make an income.
The Widget Editorial Team receives no compensation for our work from Grant for the Web funding (or, indeed, at all). Our funding goes entirely into compensation for contributors, consultants, and publishing partners, plus administrative costs. (Of course, this creates a challenge on its own, that of sustainability, seeing as we’re not yet extravagantly wealthy. It is with an awareness of this that we’ve done things like open sourcing our docs (so they can potentially have a second life, independent of the site) and publishing work under a Creative Commons license (so the writers can do whatever they want with it, independent of the site).)
We know we haven’t hit anywhere near all the challenges or solutions, and we will be adding and updating this list as we go. Write in with your thoughts on our feedback form here.
A Note To Our Writers
You can find our process submission guidelines here. Below is an overall note to writers:
Write about what you think is funny. We want you for your jokes and brain, not to exploit your trauma. Your experiences as a member of a marginalised group don’t have to be part of your POV. They certainly can be, but we appreciate that you might want to talk about other stuff, too.
Words we like are: absurd, silly, quirky, asinine, risk-taking. We like things from a leftist/socialist/working class POV. Words we don’t like: smug, patronising, centrist.
Check out our examples and existing formats. You’re welcome to pitch on existing formats, or use these examples of Widget’s voice as a jumping off point to pitch your own unique idea.
How we’re going to publish. We will publish in six themed monthly collections (January–June 2021), details on which you can find here. They are: Myth & Legends, Food & Travel, Work & Money, Family & Community, School & Education, and Arts & Entertainment.
Each collection will have a partner organization.
All writers in a collection commit to promoting the collection as a whole, along with their individual work.
Who we want with us. Widget is dedicated to community building. Community is ever-evolving, but at this stage, community building to us means:
- Actively moderated comments — see our commenting policy here.
- A moderated forum for the site’s audience, with clear commenting rules, requiring registration with a real name and photo.
- Slack channel for contributors (or open-source equivalent)
- The implementation of a community voting system where pitches can be voted up, so there is not one gatekeeper.
This is a new platform, trying a non-traditional approach to comedy. Join us; it’s taking shape, it’s evolving. Help us build something.