The other day, one of our colleagues posted the following on Facebook:
Now offering FREE voiceovers for charity and animal rescue organizations. Please spread the word…
When I first saw this message, my reaction was mixed. At first glance, it looked like a noble thing to do. Times are tough for charities, so why not help them a little. The less they have to spend on advertising, the more money is left for the cause. What could possibly be wrong with that?
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Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.
Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc, a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).
The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).
But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org raves:
“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”
At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:
Newspapers for Blind
This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.
The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.
The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.
Voice-seekers name: confidential
Company name: hidden
I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!
THE AMAZING MR MAY
On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:
“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings. You have a fan.”
One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:
“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”
This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.
A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:
“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”
He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:
“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”
By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.
GIVE ME A BREAK
On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:
“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”
“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”
“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”
But on November 20th, I received the following email:
“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you. We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up. May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.
Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.
I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”
The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:
“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.
At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”
VOICE123 JUMPS IN
At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::
“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.
The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.
When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’
Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.
As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”
Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:
“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”
Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.
For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:
“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”
“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”
I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.
The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.
I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.
Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.
For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?
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