The first thing I want to say is that there was nothing impulsive about any of the decisions I’m about to share with you. I first made them in my head in late 2018, and officially committed to today’s date in January. As soon as I did so, I gave a small group of my most frequent contributors a heads-up about this announcement. Not too long after that, I closed submissions to the site, in an effort to slow them down. (If you can believe it, we had enough pieces lined up by the end of February to get us to the end of May, and my biggest priority has been making sure that I wouldn’t exceed my budget or schedule in that time.) Closing submissions didn’t slow the rate of pitches in my inbox the way I had intended, so if you emailed me at any point in the last several months and thought I seemed weird and vague and like I was talking around something that I couldn’t share, well, I was!  

I realize I’m giving you a lot of information here—arguably more than necessary—but I feel the need to do that because I wouldn’t want someone to read this news and assume that I one day got bored with the site and decided to walk away from it, with my contributors as an afterthought. I’ve actually been writing this Editor’s Note on and off since February. I also want to be so transparent because Reel Honey has now had 118 contributors in total (combining writers and visual artists, and then accounting for the fact that those two groups have sometimes overlapped) in my time as Editor-in-Chief, and it wouldn’t be what it is today without their passion and labour over the last two and a half years.

So, here are the two decisions that I want you to know were not made impulsively or lightly: 1) Reel Honey will go on hiatus indefinitely after this month’s issue, and 2) Regardless of how long said hiatus lasts, these next few weeks are my final ones as Editor-in-Chief. (A few housekeeping notes: The site will remain live indefinitely, too, so you don’t have to worry about your work disappearing. I’d send a mass email to all past contributors were that ever to change. Unless it’s part of this month’s “Change” issue, all accepted pieces should also currently appear on the site—assuming they were submitted on time—but please email me if you believe I’ve made a mistake.)

I’d like to spell out a couple things so that I can minimize the number of lingering questions people may have after reading this. (If you do have any lingering questions, though, please feel free to email me!) Those things include: why I’m personally walking away from the site, and why I’m not passing it off to someone else—at least not right now.

I first started putting this project together in my head in 2015. That wasn’t exactly many years ago, but they happened to be big years as far as one’s life goes: I was a teenager at the time, and now I’m not. When Reel Honey officially launched in 2017, about a month before I graduated from film school, I envisioned it as a sort of launchpad for aspiring culture writers, a group I considered myself to be part of. (I’m enormously happy with how the site has fared on that front, but more on that shortly.) Naively, I figured that it would mostly be my classmates from university contributing and that I’d probably struggle to find at least one piece to run every single week. (I raised enough money to pay for about that many pieces for a year, and had no financial plan beyond that.) At the time of the site’s launch, I’d never been paid to write anything myself and had never really “edited” anything that wasn’t my friends’ cover letters. All of this is to say, I didn’t really know what I was doing—just that I was good at making lists, catching typos, and hanging out on social media.  

Despite this, things have gone so, so well. By the end of the month, we will have published 221 written pieces in total (many with original works of art). Included in that number are the nine themed issues we’ve run, each with its own cover illustration. A number of artists and filmmakers—including but not limited to Elsie Fisher, Abbie Cornish, Alyssa Edwards, Gurinder Chadha, Tina Majorino, Sarah Paulson, and Patton Oswalt—have acknowledged and/or responded publicly to some of these written works. (That Patton Oswalt crashed the site for a few minutes will forever be a highlight.)

So many accomplishments, of course, haven’t been quantifiable or at all related to being noticed by famous people, as cool as that’s been. I’ve had several contributors tell me that they used their work for the site to land themselves full-time jobs or get into their graduate programs of choice. There’s been a real sense of community among many of our contributors, which I’m only marginally responsible for. Some have had their pieces go viral unexpectedly, some have been invited onto podcasts to chat about them, many have found or strengthened their voices as writers. It’s really cool to edit the same person’s work for a couple of years and notice that there are fewer edits with each piece, or that they seem to be developing a beat of sorts.    

On a personal level, I’ve met so many wonderful people running this site. I’ve grown immensely on several fronts and have been very lucky to have certain opportunities come my way because of it. I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t prevented me from a few others because of the time and commitment involved in managing it. I want to make very clear—because it’s entirely true—that for the last two and a half years, I’ve been very happy to choose Reel Honey over the odd personal work opportunity that wouldn’t accommodate me also managing it. But in February, I was offered a spot in a Master’s program that I’ve had my eye on for years—it’s an intensive, and so I wouldn’t be able to juggle both it and the site—and I accepted the offer. Speaking honestly, it’s just time for the next chapter. The reason I’m calling this an “indefinite hiatus,” by the way, is that it’ll last at least a year and a half (so that I can complete my program) but I don’t have a “what’s next” plan beyond that. I’d rather play things by ear.

I’m sure many people will wonder why I’m not handing editing and managing duties over to someone else, or even divvying up those roles. This option is one I quite literally spent all of last fall considering, and, in the end, there are two main reasons why not. The first, if I’m again being completely honest, is that said person(s) has/ve not come along yet. (Please note that I am kindly not asking for recommendations at this time.) The second is that our current financial plan, the one that I’ve been playing by ear for two and a half years, is far from sustainable. Even paying contributors something as meager as $30 USD per piece (a rate I was never particularly proud of) has been a real challenge, and, because crowdfunding is only so great, a more than ideal amount of our overall expenses have come out of my own pocket in the end (and I’ve personally made exactly $0.00 from the site, so… again, not sustainable). Were I to pass Reel Honey down to someone, I’d want to fix this, since paying contributors has always been a non-negotiable part of the plan.

Unless you’re one of the two dozen people who’ve known about these plans since January, this announcement might be coming as a total surprise (especially if you’re one of the writers whose debut piece only went up in the last few weeks; trust me when I say that it’s been as privately awkward for me as it probably is for you right now). After all, these last several months have been some of the site’s strongest, which I’ll attribute to Murphy’s Law more than anything else. It might seem weird to walk away from it when things are going so well, but I also heard once that the best time to leave a party is when you’re having the most fun, before there’s an awkward lull and the fun people leave and your friend’s second cousin starts puking. To translate that to the current context, it makes the most sense to me to walk away when things are really good, when Sarah Paulson just responded to a piece last week and page views have only ever increased and no contributor has ever gone unpaid (or been paid super late, or been paid a reduced rate, etc.).   

I know that the site has come to mean a lot to some people, and so my initial announcement wasn’t universally well-received. (That’s also part of why I’m going so ham on this last Editor’s Note.) I totally get it. It’s hard out there for young writers and freelancers, and I’m aware that I’m now responsible for yet another (modestly) paying site closing its doors. However, there are two things that I see as unequivocally good. One is that quite a few similarly-focused sites, startups, zines, and podcasts have popped up since we first did; it seems like there’s a new one every month. The second, and it’s actually related, is that there’s far more interest in getting marginalized groups into film criticism than there was when we launched. The cause has a lot more momentum now, partly due to the research studies that have confirmed the (still pretty dismal) numbers and partly due to the prominent voices (i.e. Brie Larson and Jessica Chastain) who’ve brought increased attention to it.  

When Quinn Rockliff, this month’s cover artist (who also designed our very first cover two and a half years ago! I love a bookend!) sent over her ideas for the theme of “Change,” I immediately fell in love with the one that you’ll see below. From the little flags to the upward and downward slopes, it sort of sums up everything that is being a young person who writes online. Reel Honey was conceived (sorry) as a sort of checkpoint for writers on the way to something bigger and better, and, as I’ve mentioned, so many contributors have moved on to bigger and better things. I re-read my very first Editor’s Note to write this, and it appears that I said, “There’s a huge, untapped talent pool of writers my age who don’t know where or how to start. And honestly, if this project inspires a single one of them to pursue film journalism or criticism professionally, I’ll be more than satisfied.” That sort of thing’s hard to measure, so you’ll have to let me know.

We’ll be operating at 100% until the 22nd of June, to be clear, when I’ll post my official “goodbye for now” messages. Until then, we have eight pieces for you to read throughout the month on the theme of “Change.” I’ve edited the first batch so far; they’re wonderful and I hope you’ll follow along with the issue. I’ve been a ball of nerves for months about this day, and haven’t really looked anyone in the eye in a week, but I hope that I’ve explained myself well. If you have any questions at all—if you have a highlight that I don’t know about or didn’t acknowledge, if you’ve never written for the site but have read it religiously, if you have a favourite piece—please get in touch. It would mean a lot to me.   


Sydney Urbanek

Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Reel Honey

About the cover: Quinn Rockliff is an interdisciplinary feminist artist. Her subject matter largely consists of nude self-portraits that contemplate sexuality and reclamation through self-representation. Recently completing a Masters of Fine Arts at OCADu, her thesis work explores the way that as a survivor of sexual assault, social media can be used as a healing tool, unpacking the precarity of the boundary between virtual and physical embodiment. First working in simple yet dynamic expressions of form in ink and watercolour, her practice has expanded off the page to sculpture, installation art, tattoo design, and various digital mediums.