Thursday, July 22, 2010

writing for free. or close to it...

Go here for an inside look at life on the "content farm". It's a look at the uber-creepy underbelly of digital journalism. If only all the underemployed journalists would just say NO...

The MediaShift piece, by Corbin Hier, starts thus:

"We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year," AOL's media and studios division president David Eun said last month in an interview with Michael Learmonth of Ad Age. Eun suggested that AOL could double its existing stable of 500 full-time editorial staffers in addition to expanding its network of 40,000 freelance contributors. Many of the jobs will be added to its hyper-local venture, Patch, while the majority of AOL's freelancers will work for the company's content farms -- Seed and the recently acquired video production operation, StudioNow.

These two areas into which AOL is ambitiously expanding are the fastest growing sectors of the journalism market. Hyper-local networks like and content farms such as Demand Media are flourishing. As Eun's bold prediction indicates, more and more journalists will end up working for new online content producers. What will these new gigs be like? To better understand, I reached out to people who have already worked with some of the big players.

And then gathered stories like this one about the worst -- and the biggest money maker -- of the bunch, Demand Media:

"A lot of my friends did it and we had a lot of fun with it," said one graduate of a top journalism graduate program when asked about her work for Demand Media. "We just made fun of whatever we wrote."

The former "content creator" -- that's what Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt calls his freelance contributors -- asked to be identified only as a working journalist for fear of "embarrassing" her current employer with her content farm-hand past. She began working for Demand in 2008, a year after graduating with honors from a prestigious journalism program. It was simply a way for her to make some easy money. In addition to working as a barista and freelance journalist, she wrote two or three posts a week for Demand on "anything that I could remotely punch out quickly."

The articles she wrote -- all of which were selected from an algorithmically generated list -- included How to Wear a Sweater Vest" and How to Massage a Dog That Is Emotionally Stressed," even though she would never willingly don a sweater vest and has never owned a dog.

As if that weren't demoralizing enough, Demand pays the grand sum of about 15 bucks per piece in order to take advantage of struggling journalists. One free-lancer, who wrote for Demand to supplement his salary as an adjunct professor, only made it worthwhile by writing three pieces an hour for four hours a day. You can imagine the quality of the reporting. Oh, wait.

When the industry appears to be crumbling around us, you do what you gotta do. I'm sure that there are a good number of folks who swallow their pride just because they want to write. But please, let's don't call it journalism. Or kid ourselves that digital outfits like Demand are going to fill the void. bk

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