The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘They Aren’t Sitting on Their Sofas Trying to Fill a Quota on a Content Farm’

Posted on | July 12, 2011 | 23 Comments

And “thank God” for that, says laid-off journalist-turned-blogger Susannah Breslin:

This is what the state of journalism is today: a mess.

Tell it, sister! The expression “content farm” would describe, inter alia, Demand Media, which reportedly pays as little as $15 per article for freelance contributions. At that rate, you could write 30 articles a month and collect $450. PBS did a story about “content farms” last year.

Yesterday, Ladd Ehlinger Jr. actually suggested we should create a different kind of “content farm,” after the model of HuffPo’s write-for-free deal to bloggers: Hey, kiddies, here’s your chance to be published on a big fancy name-brand site and “get your name out there.”

But I explained to Ladd that (a) I couldn’t stand the vast negative karma we would accrue by rolling that way, and (b) working with volunteer contributors brings with it the essential problem of all volunteer organizations, namely that you can’t fire anybody: “You’ve screwed up once too often! You’re fired! No more writing for free!”

Without a salary structure, there are no carrot-and-stick incentives by which an editor can exercise authority over the staff. Volunteers would contribute whatever struck their fancy, and the “editor” would not really be able to assign stories and enforce deadlines. If I can’t call up a writer and say, “Give me 400 words on the president’s latest budget proposal by six p.m.” — with the implicit understanding that there would be consequences for the writer’s failure to meet the deadline — I’m not really the editor, am I?

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong per se with expecting reporters to “fill a quota.” For about eight months early in my career, I worked on the Neighbor newspaper chain (subsidiaries of Otis Brumby’s Marietta, Ga., Daily Journal) and it was expected that staff writers would produce 8-10 bylined stories per week, or about two stories a day. That’s a pretty stiff schedule, and some reporters would quit after a few weeks, unable to keep pace, but lots of people cranked it out like that week after week for years.

My gig with the Neighbor papers was as a sports editor, a job that was arguably even more demanding than the news staff. Basically, you were a one-man section, responsible for filling up however many pages they gave you — six or eight or 12, whatever. And what a crank-it-out attitude that encouraged!

Somewhere, packed away in a box, I’ve still got some of those old sports pages, and I hesitate to dig them out and read that stuff I wrote when I was 27. However, there was a salary ($225 a week) and an office and a boss, whom I finally told to kiss my ass one fine summer day 24 years ago, and next took a job as a DJ in a strip club on Fulton Industrial Boulevard. But I digress . . .

A news organization cannot be run as a volunteer outfit, with people contributing whatever strikes their fancy whenever it suits them to write it. Neither, however, should we accept as necessary the kind of utterly demoralizing experience of cranking out crappy articles for $15 a pop.

There have been many days when my net earnings as a blogger were less than $15 a day — in fact, at this point, I owe Smitty a fair sum for hosting fees — but that’s different. Writing for your own site, you are the proprietor, and the only one you’re screwing over is yourself.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been in such a foul mood lately: There’s no boss to tell to kiss my ass.

(Hat-tip: Instapundit.)


23 Responses to “‘They Aren’t Sitting on Their Sofas Trying to Fill a Quota on a Content Farm’”

  1. Finrod Felagund
    July 13th, 2011 @ 2:28 am

    This is actually surprisingly easy to do.  Any site you don’t want your machine connecting to, put them in your hosts file (/etc/hosts on Unix, wherever it lives under Windoze) under, after localhost and whatever else is there.

    What will happen is that your machine instead of doing a DNS lookup for or whatever will say “oh, it’s here locally” and look locally, and not find it pretty much immediately, and give up.  I used to do this with ad sites until there became so many different ad sites that I couldn’t keep up with them all any more.