Experience Counts for Little With a Writing Sample: The Inquisitr

Screenshot of The Inquisitr recruitment page
It is interesting to note that The Inquisitr, which appears at first glance to be a content mill which requires 100 plus articles per month from its “staff,” require applicants to provide three examples of work published and then ask for a written sample. When submitting your three urls of past work they then state that to save time you may want to write a sample article based on topics provided by them.

After submitting prior work they then inform you that the sample must be written anyway. Fair enough. It is, after all, their company and if they prefer to not mention up front that the sample article is a requirement, so be it.

At no time are any guidelines offered for this sample. After punching out a fluff piece on Heidi Swedberg, a former Seinfeld cast member, I waited over the weekend with no response from my contact at The Inquistr. No email stating that they had received the sample and no feedback. After following up my submission with two emails, the first was a one-word query, “Feedback?” The second asked if they had even gotten the sample.

After getting a response saying that they had and it was being evaluated, the very next day I learn that they do not like the sample and it has not “passed the quality” evaluation required. Could I please write another one.

Uh…That would be a no.

Since 2011 I have written 2478 blog posts for my personal site, I wrote just under 2000 articles for the Guardian Liberty Voice, where I worked as Deputy Managing Editor for Entertainment, 40 articles for Viral Global News, since December 2014, around 7 for Rogue Cinema, I left to work at GLV, and around 3 or 4 for another company called WhatCulture! the last two sites paid nothing to their writers. These stories include interviews, film reviews, television recaps and reviews as well as other types of articles.

I did mention that I’d worked at the Guardian Liberty Voice for 18 months, my position and even provided a link to the site, where I wrote my little heart out, for pay. Their response was that they still required the sample. Again, fair enough. Except for the lack of guidelines, apart from it had to be around 400 words, I had no real issue with the requirement.

Such a short bit of work was a “walk in the park” and took little time to put together. Ensuring that nothing was plagiarized (to the best of my knowledge) and that it contained the “trending” information relevant to Ms. Swedberg was not a problem. This was to be, after all, a sample article, not to be published but used, I thought, to show what I could do. A little something that they would use to provide proper feedback on what they were looking for.

This was not the case. Their response? Write another one which may show your skills a bit better. There was no explanation of what I did “wrong” or what they were expecting. Entertainment pieces are not “real” journalism per se, I should know I’ve been writing these pieces for the last two years, so the bit I submitted should have been fine, on the off chance it was not, I expected a reason more forthcoming than “sorry, it’s not good enough.”

This “writing in the dark” process of applying for what appears to be a content mill site may work fine for them, and for other writers, but I am not playing this game. For one thing, it tells me that this is some sort of power play thing where they can tell then me I cannot write, ergo justifying a lower wage for my product. Either that or they surprised me and read my other blog post where I voiced my suspicions that they were either a sweat shop or content mill publication. I sincerely doubt the latter as they seem to have a system in place that does not recognize other work.

It seems that the requirement to submit three url’s of published work is nothing more than a chance to prove you have been published. The real part of the application is the sample article which does not include any guidelines.

Perhaps I am being picky here. They may be assuming that the basic journo rules that have been in effect for ever and ever, amen, are enough in the way of guidance. Fair enough, if that is the case, but when writing fluff, aka gossip, aka entertainment, the rules bend…a lot.

I already write for a site, which may or may not ever pay me anything. I do not contribute on a daily basis for a number of reasons which includes divvying up my time between memoirs, their site and my own personal blog all while trying to get my site monetized. On top of these time consuming things, I have no Internet, apart from my slow iPhone hotspot so I must ride to either the library or Burger King for Wi-Fi on my bike. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the trip takes a minimum of 45 minutes one way.

Living on a pittance, and believe me it is a pittance, and trying to come up with money for Internet and still be able to eat is a challenge and one that I will not attempt until I can get a few more paying jobs under my belt.

I will end this long winded rant with one thought.

I worked for almost two years on a site that recruited new writers constantly. Hundreds applied on a regular basis and out of the stream of applicants who thought they could write, very few actually could string a sentence together and many of them knew English only as a second, or third, language. So thanks, but no thanks chaps at The Inquisitr. I’ll not play your game. Many will, I have no doubt, but I refuse to believe that my work failed a “quality” check and will not submit again (as I stated in my short email back).

Your loss.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Freelance Writers: Content Mills and Sweat Shops Everywhere Oh My

Photo of author circa 2012
For those who want to be freelance writers working on the Internet it can be a tad depressing. There are content mills and sweat shops everywhere. After writing for at least one; the Guardian Liberty Voice (which qualified as both sweat shop and content mill) and cruising the net looking for other sites that advertise for writers it appears that publishers all want a plethora of poorly written articles cribbed from other more reputable sites. There are, of course, sites which pay nothing for the privilege of “working” for their site.

The sites that do pay, want to fork out damned little for your hard work. (If you don’t believe that cranking out 100 plus articles per month is hard work, the door is that way. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.) I hasten to add that a lot of sites appear to use article spinners in order to fill up their pages with poorly written rubbish that Facebook promotes.

Most sites also hide their intent to pay peanuts by quoting annual income figures. Sure 48,000 sounds great as a top figure. 24,000 less so when the 100 per month limit is factored in. This particular site, The Inquistr does not go into any “requirements” for the articles.

To explain, let’s look at the Guardian Liberty Voice. Each article was required to be a minimum of 500 words. For “breaking news” articles a minimum of 120, at last count, was needed with a follow up story to follow with a minimum of, you guessed it, 500 words. Since GLV does not, or did not, pay per article this meant a whole lot of writing for very little return for a lot of writers. Consider also that the initial contractual amount of articles per month was 128. I should point out that at my peak I was writing over 300 articles per month for ridiculously low pay.

The Inquisitr does advertise that their writers make good money and that they reach over 50 million viewers every day. Reading a rough sample of the site’s output reveals that in Entertainment at least, the quality falls pretty squarely in the “okay,” category. Granted, this particular area of “news” is not the most journalistic in appearance or nature. While it seems that most new writers in this category all want to be the next Perez Hilton, there are a few who are trying to put their own proper spin on reporting the “fluff.”

Just out of interest, I have submitted their employment “form.” They also ask, if you want to expedite the process, that you take a 20 minute test on grammar and rules. There are apparently 20 questions and the time limit, obviously, matches the questions. Interesting. I will not be taking the test, I really can not be bothered to prove that I have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Journalism via the 101 class taken in 1976.

Yes, it was that long ago.

I am still in the process of trying to learn how to get advertisers on my site. WordPress have, rather snootily, explained that my 4,000 to 6,000 views per month is not worthy of inclusion in their Adwords program. It is worth mentioning that whenever one inquires about the lack of response to their advert, they give a stock answer of, “Your site needs monthly traffic in the thousands. Get your family, friends, loved ones, etc to follow your blog to increase visibility.” When I pointed out that my blog already had “thousands” of views per month, and volunteered that perhaps he meant tens-of-thousands, the WordPress staffer grabbed that lifeline and said, “Yes, that is what I meant.”

However, if you look at other blogger’s experiences with “Adwords” you’ll find the same stock answer given to each applicant.

I’ve gotten offers before. One enthusiastic advertiser thought my site would be perfect and made an offer that I could not stop laughing at. The money was $100 per year. This was quite some time ago and the latest offer from a company has never gone past the “we think your site is perfect,” stage. Another low payment advertiser I am sure will eventually get back to me. They really should not waste their or my time.

The point behind the poorly paid advertiser anecdote is that no one really wants to pay you for your work. Whether it be a publication or a company wanting to purchase advertising space, the money offered is laughable.

I started out blogging regularly back in November 2011. I never intended to use this particular platform as a source of income. It was a way to work on my skills and build up a body of work. All practice for when I would begin writing my first book. I stumbled onto the GLV, and began an odyssey of learning that not all is as it seems and that I was a much better writer than I’d thought.

Working for that publication did result in things learned that helped me out. There were also things that burned me out. Writing up to 10 stories a day at 500 words a whack seven days a week is madness. It is also a good way to exhaust yourself. I struggle now to get out three to four articles a day.

At this moment in time, I am not being paid for anything I write. The new publication I’ve been writing for has not resulted in payment of any type. While I enjoy getting more views…sometimes…I do not enjoy grafting for naught. Perhaps a change of venue is in order here. I will keep you all posted as I continue my search for paid employment that does not require sweat shop or content mill environments. Working as a Freelance writer has been interesting, and fun at times, but it has not put a lot of money in my pocket.

The original boast of the publication I used to write for was good pay for good work. That never happened and it now feels like an uphill battle finding somewhere else to hang my hat. I’ve taken the first step in shifting my hosting to another site, not WordPress, but that is proving to be confusing and in some instances annoying.

Beware the marketplace sellers. Having stupidly purchased a template for my site which, I assumed, would allow me to download the format and set up my blog in the fashion advertised, I found that it did not. A further $100 was expected in order to format the style purchased. Asking for a refund was refused and I was told to act like a professional, which, pardon me for thinking so, I am.

Still, this journey is interesting and it is challenging. For those that are interested in where this ends up, stay tuned.

3 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Freelance Writers: Beware the Scammers (The GLV Experience)

Person in a hamster wheel

There are a number of websites that advertise for “Freelance Writers.” Of course many do not come out and call these aspiring writer’s freelance. Some, like the site I stumbled across almost two years ago, just asked for writers who wanted to be paid for their efforts. Like any rube at the county fair I was suckered in, and it took me a long time to realize that the promises made were never going to match reality. So potential writers should beware the scammers.

A freelance writer and blogger, Carol Tice; wrote an expose on the Guardian Liberty Voice, the publication that caught me in its opportunistic web of half-truths, full-out lies and “black-hat” practices that got the site hammered by Google repeatedly.

Her article came out in 2014 at a time when I was living in the same house as the publisher, DiMarkco Chandler. Carol did not shirk her duties in doing research and contacting members of the site. I remember walking past Chandler’s office and seeing Carol on the big screen monitor asking him questions. Rather interestingly, the two people who had been with Guardian Liberty Voice the longest, the chief editor and myself, were never asked to take part in this rebuttal to her investigation.

No other writer or editor came near my output on the paper. I wrote nearly 1,900 articles for GLV and worked very hard to give the publication a credible Entertainment section. Attending fan conventions, film screenings and doing interviews with professionals from the entertainment community. Since I was an editor who did not recruit, I was never interested in building a team, my focus was on writing and developing a good reputation as interviewer and scribe. That probably explains why I was never asked to add my two penny’s worth of experience to the Tice “attack” (as DiMarkco called it).

I wrote a little about my experience working for GLV in a prior post. I mentioned no names and only do so here because the referenced article by Carol does.

During an emergency meeting last year, DiMarkco urged that no one in the GLV fold should answer any of the “allegations” made by Carol or to stand up for the paper. I was too busy setting up film screenings, attending events and doing interviews. I was also writing around 50 to 70 articles a month while trying to establish television show coverage for popular scripted TV rather than the reality rubbish covered by the publication.

It was only when things began to fall apart and my pay continued to be less than promised that I started reading the comments. Too late I realised that DiMarkco’s version of events was always given in a way that made him look good and everyone else look conspiratorial. In one case, the other temporary “crazy” roomie in the big house in Vegas, to be fair the guy did come across as some kind of nut, (He sniffed Prozac for Christ’s sake!) did turn out to be off kilter. But, initially this guy came across as  normal until his meds (Prozac) came in and then he flew out into left field. As he had the room next to mine, I slept with the door to my bedroom locked and with a computer table wedged against it.

Around the same time that  DiMarkco was arrested for domestic assault, he  braced me after I asked him, quite reasonably I thought, to not move “my shit” without telling me. This 57 year-old one-legged man came up to me ready to resort to fisticuffs and he cursed me out while claiming that I was two-faced.

A former Prison Officer, I didn’t react the way he expected me to and it confused him. I looked him in the eye, as I moved closer (as a Prison Officer when threats are made we were taught to escalate and dominate if we could not calm the prisoner down) and asked him, “You want to fight? What? Are you 10 or 12?”

This slowed him down but he did not talk to me for three days after the incident. This little event soured our relationship of trust; which never did get back to its initial state. Later, when he was talking to me again, I took him aside and explained that bracing me like that was not wise. I told him, truthfully, that I would not attack, but my defense would put him on the floor crying. “10 years of training in the prison service, mate.”

He never acted up again, but that “circle of trust” was broken and only lack of money, and faith that my hard work would eventually rectify the dollar situation, kept me at the house and at the publication. That and the fact was I was having a great time meeting film and television stars, going to Comic Con in Vegas, and the Star Trek convention.

I was actually doing my dream job, writing and getting paid for it. Sadly, I was too busy to realize that I was being paid abysmally for my hard work. While turning a blind eye to the various things that were occurring around me; massive turnover, editors fleeing like crazy, and stories from DiMarkco about how all these new folks were trying to “take over” the company, I kept writing and trying to get my health sorted out.

While the penny dropped about the state of reliability of my “boss” fairly early in 2014, my financial situation kept me prisoner at the GLV and the house. One clue was Chandler’s claims of ill-health. I was told: That he had been diagnosed with cancer, had a tumor, a failing liver, a hernia operation that was done multiple times and deadly high blood pressure. I finally realised that he was massively stretching the truth after being told that he could no longer climb up the stairs due to the hernia.

Two weeks after being informed of this, he sprightly shot up the steps to the second floor to ask me a favor. My jaw dropping did not register with him as he’d obviously forgotten his claim of two weeks prior. Perhaps a little explanation is required here in my role of gullible village idiot.

I always take everyone at “face value” until they prove that their word cannot be trusted. To me, broken or “delayed” promises did not immediately equal dishonesty. Many people promise more that they can instantly deliver, so these claims did not register as dishonesty or scamming.

They should have. Still, once I realized that the man was just another greedy snake oil salesman, I had to get away before I got caught up in the “con” as patsy. I was staying alone in a three bedroom, with pool, house. He was living somewhere else, buying a new car and setting up another “scheme.” All this took place while telling me and everyone else that the company was going under and broke.

Meanwhile the steady stream of “investors” who used to come trooping through the house, I met most of them, suddenly stopped. Whenever these men and women came in, money was made by DiMarkco but no one else. Gifts were made, a big screen telly was put downstairs after one visit, but no extra pay was laid on.

As Publisher, Chandler kept everything segmented, a lot of the editors had no idea what others were doing. There were complaints. One “high earner” fell out of favor after complaining too regularly about being left out of the loop. DiMarkco’s way of handling anything he dislikes is to ignore it. He will stop responding to phone calls, Skype calls, emails and texts.

He will designate someone else to handle the “problem.”

Finally, after accruing enough credit to do so, I made my escape. My main excuse was to come down and look after my parents (which was, in part, true) and I left. Shortly after arriving in Arizona, the only other editor who’d been at GLV longer than I, left.

I read Carol Tice’s 2014 article then and realised that I should have read it sooner. Although to be honest it would not have helped too much as I could not afford to leave the publication or the house. Reading it again today made me wonder just how many other folks have been taken in by the scammers out there in Internet-land.

For the novice freelance writer, like I was back in 2013, the Internet can be an arena full of landmines. Searching for paid work is difficult. I’d already had one unhappy experience before hoisting my flag with the Guardian Liberty Voice, née’ Guardian Express, so I knew the playing field  can be fairly dodgy. My experience at GLV has left me a little wiser and poorer, but I can impart some advice.

HEART-FELT ADVICE:

If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. This adage has been around forever and applies to this situation, even if the sales pitch doesn’t seem too far-fetched (the GLV pitch certainly didn’t at the beginning) look at it cautiously.

The minute something doesn’t add up, get out. When two plus two end up equaling more or less than four, it’s a clue that this is shady business; so turn around pick up your laptop and get out.

If English is a second, or even third, language of many who work there as writers. Same deal, grab that laptop, PC or MacBook and get out.

Quantity is more important than quality? Get out, it’s a content mill and they will leach you dry. Enough will never be enough and your rate of pay will not equal your output.

Overall, any place that caters to people who cannot really write, should be avoided. At GLV there were many who will never get a job writing for any reputable company. Sad but true and many editors were driven mad by having to rewrite entire 500 word articles and consequently left disgruntled and disillusioned.

The advice to start one’s own blog for money is good, if you can write. I’ve always said and repeated this the entire time I was at the GLV, “if you have no talent in this area, no amount of training will teach you or make you a better writer.”

One last bit of hard-earned advice. It is hard to navigate the world of freelance writing and even harder to find any site that wants to pay writers anything that can be called significant. This is not just prevalent to the Internet; I met a critic who wrote for a “real,”  but small, printed publication who only got $10 per review. So here is the last bit of my “heart-felt” advice: As the old joke goes, unless you’ve gotten a real break? Don’t give up your day job.

Yet.

5 February 2015

BOOM Upside My Head, Versatile Blogger Award!

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Whilst I was reeling from getting THREE nominations for the Epically Awesome Award for Epic Awesomeness, Dave over at  Last Road Reviews pummelled me upside the head with a Versatile Blogger Award.

Ouch! I didn’t see that one coming!

As with all awards in the Blogging verse, this one comes with rules. Since I’ve taken days to respond to Dave’s nomination (Sorry Dave) I’m going to expedite this via the “lazy man’s” way. I’m going to copy said rules from his post. Have I mentioned lately how lazy I am?

Versatile Blogger Award – Rules for those who wish to participate

1. In a post on your blog, nominate 10 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award; and link to them.
2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 10 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

My randomly selected nominees are:

  1. Claratsi Movie Review
  2. RobinsRealm Blog
  3. FOXXIECINNAMON’S Blog
  4. readful things blog
  5. Bad Horror, Good Times
  6. Roll on some movies!
  7. Film As We Know It
  8. Kevin’s Movies
  9. hypersonic55
  10. Reel Ex-Stream

My ten unknown (probably not by now though) facts are:

  1. I snore.
  2. I love golf but cannot afford to play it.
  3. I am just breaking into the world of freelance writing.
  4. I’m on the staff as a writer for web magazine Rogue Cinema which focusses on Independent film.
  5. I am a host for Tommorrow Comes Media by Seventh Star Press and my first event will be May 16th.
  6. I’m going to be acting in a film by Natasha Harmer  called Once Bitten, Twice Shy.
  7. I am writing short stories at the minute to become a (hopefully) published collection.
  8. The first novel I’m writing is going to be a western (cross genre).
  9. I have 7 plus scars on my body, most from surgery!
  10. I have quit smoking, but, now appear to be hooked on the bloody nicotine gum!

And that, as they say, is that. I’ll leave you now to enjoy your Sunday lunches, trips to the seaside and pints at the pub. But I’ll remind everybody that my choices, as always, are completely random and chosen from the lovely folks who follow my blog already. In my mind you are all deserving of an award…I’ll just have to think one up!

Thanks again Dave!

Cheers!
Cheers!