WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age

By Michelle Vranizan Rafter

Writer games Examiner.com to make a point about content aggregators

with 3 comments

L. J. Williamson was frustrated with what she felt was a lack of editorial oversight on Examiner.com, the Denver-based content aggregator.

So she gamed the system.

LJ WilliamsonWilliamson, a Los Angeles freelancer with clips from big name publications like the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly and Sunset magazine, wrote a series of Examiner.com pieces that she admits included exaggerations and half-truths, like this one about the dangers of playing tag. She explains the whole thing in an email she sent to Fishbowl LA, the Mediabistro blog on the Los Angeles media business.

Nothing happened. No phone calls from fact checkers. No emails from editors questioning her sources. Nothing, that is, until Williamson went a little too far and wrote an autism-related story about Jenny McCarthy the actress and alternative treatment advocate noticed and had her lawyers follow up.

In no time, Examiner pulled the stories and fired Williamson, although she argues since she hadn’t gotten a dime from the site it wasn’t really getting fired.

examiner-logoWilliamson says she wrote the stories as an experiment to call out the shortcomings of content aggregators, Examiner.com in particular. In a comment on the Fishbowl LA story, Examiner.com’s editorial director Travis Henry says the site has a growing editorial staff that works with writers, providing them with coaching and daily training sessions.

Here at WordCount, there’s been a similar exchange of opinions on the value of writing for content aggregators recently. In a post and multiple follow up comments, a Helium representative explained the site’s editorial process and how much money writers can make. Several freelancers countered her with arguments explaining why they won’t write for content aggregators or why they did and wouldn’t again. I even chimed in with my own advice to write for a hyperlocal news site instead.

While newspapers and magazines figure out how to transform themselves into fiscally sound Internet businesses, the pay-per-click business model that content aggregators – my friend and fellow freelancer Heather Boerner calls them content aggravators –  use to compensate writerscitizen journalists isn’t going away. Whether it will become the predominant online publishing business model in the future is hard to say. But it’s safe to assume the arguments over the merits of working for content aggregators will continue.

3 Responses

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  1. I know people write for sites like Examiner and Helium, but does anyone actually read them? I consume a crazy amount of media, as do most people I know, and I’ve never had a “Hey, did you see this great thing on Examiner?” conversation. I just can’t imagine I ever will.

    It’s a small data point, but I know of one Examiner writer who uses his gig as a “restaurant reviewer” there to promote the clients of his and his wife’s own PR business.


    June 1, 2009 at 9:45 am

  2. […] on Michelle Rafter’s blog is the post “Writer games Examiner.com to make a point about content aggregators.” In this post, Rafter described how one successful writer purposely wrote articles for Examiner.com […]

  3. Nobody is editing or checking facts on the thousands of articles written each day at Examiner.com.

    The Internet has become the shout-box for anyone willing to listen, and now it takes 5 times as long to weed through all the junk put out by the “self appointed experts”.


    September 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm

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