Yahoo! has today announced that its Contributor Network, which it describes as a “platform for crowd-sourced content”, is making the jump across the Atlantic to hit UK shores. Unlike its rival, the Huffington Post, the Yahoo! Contributor Network will pay contributors, but they’re paltry sums (£20 upfront with small bonuses based on page views). It’ll draw people writing for a hobby or eager for a break but professionals will balk at the prospect of pay far below minimum wage from a big corporation.
I’m not surprised that Yahoo! has made this announcement today. I broke the story almost a month ago on my personal blog. The reason I knew it was coming was that insiders in Yahoo!’s UK headquarters were so angry about the plans that they leaked me an internal email. I have been writing for some time about what I’ve called the Judas Goat trend in journalism and the Yahoo! Contributor Network is another sad example of it.
Why Judas Goat? Because the Judas Goat is a trained beast who leads the rest of the animals in to the abattoir to the slaughter. It gets out alive because it’s in the pay of the owners (the pay being oats and quite equivalent to the peanuts organisations like Yahoo! are offering writers). Below are a few quotes from my original story on Yahoo!’s Contributor Network plans:
- The email notes that the authors of the two pieces flagged up have earned £60+ from each of the articles and will “keep earning as the articles are read over the coming months”. Assuming that those authors earned exactly £60 in the weeks since their articles were published (Three weeks at the timing of writing), that bounty would bring the effective word rate up to £0.075/word.
- As the email states that 70p will be earned by contributors for every 1000 page views, that would mean that the pieces would need to have racked up over 57,000 views to reach those totals. Are that many people interested in black bridal wear? It’s not totally implausible but the fees don’t take into account the time required to interview people, do research or check facts. Many of those tasks are likely to go by the wayside entirely. In vast swathes of the web they already have.
- The need to bring in a sufficient number of clicks to make your pay day will also lead to articles that are geared entirely to the predictable whims of the search engines and social networks rather than creating anything original that could surprise with its popularity by dint of a journalist’s skill at telling a story or writing a compelling opinion piece.
- The Yahoo! Contributor Network will not initially allow those writing for it to pitch ideas. While the email suggests it may in the future, it is just as likely that the project will remain a restless machine demanding highly structured, keyword rich copy to feast on.
- In his email signature, the Yahoo! editor has included a funny quote: “What doesn’t kill you makes you smaller – Mario.” Unfortunately that’s just what the Huffington Post and the Yahoo! Contributor Network are contributing to journalism, they are like poisonous goombas, shrinking the ambition of writers to a list of popular search terms…”