Thank you, Nicholas Spangler, for writing the definitive article on the experience of working for Demand Media (“In Demand,” CJR, November/December). It is excellent journalism. And what I mean by that is that it follows the discipline of verification. Spangler interviewed someone who is successful working for Demand, as well as trying it himself, to ensure that he had more than one person’s perspective. He did extensive research by doing the work, not just for one day, but over time. He then checked with a traditional editor to see whether she would accept what he had written as journalism. This is verification—the type of thing we are not seeing in “content farm” stories that people write from airports or doctors’ offices without experiencing what they’re writing about or talking to someone who has.
University Heights, Ohio
I worked for a few months last summer as a Demand copy editor. I very quickly felt like a piece-worker in a factory and wondered who was valued less, the article writers or the copy editors. I made the mistake of signing my name to comments on articles I returned to writers for corrections, a courtesy to which I felt the writers were entitled. It wasn’t long until one of the faceless “senior editors” contacted me to say that contact of that nature between authors and editors was prohibited. It was the most miserable couple of months of my career as a journalist, writer, and editor.
I’ve spent the past year and a half job-hunting and failing at freelancing. I resisted content mills on principle—and the apparently misguided sense that I was worth more. But poverty has made me cave. I started writing for Demand Studios a few weeks ago under a pseudonym. I, too, find I’m earning about $5 an hour, maybe less. I just can’t seem to do less than my best, even under these humiliating circumstances.
San Francisco, Calif.
I’ve written for Demand, and I have a long history in what I’ll call more socially acceptable writing ventures. On a good day working for Demand, I will make close to $45 an hour, significantly more than or at least comparable to my other writing and publishing jobs. In this economy, I can’t afford to let my writer’s ego get in the way of my basic needs to pay bills.
I write for Demand and I like it. Why? I get paid twice a week. Period. I’m a content writer, not a journalist. If I could write as good as Spangler, I wouldn’t do it either (really, he had me laughing out loud). It serves its purpose, though. Through the years, I’ve saved a whole lot of money doing repairs, etc., because some cool person shared their research, step by step. That’s not journalism, but there’s a market. So all of you real Journalists need not worry. Writing for Demand gives me a few extra bucks to buy your books and newspapers.
My dear Nick, it may well be that your future does not lie in journalism or even in activities that may be considered its cousins. That would be a shame, however, particularly given your clear desire to remain in this line of work and the sparkling talent you exhibited when we worked together at The Miami Herald. I relished your stories. And I was proud to have contributed one story idea from the copy desk (surely you will recall your delightful feature on the fainting goats?).
If you mean to continue in this profession amid the turmoil that has overtaken it and in defiance of what appears to be a grim future indeed, I guess you should brace yourself for more tribulations, including, perhaps, more of the soul-sucking work that you describe in your lovely essay, and press on. All the best, my friend.
Gilbert B. Dunkley
United Arab Emirates
A question after noting that your subtitle with “In Demand”—an article predicting a news mediocrity—read, “A week inside the future of journaism”: unintended irony or the subconscious tacit agreement of an overworked headline writer?
Grosse Pointe, Mich.