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In which I quit The Examiner

I expect that the farewell piece I posted over at The Examiner will be yanked pronto, so here it is in all its wonderful wordiness:

When I first started writing for The Examiner, almost two years ago, I had high hopes. With traditional newspapers across the country failing because of long (for the information age) lead times, high overhead and dwindling readership, The Examiner seemed to offer an interesting model for allowing grassroots journalists to cover and comment on their areas of interest — and get paid for their efforts.

My early experience was encouraging. Not only were my writing samples vetted before I was brought on board, but I was also subjected to a criminal background check. The company seemed to want competent writers and a credible image. Right out of the gate I started building decent traffic, which translated into fairly impressive compensation. I wasn’t pulling anything equivalent to the salary of a full-time job, but I was earning enough to make my work for The Examiner a viable part-time gig — just the sort of thing that writers have long cobbled together with other projects in order to make a living.

But there were early warning signs. The Examiner encouraged its writers, strongly, to use social networks like Digg and Reddit to their advantage by promoting their own and their colleagues’ material. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those clique-ridden services, but the strategy mimicked About.com’s doomed ’90s-era efforts to have its writers game the old Web search engines (I’m a jaded old man, in Internet years). About.com’s scheme pretty much ended the days of Internet users voting on the placement of sites in Web searches, and The Examiner‘s modern plan ultimately got the site’s content booted from many social networks.

Then Google News began to turn up its nose at Examiner content — understandably, considering how much low-quality junk was now turning up in the results as The Examiner went into a quantity-over-quality hiring frenzy. It’s not that there are no good writers at The Examiner — there are, in fact, a lot of good writers working for the company. But their efforts have increasingly been lost in a sea of dreck.

For the first time in any of my writing jobs, my readership (and pay) began to decline instead of increase. For the past few months I’ve been making about 7% (yes, seven percent) of what I consistently earned during the good times.

Some other Examiner writers are still doing well, and I give them full credit for their success. And many writers don’t seem to mind the content-mill aspect of the site, since they have a platform for doing something that they love. To a certain extent, I think that’s a manifestation of the partial transformation of writing from a profession into a social activity — a phenomenon I’ve covered elsewhere.

It’s not like I haven’t written for peanuts — or free. I’m not paid for my work at the excellent group blog When Falls the Coliseum and I make almost nothing through my personal blog, Disloyal Opposition. But The Examiner is a for-profit institution, and if I’m going to help somebody else turn a buck, I’d like to see some reward for my efforts.

Besides, given the low esteem in which The Examiner is now all too often held, I’m gaining no professional benefit from my continued efforts. And as for readership … Disloyal Opposition pulls about ten times as much traffic as my Examiner columns.

So it’s time for me to move on.

I wish my fellow writers who continue with The Examiner the best of luck. Many of them are very good, and I hope their efforts lead to success, however they may define that elusive goal. I also wish profitability to The Examiner; while the company’s evolved model doesn’t work for me, it violates nobody’s rights, and I sincerely root for everybody who makes the attempt to earn honest profits.

And to my readers: Thank you. I hope to see you elsewhere.

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