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AOHell
June 17, 2011 7:30 PM   Subscribe

One night, I awoke out of a dead sleep, and jumped to my computer, and instantly began typing up an article about David Letterman. I kept going for ten minutes, until I realized I had dreamed it all. There was no article to write; I was simply typing up the same meaningless phrases that we all always used: “LADY GAGA PANTLESS ON LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” or some such.

AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out.
posted by Horace Rumpole (126 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brilliant article! I imagine this is how it is to write for the Huffington Post these days as well.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:40 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


auditory hallucinations are a serious work hazrard, lets all come together to stop this explotation of the hack.
posted by clavdivs at 7:41 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


The incident in question.
posted by availablelight at 7:42 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just like the record companies, the heyday of taking advantage of people who really don't know how the internet works and making a lot of money on people simply clicking whatever's ranked on Google will come to an end.

Perhaps it'll be a decade or two before it shakes out, but there will eventually be a more skeptical audience who won't be bowled over by this whiz-bang "internet thing" since it's been ubiquitous their whole lives, and the whole lives of their parents.
posted by chimaera at 7:44 PM on June 17, 2011


I am honestly shocked by the temporal intersection of AOL (something my parents used decades ago, which always struck me as internet snakeoil) and Lady Gaga (someone I am vaguely aware of as a contemporary performer).
posted by pjenks at 7:55 PM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I imagine this is how it is to write for the Huffington Post these days as well.

Not really. At least AOL pays you something.
posted by mightygodking at 7:58 PM on June 17, 2011 [23 favorites]


It does seem pretty weird that this is posted on an ad-supported site with "share this!" links all over the place.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:59 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


SEO bait AOL-crap could never be sustainable - partially because so many people are writing about TV for free.

I'd like to think that places like metafilter are the antidote to places like AOL... but then I remember that we aren't paying very many people for their work here, either.
posted by ldthomps at 8:02 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I imagine this is how it is to write for the Huffington Post these days as well.

Interestingly, in the past month HuffPo has provided pretty quality journalism on at least two stories where there was a lot of confusing and contradictory reporting from other sources. Their reporting on that situation where that guy in Tucson was shot 70-odd times by a SWAT team in his own home was the most lucid and well-reported piece on the story I've read while the story was breaking or since.

Perhaps your snark is coming from an old paradigm?
posted by hippybear at 8:03 PM on June 17, 2011


Well, yeah. On the web, those in the eyeball business are, like Dickens and Dr. Johnson, paid by the word. Meaning is a numbers game.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:06 PM on June 17, 2011


I'd like to think that places like metafilter are the antidote to places like AOL... but then I remember that we aren't paying very many people for their work here, either.

True, but we've also disconnected any external profit incentive from contributions to the site. So people are contributing out of community-minded altruism, which itself is moderated against the ill-tempered and abusive types who might gain that sort of system fertile ground to plant their seeds of ugly.

So in all, MetaFilter is a group of people who have come together to point out things they have found (not which they have generated) and discuss the ideas found in those things, and who have no profit motive for what they post and in which the ugliest bits are deliberately discouraged and eliminated via community standards and active moderation.

I'd call that a pretty excellent antidote to places which thrive on SEO tactics.
posted by hippybear at 8:08 PM on June 17, 2011 [37 favorites]


That's not AOHell. This is AOHell.
posted by 7segment at 8:09 PM on June 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


To be fair, the article is about "AOL Hell," not "AOHell." Which of course, marks the headline writer as a terrible newb.

Hmm. Actually, I wonder if that was a way to generate search hits on the article itself, since "AOHell" is a more common phrase? Maybe? Or maybe I'm just cynical.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 PM on June 17, 2011


MetaFilter: maybe I'm just cynical
posted by hippybear at 8:12 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I tried to resist, but I have no willpower
posted by hippybear at 8:12 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would love to see a post on AOHell and AOL "hacking"
posted by Ad hominem at 8:16 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The incident in question.
posted by availablelight


Surprisingly, AOL/Huffpo hasn't taken the original down. (Last paragraphs.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:20 PM on June 17, 2011



Perhaps your snark is coming from an old paradigm?


No. Huffpost does pay for talent and do some good work. The genius is, that work is the quarter-inch of cream floating on a 400-gallon vat of watered down, melanine infested SEO bait milk supplied for free by bloggers, celebs and content drones such as your man here. They also do a lot of condensing other's reporting. Felix Salmon thinks overall it's a net boon, I'm not so sure.
posted by Diablevert at 8:27 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seems like the whole is doomed to fail.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:30 PM on June 17, 2011


In re the larger point about ad-supported news, here's a chart showing traffic to AOL, NYTimes and HuffPo. You will note that traffic to AOL.com is triple that of NYTimes and Huffpo.

However, as this article* points out, 60% of AOL's actual profits come not from ad sales to that huge traffic base, but from subscriber fees. Mainly from your grandma, the one who doesn't realize that AOL and "the internet" are actually different things and that if she has broadband she doesn't need to pay for an AOL subscription anymore since she'll still be able to access her email.

Except, ooops, Granny is starting to realize that, or you, kind grandson, are realizing it for her.

That's what AOL buying HuffPo was all about --- them trying to mate Arianna's effortless glam and SEO magic to their huge subscriber base while they still have one, before everyone wakes up a realizes, hey wait a minute, I'm paying for the internet twice.

But as the former galley slave in the OP notes, this may not be the best plan....


*Sure I could link to the original New Yorker piece, but why not go for the cheap irony**?
**Also it's behind a paywall. Not sure if that cheapens irony or makes it more dear.

posted by Diablevert at 8:42 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


For some reason I have a genuine, holographic labeled AOL 3.0 3.5" floppy disc sitting on my desk.

Maybe some day I'll use it to destroy the world. But not today.
posted by loquacious at 8:45 PM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Gresham's Law applied to information economies or for the second time in one day: the crap also rises.
posted by warbaby at 8:47 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm also the sort of slave who does things that aren't fun in exchange for money, but nobody has heard of my employer. :(
posted by planet at 9:04 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: I tried to resist, but I have no willpower
posted by HeroZero at 9:07 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like to think that places like metafilter are the antidote to places like AOL... but then I remember that we aren't paying very many people for their work here, either.

As much as i like metafilter, it's pretty much like any other blog aggregator like huffington, gawker, etc, but it's all people posting for free. Honestly, it's a lot of doctor who, David foster wallace, atheism, and veggie bashing here, with a few things that made it worth joining for. Not slagging on it too much, but step back, and take a look, and it's not that different.

Seems so few sites, especially big sites, actually create their own decent content these days. No, i don't count my blog as that, heh, it's more for friends and sharing with them how things are and to unfixate on things (like my therapist suggested). I know it's how things get found out, by people sharing them, but it's funny when the top sites are all just ways of finding the cream.

That said, this sounds like pure hell. If only i could get paid that for playing mmos, i'd be set. ;)
posted by usagizero at 9:12 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Per the geek.com link posted above by availablelight: You don't pour a fine single malt over "crackling ice" (whatever the fuck that is supposed to be)!

Who are the dumbest bastards on earth again?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:19 PM on June 17, 2011


Help I'm trapped in a content farm.
posted by breath at 9:22 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would love to see a post on AOHell and AOL "hacking"

The AOL scene back with AOHell and the later progs (like Fate and HaVoK) was a pretty insane looking back on it. There were hundreds of programs, mostly written by kids in Visual Basic, that exploited every possible flaw in AOL's application to build a BBS-like system on top of AOL. It would be like today if you could enter some secret part of Facebook and download pirated software. Back then you could just join a chatroom called zeraw3 or something, type in a few commands, and get software or music or porn emailed to you through AOL's email system. This was back in the days of modems when bandwidth was a huge deal, so being able to download stuff straight from AOL's servers rather than doing peer-to-peer transfers made it easy for a very small amount of people to send out a huge amount of content. AOL was amazingly inept about shutting the whole thing down, it went on for years before they made any serious attempts at stopping it, and by then AOL itself was no longer relevant.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:26 PM on June 17, 2011 [34 favorites]


Oh look, another reason to dislike Alec Baldwin.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:34 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another posting about the Alec Baldwin "eighth degree, black belt idiots" with a different bit of end-text:
What does it say that my immediate reaction was: We were going to pay Alec Baldwin $100k to pitch AOL? That’s awesome! Maybe this company is cooler that I thought after all…
Here's the original Baldwin HuffPo post, with the body text and not just the quick AOL story. The follow-up story has overshadowed the original post. I couldn't find the original post.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:36 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mr Miller's depiction of the content farm atmosphere is , to me, fascinating if not completely unsurprising. As he describes it :

The entire title could be a come-on, a tease. It might well turn out that Lady Gaga was neither pantless, nor in Paris at the time. The important part was that the reader would click on those words to read the rest, thereby producing ad revenue for the websites. Words didn’t matter; stealing other people’s work also didn’t matter.

which appears to be the newest unsustainable business model of the century. Of course, 10 years from now (probably less) such content farms will be declining into bankruptcy while the executives who made the decisions to do such things will whine about it much like our modern newspaper moguls-cum-beancounters do today.

Looking at the AOLigton Post for today , right now, I see the following leaders on their front page waiting for a click through


Ryan Reynolds: I Looked Like A Vietnamese Girl Until I Was 18

Olivia Goes Low Cut.. Cameron's Dirty Mouth..

Guess Whose Baby

Shannon Twins Moving Back In With Hugh Hefner

Weiners and Losers

Al Qaeda Arrests.. Mutilated Bodies...


I only hope that efforts like the Gore-Olbernann CurrentTV/CountDown launch put some journalism back into media again. It;s clear that nothing associated with or produced by AOL media has any real value at all.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:00 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


The people in the comments section of that article are dicks.
posted by MattMangels at 10:06 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would happily sit on my ass in my pajamas and eat Cap'n Crunch and crank out meaningless verbiage about bullshit for $35,000 per, because my other options are call centers, waiting tables, loading trucks, or snaking drains, all of which are more work, more travel expense, more hassle, and more hours.

Call me, AOL. I'll dance like a fucking puppet in your content farm.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:11 PM on June 17, 2011 [26 favorites]


All people in comments sections are dicks, it's just a question of degree.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:31 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm thinking a good markov generator and a full run of tvguide in ascii format are all I'd need to invest in to replace this guy's gig.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:35 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I imagine this is how it is to write for the Huffington Post these days as well.
Not really. At least AOL pays you something.


On February 7, 2011, AOL acquired The Huffington Post for $315 million, so the distinction may be less than you think.

Some folks have pointed out that SEO bait writing may be an unsustainable business model. Maybe it is (and god let's hope so), but sustainability is no prerequisite to someone getting filthy rich. Clearly this writer is not that someone.
posted by Winnemac at 10:54 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


>I'm thinking a good markov generator and a full run of tvguide in ascii format are all I'd need to invest in to replace this guy's gig.

As you know, a huge proportion of the text on the web is generated with software. I'm actually slightly surprised that he wrote all of the crap he was writing; I half-expected the workflow for a given article to be software applying keywords to templates-->overseas writer--> him.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:01 PM on June 17, 2011


Call me, AOL. I'll dance like a fucking puppet in your content farm.

It might well be AOL's savior someday, but for now I'm pretty sure the dancing fucking puppets part is behind a paywall.
posted by rokusan at 11:14 PM on June 17, 2011


Or, you know, fuck like a dancing puppet. Whatever. I'm easy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


usagizero: "As much as i like metafilter, it's pretty much like any other blog aggregator like huffington, gawker, etc, but it's all people posting for free. Honestly, it's a lot of doctor who, David foster wallace, atheism, and veggie bashing here"

Not true.

You forgot Jon Stewart, bacon, cupcakes, legos and planking.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:01 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


He has a master's degree? Pity he never learned the part about editing. Shoulda stuck around for the PhD, kid.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:03 AM on June 18, 2011


You mean AOL's business model still centers on marketing to the computer (and otherwise) illiterate? Well I never
posted by Old Man McKay at 12:32 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


My sis worked for the mainstream media. At this particular media outlet there was the usual gazzillion applicants for a handful of cadet positions offered each year. I can count on one hand the number of times of been "proud" in my life, and this was one of them. Hey, my sis is spesh!

Typical training ensued, rotating thru 5 or 6 months in the various departments. About 2 years into her job she confided to me that her bosses were a mix of philanderers, alcoholics, spiv, clinically depressed, lazy, bored, corrupt, jaded misfits. Not long after that conversation she started doing the daily court rounds.

I think she was fully expecting it, but she still found it disheartening that she couldn't simply report back to her boss that there was "NOTHING WORTH REPORTING!" Woe be to the father of two charged with spanking the monkey in his car outside the mall on a slow news day.

It would get the full treatment. Life ruined. If he'd been scheduled for a date two days earlier then no one would have been the wiser.

She genuinely felt for these people. She couldn't handle it. She chucked in her job... and career. Good on her, I say. I guess I was proud of her yet again.

Secondary was the safety factor. Her name was attached to those stories. She had previously been physically assaulted by someone she wrote about in the business pages [guy grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her in the foyer of a building – bosses at work thought it was a huge laugh] and a fellow cadet had a baseball bat wielded in his general direction by the father of a similarly disgruntled subject. Maybe that should have been her main concern.

She's never recovered, stable- job wise or salary wise, but I'm pretty sure she's happy she made the right choice.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:34 AM on June 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


Wasn't there a period a few years back when AOL simply would not let you quit at all? My father ran up against that. I think he had to direct his bank not to honor their monthly drafts to his account.

I get otherwise empty emails with a worm or something attatched from the only person (a cousin) with an AOL account who mails me. I told her once.
posted by longsleeves at 12:49 AM on June 18, 2011


From the article that George_Spiggott linked:

...the questions and concerns raised by Waiting for "Superman" are deep and effect us all.

I know many people confuse effect and affect, but I would hope the Huffington Post could employ an editor, not just use a spell checker.

Anyway, to more important matters:

posted by pjenks at 9:55 PM on June 17

Your username is too similar to mine. I shall battle you to the pain!

posted by Penks at 3:37 AM on June 18, 2011


As much as i like metafilter, it's pretty much like any other blog aggregator like huffington, gawker, etc, but it's all people posting for free. Honestly, it's a lot of doctor who, David foster wallace, atheism, and veggie bashing here, with a few things that made it worth joining for. Not slagging on it too much, but step back, and take a look, and it's not that different.

Metafilter is a community, not a content farm or an aggregator. It's worth it because of the quality of the discussion and moderation and the entire ethos behind it, not because of the topics it covers. If you don't believe it differs in quality as a community from the examples listed above, well, I would beg to differ.

Also, the people who think the link bait/content farm model is not sustainable - just look at the Daily Mail. It has actual journalists on its book. It's a proper, real-world publication with well known, highly paid columnists etc, but its website is given over to Pippa's arse and news wire rip offs. That's what drives traffic on the net, it would seem. Personally, I think the future of decent writing/journalism lies with the tablets.
posted by Summer at 4:04 AM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Summer: ...tablets? Do you mean Valium?
posted by Duug at 4:19 AM on June 18, 2011


I imagine there is a distinction to be made between jobs which plain suck and those which are not so bad but pay much less than they should. And then there is the unpaid intern, the college student who works for free for a large organization , is told that the experience is good for a resume, who may or may not be offered a paid job when college is finished. This intern gets no pay for a full day's work...and this is legal!

I was put off by the article when I got as far as switching or upgrading to a better razor as a sign of having arrived. A quick indication of being naive or foolish.
posted by Postroad at 4:33 AM on June 18, 2011


What the fuck did this asshole expect? It was a bullshit job for bullshit pay, and if he hated the job he should have quit before he got fired. He already knew there wouldn't be unemployment, and I guess he's just bitter because he can't get any OTHER shitty writing gigs. So he takes it out on AOL by writing this crappy exposé. Ooh, nobody knew AOL was crap before, now we know the truth! Fuck this guy. Join a temp agency if you can't get writing work. If you thought it was hell writing crap about Lady BlahBlah from the comfort of your apartment, answer phones at a dumb office all day.
posted by ReeMonster at 4:57 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


“The AOL Way,” as the document is called, lays the whole plan bare — long flowcharts, an insane number of meaningless buzzwords… the works.

I suspect there is no company of AOL's size that doesn't do shit like this.

Vice-presidents are expected to churn out content too, most likely.
posted by Trurl at 4:58 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Summer: ...tablets? Do you mean Valium?

Speed.
posted by Summer at 5:08 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


What the fuck did this asshole expect?

Yeah, the author is somewhat "woe is me" but I read it less as "woe is him" OR as "fuck this dude" and more like "Oh, so that's how AOL content works...".

Not sure where seething anger at the writer comes into it.
posted by josher71 at 5:19 AM on June 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Not sure where seething anger at the writer comes into it.

I'm sick of people without enough passion to pursue jobs and careers they truly care about. The more people do what THIS guy did, the more annoying poorly written WHINE JOBS we have to suffer through. AOL sucks but that isn't news and hasn't been news for well over 20 years. This article, for me, is the equivalent of someone writing an article about how they took a job as a dishwasher and then.. OH MY GOD had to wash dirty dishes all the time! They didn't say they'd be DIRTY!!!! I took a job writing at AOL for shit pay.. I didn't know I'd have to write BULLSHIT all the time!! DUHH

And OK, as far as the shit pay argument... I make less money than this guy made writing shit for AOL, and I love what I do more than anything in the world. Everything's relative.
posted by ReeMonster at 5:29 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


AOL sucks but that isn't news

I wish people would make up their minds about whether MetaFilter is supposed to be a news site or not.
posted by Trurl at 5:36 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish people would make up their minds about whether MetaFilter is supposed to be a news site or not.

It's a metanews site.
posted by tommasz at 6:26 AM on June 18, 2011


I was put off by the article when I got as far as switching or upgrading to a better razor as a sign of having arrived. A quick indication of being naive or foolish.

That was a joke, but tell me that you haven't been poor and shopping for personal hygiene supplies and wistfully looked at the luxury options and then settled for the 2 dollar cheaper generics.

This article, for me, is the equivalent of someone writing an article about how they took a job as a dishwasher and then.. OH MY GOD had to wash dirty dishes all the time! They didn't say they'd be DIRTY!!!! I took a job writing at AOL for shit pay.. I didn't know I'd have to write BULLSHIT all the time!! DUHH


I think that this is common knowledge among people who follow tech news, since SEO and content farms are starting to become big buzzwords, but to the average person who doesn't follow that sort of news, a job where you get paid to write is probably pretty exciting until you realize the dirty truth of the industry from the inside. I'm glad that there are "whine jobs" because without them the general populace will never know how fucked this particular market is.

I think the hate for this author is way overblown, and I liked the article.
posted by codacorolla at 6:34 AM on June 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


What the fuck did this asshole expect? It was a bullshit job for bullshit pay

Fuck you very much, $35 grand is not bullshit.
posted by gjc at 6:57 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck you very much, $35 grand is not bullshit.

Trust me, I will be happy to make 35k eventually, doing what I do, but as I said, I don't make that now, but I'm paid to play music and I'm cool with that. Much rather that than sell my soul writing fake news for morons-at-large to consume like so many McDonalds cheeseburgers..
posted by ReeMonster at 7:00 AM on June 18, 2011


Wake up sheeple!
posted by josher71 at 7:07 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too bad he didn't think of hiding lewd anagrams and acrostic messages in his write ups. Or he could have taken the chance of writing out and out libelous material. He caved like a douche instead.
posted by Renoroc at 7:17 AM on June 18, 2011


Too bad he didn't think of hiding lewd anagrams and acrostic messages in his write ups. Or he could have taken the chance of writing out and out libelous material. He caved like a douche instead.

I like to drive by McDonalds and shout "You fools, you could be bringing down the fast food murder machine by spitting in burgers and cooking them improperly, instead you're trying to not get fired and support your families! You disgust me!" And then I grab a big mac.
posted by codacorolla at 7:34 AM on June 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


ReeMonster: "What the fuck did this asshole expect? It was a bullshit job for bullshit pay, and if he hated the job he should have quit before he got fired."

Congratulations, you've got more genes in common with crabs than you do with everyone else in this thread.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:42 AM on June 18, 2011


What a whiner. I was a paid blogger on media gossip-- no celebs-- and it was pretty easy. $15 a post, no one ever told me what to write, and while I wouldn't do it again, it was fun at the time. But then I don't have an MFA and whopping big loans on the side.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:49 AM on June 18, 2011


There are lots of soul-sucking jobs, and it always makes me a little sad to read an account like this. 35K is a lot of money to a lot of people, but it's shouldn't be enough to make people lie. You need a lobbyist's congressman's salary for that.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think some of the anger at the author is coming from the way he tries to sneak in complaints that really aren't about AOL at all.

Like, Then there was the week where I only slept for about six hours over the course of five days. ...what? Why? Explain how this is your crappy job's fault, because it sounds like you worked a pretty steady 8 hour shift, albeit an overnight one.

Or, My fellow writers would fall asleep, and then wake up in cold sweats. I worked the graveyard shift — 11PM to 7 or 8AM or later — but even the AOL slaves who wrote during the day would report the same universal experience. Finally falling asleep after work, they would awake with a jump, certain that they had forgotten something — certain that they hadn’t produced their allotted number of articles every thirty minutes. I'm sorry, but as shitty and tedious and menial as this job is, it doesn't sound THAT stressful. I think most jobs will sometimes jolt awake a sufficiently nervous person, but it doesn't mean they're "slavery."

The author kind of sounds like someone who hasn't worked a lot in general, which marginally discredits his complaints. That said it was an interesting read.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:52 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Congratulations, you've got more genes in common with crabs than you do with everyone else in this thread.
We jumped pretty quickly to "people who don't share my views aren't even human", didn't we.
posted by planet at 8:04 AM on June 18, 2011


If his AOL editors didn't care what he wrote, and it didn't really matter whether it was true, why then was the job hard? It seems like it would be easy to watch a short clip and write a brief, teasing little fluff article about it when you're not bound by considerations of truth. It's clearly just as fluffy and meaningless as, say, "News of the World." So why the angst?
posted by jayder at 8:16 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


My experience with AOL's content side was rather more congenial, but then it was also a decade and a half ago when I started. As almost no one I knew then is still there now, it's safe to say it was an entirely different company back then.
posted by jscalzi at 8:20 AM on June 18, 2011


The more people do what THIS guy did, the more annoying poorly written WHINE JOBS we have to suffer through. AOL sucks but that isn't news and hasn't been news for well over 20 years

I'm SICK of the WHINING WHINERS who WHINE all the time! Oh, ha ha ha.

Speaking of content farmers, Ken Layne's second novel Dignity is now out. Layne, of course, has pretty much made a career out of content farming, with Denton, and Wonkette, and TrueSlant, and AOL, and probably more I don't know. Last week at Wonkette he talked about his book and about "typing about gross people you wouldn’t otherwise give any thought."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2011


jayder: lying is hard. And on some level this is lying. People figure that people writing about TV clips actually watched them. (Sure, it's never explicitly stated, but I think it's the natural assumption to make.)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


And OK, as far as the shit pay argument... I make less money than this guy made writing shit for AOL, and I love what I do more than anything in the world. Everything's relative.
I make slightly less money than this guy doing a job that I like just fine but wouldn't say that I "love... more than anything in the world." But you know, love doesn't pay the bills. Whenever I hear someone dump on artists for taking decently-paying jobs, I wonder who is paying the complainer's rent. I know someone who wrote for AOL for a while, and she had student loan debt and a kid who could not be persuaded that one can eat artistic integrity. Being a starving artist mostly seems glam when you're in your early 20s and/or your parents or partner are subsidizing you.

(I'm going to not tell any of my AOL-working acquaintance's stories, just in case someone could figure out who she was, because I don't know whether she wants to be on good terms with them. But yeah, she had some crazy stories.)
jayder: lying is hard. And on some level this is lying. People figure that people writing about TV clips actually watched them. (Sure, it's never explicitly stated, but I think it's the natural assumption to make.)
If the guy was using his real name, then writing this kind of story could have professional implications down the line. Writing about things you haven't seen is a big no-no, and it's the kind of thing that could keep you from getting hired somewhere else, I think. Although obviously he's not too worried about that, because he just admitted to it rather publicly.
posted by craichead at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Corporations are going to get the kind of content they pay for. I'd be happy to be making $35,000 a year (sigh) but I get how quickly someone could burn out on this.

I was writing for someone else's blog for a while and it was a pretty positive experience, but sometimes I'd be asked to write about things I didn't know about because they were in the news. So to Wikipedia I went and did basic research (I was always fairly honest that I wasn't sure what I was talking about). But it did sometimes make me feel a little uncomfortable. (And I only quit because I was no longer being paid.)

I know few people running sites based on SEO principles really care about quality content, but if people don't trust you, they're not going to come back. Sure, "Lady Gaga pantless in Paris" may grab some hits, but I'd be less inclined to trust a site that posted a story with that title if it contained nothing about Lady Gaga, pantlessness and/or Paris.

But I'm naive and broke and my blog only gets like 20 visitors a day, if I'm lucky, so what do I know?
posted by darksong at 8:32 AM on June 18, 2011


In the 90's I had a job writing for AOL's Digital Cities Division. I started at $300 a month with a $75 expense account. I wrote a weekly article about living in and being new to the Twin Cities called "Twin Cities Antics." I was required to give them one "about 300 words" article a week (actually four a month). Basically I just wrote about random stuff. I had OK numbers.

They kept track of things like how often readers would return to your area, how long they kept the window open, it they participated in the discussion area, etc. Once I found this out I was able to manipulate these numbers quite a bit. I had my AOL address in the articles. People could chat with me or send me email at any time, so I started asking people to leave the window open while logged in. I was their highest rated writer at that time, but this was Minneapolis. My numbers weren't in competition with any of the other established cities.

I hated this job. I would get rip roaring drunk on Sunday night (about 2 days past my deadline) and pipe something in. I would roll out of bed sometime Monday afternoon and check to see if what I'd written had made it online.

Then I made the mistake of writing about wanting to ask out this coffee shop girl but not having the guts to do so. My numbers shot through the roof. My editor wanted more of this. I never wanted to write it again. They wanted me to become the "Dating Guy." I wasn't dating. My initial contract was up. They wanted me to resign. I said no. They asked me what it would take, so I said, $500 a month and $375 in expenses. They said fine if I wrote all dating articles. I signed a contract for 25%.

Sometime in here I figured out that they weren't counting the words, so 1,200 words became my "about 300," and my numbers went up again (it take 4 times as long to read 1,200 than 300). That contract ended. I was signing 6 month contracts. They wanted 1 year contracts, but I hated this writing, so I signed the minimum each time. You could write under an existing contract for up to 6 months after. For me 300 words was hard. My intros were often 300 words.

Sometimes I would write a story that was 3,000+ words. My editor would reject these. Well, until I learned to break them into a 3 part series! Now I could write one article and be done for 3 weeks. I kept expecting to be fired, but every time my contract was up I negotiated a better contract. After a horrible editing job I get a provision inserted where my editor had yes/no approval only on my articles (I was young and arrogant and hated people rewriting me).

At the end I was making the same about of money working for AOL dedicating 3 hours a week to the craft of getting drunk and typing as I was making working for Borders Bookshop working full time (after being an employee for 4+ years).

Eventually I had had it. I was done. I valued my mental health and my liver too much. I refused to sign another contract. Then they offered my a Content Provider contract. These were usually offered to copy houses (lots of little articles done by employees that knock them out quickly). It was about twice what I was making working at Borders and wouldn't require me to change my writing habits too much. Not to skip ahead, but I kept my soul.

This sounded like a great gig. $35,000 in 1996 wasn't bad money. But that was contract writing. So that means you are self-employed. You have to pay Social Security and the employer portion as well. I would have taken home roughly $20,000 a year (about what an assistant manager at Borders was currently making).

I don't know why I didn't do it. I think Digital Cities imploded shortly after that. I was an AOL employee when they hit 13,000,000 million subscribers. Most writers were wanting stock options instead of cash. Me? I needed to eat. I'm guessing those options would be worthless today. I could be wrong. I don't follow their stock, but I doubt it'll ever see the heights it had back then.

I did managed to get an expense contract that allowed me to expense anything I wrote about. I also managed to meet almost every author in Minneapolis. I learned that Steven Brust and I weren't go to become friends (though because of him was able to mention and expense a bottle of Laphroaig).

See, about "300 words."
posted by cjorgensen at 8:33 AM on June 18, 2011 [139 favorites]


Flagged as a fantastic comment. If you offered me 40 Gs today to get drunk in Baltimore and write about it I would take that shit so fast, but it's weird to think about the ways that could slowly kill you inside (both literally and figuratively).
posted by codacorolla at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fuck you very much, $35 grand is not bullshit.

Go try to live in New York City with that (or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Los Angeles...)
Grow up.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:44 AM on June 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm sick of people without enough passion to pursue jobs and careers they truly care about.

Because landing a job you *truly* (as opposed to falsely? and how would you know?) care about is a cinch when 54,000 jobs were created last month and millions are out of work.
posted by raysmj at 8:46 AM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Or were added, rather. I could see this job as being far worse than working at a call center to someone who cares about writing and content quality, and his or her integrity. He should have quit, but don't kid yourself re how easy it is to find writing work or work you love.
posted by raysmj at 8:52 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sick of people without enough passion to pursue jobs and careers they truly care about.

Pursuing a job and a career you really care about is a privilege. Most people work hard to pursue a roof and their next meal. Congratulations on your good luck.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:53 AM on June 18, 2011 [31 favorites]


Not really. At least AOL pays you something.
At first glance, AOL buying HuffPo might look like a good thing. Huffington is well-known for not paying her writers, who contribute work for free because it gives them a platform from which to make their voices heard. Perhaps AOL, as the new owner, would make HuffPo start paying its writers. Say what you will about AOL, but when you perform work for them, they pay you. They're old-fashioned like that.

"But this is not what happened. As it turns out, not paying people is what had attracted AOL to Huffington in the first place. "Tell us more about this 'not paying people' system," AOL said, intrigued.
posted by weston at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I imagine this is how it is to write for the Huffington Post these days as well.

Not really. At least AOL pays you something.


One time, HuffPo ripped a live RTMP stream (ie. Live Flash video) from one of my sites, embedded it in their own player, and put it on their homepage, set to automatically play (off of our servers).

Let me tell you that my bosses simply loved that little stunt. Thankfully our server admin is a ninja, and pulled the plug before the bandwidth situation got completely out of control.
posted by schmod at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I never said I wasn't lucky.. and I also never said I wouldn't take a job writing bullshit for 35k. But I will say that I wouldn't complain about it. It's not a "Career".. it's just extra cash. As a musician I do plenty of what we refer to as "shit gigs"...playing dinky music for a choir concert or church music at Easter of Christmas time.. easy money, easy music, in and out. I just don't appreciate the guys tone, seeing as it doesn't seem like tough work, and an extra 35k a year is nothing to turn one's nose up at.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:16 AM on June 18, 2011


Mind you, I DID practice my balls off since the 3rd grade and through 6 years of conservatory training to get where I am. Luck has a part in it but nowhere near a majority stake. Plus I have enough debt to rule my life for another 20 years ;)
posted by ReeMonster at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2011


Well, you know, good for you. This is asking people to tell blatant lies as a condition of continued employment. (Also, some people can get all judgmental about debt, you know, so don't cast stones.)
posted by raysmj at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2011


Go try to live in New York City with that (or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Los Angeles...)
Grow up.
According to wikipedia
The median income for a household in the city [of Chicago] was $38,625, and the median income for a family was $42,724. Males had a median income of $35,907 versus $30,536 for females.
I understand that most people on Metafilter have a lot of money and can't really imagine what it's like not to have a lot of money. But I have, fairly recently, lived in Chicago on less than $35,000 a year. Roughly half of all people in Chicago make less than $35,000 a year. I'm not recommending that people do it, because it's not easy. But it's shitty and classist and kind of rude to suggest that half the population of Chicago needs to "grow up."
posted by craichead at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2011 [32 favorites]


Go try to live in New York City with that (or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Los Angeles...)
Grow up.


I am grown up. I just haven't dedicated my life to the pursuit of dollars.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:06 AM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Before we hey all huffy about the guys 35K a year remember that AOL circumvented tax laws for Mr. Miller and all their full time employees by claiming that they were "contractors". Many California companies have been sued for doing the same thing and even Microsoft up in Washington got a hand slapping law suit against them - which they paid but continued to do the same crap.

So being a 1099 contractor the guy has to pay FULL 15% (including the employer's share) social security tax so you can lop off 5K right off the top so he's now down to 30K. Less Federal ,New York state and City taxes (high!) and he's doing maybe 2K a month take home. Think you can live high on the hog on that in New Your City? Seriously?

Oh did I mention that by making him a contractor AOL does NOT have to pay unemployment tax on him so the guy has no safety net whatsoever when AOL cans his ass. None. Plus AOL doesn't pay him vacation time on his 2k a month OR health care.

It's a suck ass deal and the only reason that large corporations like AOL and Microsoft get away with the 1099 contractor scam is because we're all too fucking poor to afford a decent lawyer. SO before you rag on the guy for what he's making be sure that you really know what you are talking about.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:09 AM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think we're ragging on him, Poet-Lariat. I think we're annoyed by ReeMonster's "What the fuck did this asshole expect? It was a bullshit job for bullshit pay" comment, as if taking a $35,000-a-year job makes it unreasonable to expect to be treated with decency or dignity by your employer. He makes it pretty clear in the article that the pay was not bullshit for him.
posted by craichead at 10:15 AM on June 18, 2011


craichead:According to wikipedia ...The median income for a household in the city [of Chicago] was $38,625, and the median income for a family was $42,724. Males had a median income of $35,907 versus $30,536 for females
... But it's shitty and classist and kind of rude to suggest that half the population of Chicago needs to "grow up."


Far be it from me to argue with Wikipedia statistics but in the real world child poverty is 30% in Chicago. So if your point was that we all should just suck it up about our insufficient wages because we're all in the same boat - well you've made that point well.

When I say "grow up" I mean maybe it's time to start looking at the real world and real problems before we all go start quoting Wiki wage stats and yelling cries of "classicism" without a real world grown up understanding of what it means to live on low income wages (the guy was bringing in an effective 2K a year in NYC without health care, vacation time or unemployment coverage)
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:19 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


an extra 35k a year is nothing to turn one's nose up at.

Extra? On top of what? I got the sense this was his job, his source of income, not just some extra money.

Luck has a part in it but nowhere near a majority stake.

Nobody said it did. But if you had somebody supporting your decision to become a musician from grade 3 onward, no matter how much hard work you put in, you were born lucky. It's heartless to begrudge others their lack of such luck, even if it sounds grating to your highly trained ears.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:21 AM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just don't appreciate the guys tone, seeing as it doesn't seem like tough work, and an extra 35k a year is nothing to turn one's nose up at.

The work he did is very very hard work. His shift was 8 hours a day, but the article states he was working more hours than that. Writing that many words a day for that many hours a day is remarkably taxing. There is no 'easy money, easy music, in and out' in writing.

Best of luck on your crushing debt.
posted by incessant at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


ReeMonster:
I'm sick of people without enough passion to pursue jobs and careers they truly care about.


If you want to write, you have to take shit jobs at the bottom. Once upon a time it would get you a nicer job in the future, like taking shit gigs while you get the money together to record your album. These days, once you get skilled and start building a portfolio you get booted for some schlub who'll work for nothing purely for the privilege of seeing their words in print, or it'll get given to some intern who works for the 'experience'.

And writing is hard work. Just because you can pick up a fucking pen and scrawl out your name doesn't mean it's easy to peck out 300 words of whatever. It gets repetitive and draining, and shorter isn't easier, as cjorgensen up thread mentions. It's labour, and it's largely a labour of love, and people do it because they want the opportunity to write something meaningful later. But because everyone learns to read, and the mechanics of putting words one after the other, there is no love for the craft. Every cost cutter and CEO thinks good writing is somehow something not worth investing in, and after all that hard work and effort you have nothing to show for it in the end - no career, no job path. Just wringing the fluid out of your brain every day, till you're a limp little noodle by the time you're done, and the things you really want to write - the scathing critiques, the poignant poetry, the luscious novels - go by the way side because you are that mentally wrecked that all you can manage is pecking out your mac and cheese's defrosting time onto the microwave keypad.

My part in this is writing content for men's mags, among other things, just churning out a few hundred words here and there to wedge between the ads, and seriously, that's the level of respect the craft has these days. Just fill the space we can't justify selling. Make it look like people read this for the articles. Despite the fact I was defining their demographic, illustrating the nature of the eyes on the page. The money was awesome (50c to the word!) but it was pap, and it was pap no-one gave a damn about. This was a good gig, too! Pay rate is lower at more reputable publications, but the general gist is the same. Fill the space between the ads.

I don't know, dude. I ran with it. I looked for a gig that could actually keep me fed, and that was the only one going. Everything else was unpaid internships and cadetships with thousands of applicants trying to score the same three positions. I ground myself down for it for years, and these days I have a shit retail job and I write mostly for pleasure. I would have loved that "career I truly cared about." I came close a few times, but no amount of passion will sustain you when you've got no bread and got no bed and everyone else out there is hungry too.
posted by Jilder at 10:26 AM on June 18, 2011 [19 favorites]


When I say "grow up" I mean maybe it's time to start looking at the real world and real problems before we all go start quoting Wiki wage stats and yelling cries of "classicism" without a real world grown up understanding of what it means to live on low income wages (the guy was bringing in an effective 2K a year in NYC without health care, vacation time or unemployment coverage)
I have a real world grown up understanding of what it's like to live in a big city on low-income wages. You said "Go try to live in New York City with that (or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Los Angeles...)." I have done that. Have you? If not (or really even if so), kindly spare me your fucking lecture.

I am so damn sick of the casual assumption on this site that everyone here is swimming in cash. Seriously: it is really, really annoying. It is really difficult not to break out in high-level snark every time a post about the exploitation of agricultural laborers turns into a friendly discussion about how you can bypass this issue by growing tomatoes in your sunny suburban yard. I think we're basically on the same side on this. You think he was exploited and has a right to complain. I think he was exploited and has a right to complain. But I'm sick of people talking about the median American wage as if it's some sort of unimaginable thing that only happens to other people. I make less than $35,000 a year. I suspect there are other people here who make less than $35,000 a year. Can people please stop talking about us like we're some sort of strange, pathetic creature who couldn't possibly be part of this discussion?
posted by craichead at 10:33 AM on June 18, 2011 [34 favorites]


Heh - I bet AOL's pleased it's got those adverts for jobs via The Deck on metafilter now.
posted by seanyboy at 10:34 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's provided an episode summary and a 2-minute clip, and he's hard pressed to cough out a couple paragraphs in 30 minutes? He's no writer. I've seen beginning exercises for writers that were harder than that. Did this guy not ever belong to a writers group?
posted by Ardiril at 10:39 AM on June 18, 2011


"Here's a wikipedia link, here's a youtube link, write an FPP."
posted by Ardiril at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I lived in Los Angels for three years on $16k per yeay. But it was probably my own fault for being poor. I was just out of college and, although I tried to get writing gigs, I obviously just didn't try hard enough. Obviously I had to grow up---


Oh, wait, no. I just had to learn to ignore somebody who thinks their judgmentalism and privilege should define other people's behavior. And who apparently thinks if you don't make a big income and live in one of the most expensive cities in America, you're not grown up.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:46 AM on June 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


By the way, I make about $35k per year now. Working two jobs. Including writing a column five times a week. And I am an award-winning journalist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I get this article on a few different levels. It's a good piece, but if you don't have the context, I could maybe see how it would rub you the wrong way. I lived in NYC for a number of years and worked in media -- albeit in a technical capacity -- and know a number of people, who, like this guy, would be thrilled to find out that they could actually make a living from writing. To the techie-minded people here, pretend he's talking about quitting his corporate job and building a startup. Difference is, with the startup, there's at least the chance that you may strike it rich. Writers don't harbor any such illusions. Which is why they might be more willing to accept a 35K salary, or a job as crappy (sorry) as this dude's AOL gig. Were you surprised at the end to find out that people had not only worked this job for years, but, upon being fired, were begging for more? I wasn't. Not really.

So yeah, in one sense, Guy In Low-Paying Field Takes Low-Paying Job shouldn't be that much of a surprise. I think for the most part, writers realize that it's not exactly a field where you get paid lots of money or treated really well. They do it for other reasons; either they really love it, they want to see their names in print, or (and I'm not saying this is a bad thing) it's the only thing they can do. In other words, its why artists art, why musicians music, why dancers dance.

I think the thing that bugs him is how little integrity there was at AOL, and in that sense, I really feel for him. It seems like he was perfectly willing to churn out product for low pay, but the fact that his bosses not only didn't respect him, but didn't respect the product. That fucked with his pride as a craftsman. And you know what? Totally feel for the guy. That sucks.

And for the record, you can totally get by on 35K in NYC. I was only making 40K when I moved there in 2003. I got by, but not easily. I had to have roommates, which I despised. I had to delay "major" purchases, like boots in the winter. My checking account was always this close to being overdrawn. Still, I managed to feed myself and save maybe a couple hundred dollars a month. At the same time, though, I was a full-time employee, so I had health insurance, albeit the most meager package available. If this guy was effectively making 25K a year w/o health insurance, dear god. That's some rough going. Worse is that a lot of Americans -- the invisible, ghetto-dwelling kind, or else the non-English speaking kind -- get by on even less. And they have to do actual work, like lifting shit. Sucks.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:57 AM on June 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


And who apparently thinks if you don't make a big income and live in one of the most expensive cities in America, you're not grown up.

WTF Astro Zombie? Seriously wtf?? I never said any of that . I know my writing style can often times be more than a little condescending but, seriously I am not your existential angst regarding your current income. My income sucks these days too but you know what I am not mad at you I am mad at the bastards who took our incomes away.

Look man, all that I am saying is that 35K is NOT really 35K when some soulless Fortune 500 company makes you a 1099 contractor. That 35K really translates into 2K a month or LESS after the extra taxes you have to pay because your are a 1099 contractor and that is without any unemployment insurance safeguards, any health care, any sick time or any vacation time. Add in what you need to pay for health care and some sick time or vacation time a year and now that 2K a month really is an effective 1400 to 1700 a month take home at best.

That's all that I am saying man - that when you read the article and know what it is to be a 1099 contractor - then you realize that the guy is making a WHOLE lot less. He's taking home an effective 1500 a month (give or take) and working 60+ hours a week (according to his article) for it. I know these figures because I worked for years as a software 1099 contractor because that is all that was being offered.

I'm not your enemy here Astro Zombie and you are not mine - we are both being screwed over by the same kinds of people - just like Mr. Miller was.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try $17.5k from disability. ... and supporting two teenage slackers.
posted by Ardiril at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2011


From whence I speak - My first serious gig: 1099 contractor updating quality assurance procedures for a nuclear weapons waste processing facility. "Here's the manual, here's the organization chart, here are your POCs, here's a facility map, and this is your security badge. Please check that your badge matches your clearance. 1200 words/day to your editor, starting next Monday. G'day."

This is why my heart gave out when I was 38.
posted by Ardiril at 11:17 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I briefly worked for an AOL contractor, taking calls from people who were trying to cancel service, and bribing them with free months to stay customers. It was not easy, as they were generally not into the idea of being wheedled into accepting more of the terrible service they were trying to quit in the first place. I think I lasted three weeks; as much as I needed the money, it just wasn't worth it.

and while we're comparing misery indices: $9K/yr, and a big chunk of that goes to medical expenses. I live in a pretty OK neighborhood in Chicago; obviously this would not be possible without housemates and low material expectations, but man sometimes I wish soulless megacorps needed abstract video art and noise music :D
posted by jtron at 11:38 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


They just outsourced all that writing work to content farms in the Philippines, Pakistan and Kenya. Those guys will write all day at a dollar an hour. Some of them have pretty good English.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have the Pod People been taking over Metafilter? I can't imagine reading that and having the takeaway that he's a "whiner".

I don't like people who have that word in their vocabulary.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:43 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I briefly worked for an AOL contractor, taking calls from people who were trying to cancel service, and bribing them with free months to stay customers. It was not easy, as they were generally not into the idea of being wheedled into accepting more of the terrible service they were trying to quit in the first place. I think I lasted three weeks; as much as I needed the money, it just wasn't worth it.

At one point, in the nineties, I was one of those customers. The rep refused to accept that I didn't want another month of free service; he maintained that it was simply unacceptable that I didn't have to give him a reason why I was cancelling. It wasn't until I mentioned the magic word "lawsuit" that he snarled, "Fine!", and slammed down the phone. It's hard out there for a pimp.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did not take away that he is a "whiner". "Sniveller" is much more apt.
posted by Ardiril at 1:10 PM on June 18, 2011


dunkadunc, certain other places are currently down for repair and the backwash is flooding slightly
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:48 PM on June 18, 2011


Go try to live in New York City [on $35K/year]

I lived in NYC on that. I didn't do stupid shit that blew all my money for the month in Manhattan on the weekends. I budgeted well. It was not an uncomfortable life, and I even had a little to spare for shows at Webster, seeing movies, having lunch out with friends. It wasn't a bad time at all.

Everyone's situation is different, and perhaps I was an exception, but for me it was possible to live in NYC while making mid-30s.
posted by Mikey-San at 2:01 PM on June 18, 2011


(And yeah, I always had roommates, lived in Brooklyn for most of the time I spent there, and always lived in small apartments. But Brooklyn is awesome, I like small apartments, and was never in them much during the day, anyway.)
posted by Mikey-San at 2:05 PM on June 18, 2011


(And yeah, I always had roommates, lived in Brooklyn for most of the time I spent there, and always lived in small apartments. But Brooklyn is awesome, I like small apartments, and was never in them much during the day, anyway.)

Heh. I seriously think this is one of the reasons young New Yorkers go out so much : everybody has teeny tiny apartments and roommates they have tense relationships with.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:54 PM on June 18, 2011


Have the Pod People been taking over Metafilter? I can't imagine reading that and having the takeaway that he's a "whiner".
To be fair, he does whine a lot in the piece.
posted by planet at 4:21 PM on June 18, 2011


To be fair, he does whine a lot in the piece.

"But Uncle Owen!!! I was going into Tashi Station to pick up some power converters!!!"
posted by hippybear at 4:34 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Help I'm trapped in a content farm.

It's a Good Life . . . in the cornfield . . .
posted by treepour at 7:04 PM on June 18, 2011


1. "How hard is it to watch an episode clip and write two paragraphs in 30 minutes?" and "How hard is it to watch an episode clip and write two paragraphs in 30 minutes twenty times in a row every day for a year?" are completely different questions. There are many writing exercises you could do once that would really tax you if you had to do them, say, 125 times a week. This job would actually, I think, be pretty damn exhausting, and I have written a LOT of content about television. (Including coverage of "Married By America" and the "Bionic Woman" remake. So.)

2. In fairness to the guy, writers tend to believe -- or at least hope -- that full-time writing jobs will involve, at least IN PART, someone caring whether you can write. Those screens about the "AOL Way" to choose things to write about, and the thing about how they have some built-in tool you can use to estimate PVs based on a preexisting algorithm made my blood run cold. As ice. A blood slushie, is what my blood became.

3. It's not coal mining writing about television for AOL or anybody else. Anybody who's honest knows that. If you can support yourself doing that, you have a better life than many people,and it's REALLY important to stop and remind yourself of that now and then. At the same time, if you cannot abide anyone expressing that an experience was difficult without immediately feeling the need to point out how many experiences are worse, you make everything into a gruesome Pathos Olympics of sorts, where people who lose their houses should be glad they didn't also lose their cars, and where people who are merely treated for cancer should shut up because they didn't die of cancer. Sympathy for other people isn't a scarce resource. He can have had a bad job without implying that he has the world's WORST job, or that he's not fortunate in many other ways, and he's not implying that people who are employed as, say, filth removers in bus-station bathrooms don't have it worse.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:40 PM on June 18, 2011 [32 favorites]


Sympathy for other people isn't a scarce resource.

This is a simple but fantastic and well stated point I often need to be reminded of. Thanks for that.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 11:47 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: LADY GAGA PANTLESS ON LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:17 AM on June 19, 2011


It's not a "Career".. it's just extra cash.

I'm sorry, did you miss the part in the article where the writer described working 60 or 70 hours a week for AOL?

Because that's not "extra cash" that's extra, unpaid labor.

Having little money and lots of time is kind of doable. Having lots of money and little time is kind of doable. Having little money and little time really fucking sucks, I think is the point you're missing.
posted by bilabial at 7:29 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


he is a hack, you miss the point.
posted by clavdivs at 8:40 AM on June 19, 2011


I'm pretty sure the guy knew he was a hack.

I think I failed to mention why I hated writing for AOL in the above comment. I hated writing for AOL because I still wanted to be a writer. Nothing kills your creative writing side like having a deadline for something that actually pays. Yeah, I was cashing a paycheck, but it was for schlock writing. This isn't the kind of writing I wanted to be doing. I can bet the same holds true for this guy.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:36 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"How hard is it to watch an episode clip and write two paragraphs in 30 minutes twenty times in a row every day for a year?"

40 paragraphs on an evening of broadcast television. Brainless, stupid, trope-ridden television. Reword the episode summary, quote the clip, steal some random fan's opinion from a chatroom, and finish with a bad pun.

Done by lunch. Hell, this is fodder for a front-page byline. I would love to read a newspaper editor's opinion of this guy.
posted by Ardiril at 1:39 PM on June 19, 2011


What really horrified me was when the author described being assigned a special editor who would add typos to the writing he turned in, and how he was told after he complained that "typos don't matter." Since he already didn't have any control over WHAT he was writing (descriptions of TV shows he hadn't seen) or HOW he was writing it (300 words every 25 minutes in 8-hour shifts with unpaid overtime), the only thing left to have control over was the actual quality of the sentences he was stringing together. And then even that was taken away.

And he wasn't fairly compensated for his 70 hour a week job with no vacation time and no benefits, either. I think he is right to say not only that the job sucked, but that it sucked more than it had to. AOL could have assigned a literate editor - there are plenty of editors looking for work - and it could have required a certain number of words/page-hits/whatever per week from an "independent contractor." Instead it decided that the best way to get the work it wanted was micromanagement. Shifts are for employees on payroll. AOL pulled this same shit with their "community leader" program, when forum monitors had to work assigned shifts and turn in end-of-shift reports despite being unpaid volunteers. They lost that lawsuit for good reason.
posted by subdee at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


AOL lost that lawsuit, I mean. Hiring "contractors" to work shifts under supervision is illegal. Lots of small companies and tech start ups get away with it, but AOL, Microsoft, etc. are not small companies. Bring on the AOL content provider class action lawsuit!
posted by subdee at 3:00 PM on June 19, 2011


"Reword the episode summary, quote the clip, steal some random fan's opinion from a chatroom, and finish with a bad pun."

So now a writer shouldn't complain about working hard at his job if he could easily complete his work by plagiarizing? By that standard, being a doctor is easy because all you have to do is walk in, frown at the patient, and say something in Latin that you heard on Grey's Anatomy. That should cost eight dollars an hour! I could see eighteen patients during a single commercial break!

I think when you are evaluating how hard a job is, you have to assume the person is actually attempting to do it well, or at least honestly. Almost every job is easy if you decide you're going to only pretend to do it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:41 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aaahhhh, ::cracks knuckes and rubs hands together::, let's see what's on AOL today!
posted by obscurator at 6:02 PM on June 19, 2011


Welcome to being a writer and not at a big agency. I worked for a company in their creative services dept as a copywriter. We had our internal clients fill out the creative briefs including "please give a sample headline" so we know what they were looking for in a style/tone. I hated that job because these clients were asshats. They thought they were the copywriters so I tested them. I used their exact sample headline.

"What the hell? This headline is total crap."

Well I lifted it from the creative brief YOU wrote.

*other manager laughed because he hated these people as much as I did*

Guess who got transfered over to the other group writing acquisition letters under the worse boss in history?

Yea I quit on the spot.

Moral of the story--stop your bitching. Copy doesn't matter at some places. Try your portfolio at Burnett if you care that much.
posted by stormpooper at 7:10 AM on June 20, 2011


Fuck you very much, $35 grand is not bullshit.

Go try to live in New York City with that (or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Los Angeles...)
Grow up.


I've lived on less than this in London, which as you may know is a very expensive city. Admittedly, tax is PAYE here and my medical costs are £10 a month for a prescription card and optical/dental on top of that but I managed just fine. People working on the minimum wage - a friend of mine worked in Primark for a year for $7 an hour - live on much less. OK, so you can't go out a lot and you can't save up to buy a house, but if you're a single person without dependants and live in shared accommodation you won't starve, and $35k seems like enormous riches when that's the case.
posted by mippy at 3:57 AM on June 27, 2011


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