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Mindbogglingly naive
July 26, 2014 3:25 AM   Subscribe

In my three years at Bleacher Report, I covered the San Jose Sharks while studying in the Bay Area, and the Twins, Wild, Timberwolves, and Vikings upon returning home to Minnesota. I wrote over 500 articles, generated nearly three million page views, and received $200 for my services.
Tom Schreier: the top 200 ways Bleacher Report screwed me over.
posted by MartinWisse (71 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Honestly it doesn't sound like he's had too bad a time of it. A good internship, practice writing, access to professional locker rooms. And of course the kind of workplace political experience that every graduate needs, sooner rather than later.

And now he hs an article in Deadspin. Good for him.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:18 AM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure what he expected. Well, that's not true: he thought he would get a job. I guess that I'm not sure why he expected it. If I look around and see only a select few individuals in my position succeeding in such an environment and doing so very rarely, I'd be weary. Naïve is an accurate assessment I think.

I'm not much of a Bleacher Report reader myself. Too many slideshows for my taste.
posted by Ridiculous Dolphin at 4:52 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Never do for-profit work for free, never be nice to people who feel entitled to free labor.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:59 AM on July 26, 2014 [60 favorites]


I'm not getting where he was screwed over.

He took a summer internship, then chose to stay on unpaid. As he worked for free, he honed his skills and made a lot of contacts. They never paid him but they paid other people, as companies do. He knew that they weren't going to pay him.

It's not like he got swindled or their checks bounced or something.

Years ago, I started work in radio as an unpaid intern, one of my kids is an intern at a record label in NYC, another interned for a Sports Illustrated photographer.

Maybe I have an unusual frame of reference but I thought it was the case in many, many fields a person interns to get experience. Once you've built up enough experience you get a paid position.
posted by kinetic at 5:05 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, this is a totally normal way for interns to be treated, and for websites to build themselves on the backs of unpaid contributors.

It's amazing what we accept as normal, isn't it?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:05 AM on July 26, 2014 [85 favorites]


Horace Rumpole, exactly. But this has been the normal for creative fields for at least thirty years. You learn how to do things, they don't pay you and you take those skills and move on.

**Although in my family's collective interning experiences, we'd get free food, coffee, incredibly valuable contacts within our respective industries, lunch with Lady GaGa and sometimes swag.
posted by kinetic at 5:08 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


The guys got off at their stop, leaving me on the BART train. And as a person who grew up in Minnesota and had never used it before, I wasn't exactly sure how to get home.

Seriously? He'd clearly been riding Caltrain to get to the internship at the beginning and he expects me to believe he was mystified by BART? That was the part that tipped me into feeling like this piece is trying to be manufactured outrage rather than an accounting of some fairly stunning naivete.
posted by hoyland at 5:12 AM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


They took tremendous advantage of this kid, dangling the hopes of a paid job in front of him for a long time. Meantime, he brought in fantastic numbers for them. Then they sold the operation, with the owners making millions, primarily on the work of the unpaid. I too worked a summer unpaid so I could keep my toehold in a newsroom but this went on too long; he was too productive to give him nothing.
posted by etaoin at 5:22 AM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


(Also, I know some stunningly sheltered Minnesotan 18 year olds. I'd let the ones that grew up close enough to Minneapolis to regularly go to Twins games loose on BART without much worry. It's pretty hard to get lost on a train compared to a bus.)
posted by hoyland at 5:23 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not getting where he was screwed over.

In addition to what eatoin said, there was the part where they used the bribe of "press credentials" to lure him someplace they could kidnap him, and disregard his wishes about how he celebrates his birthday.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:27 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


exactly. But this has been the normal for creative fields for at least thirty years. You learn how to do things, they don't pay you and you take those skills and move on.

I think the problematic thing was that they constantly dangled this carrot in front of him becoming a paid contributor based on actual tangible metrics for a site based on the idea of monitizing voices like him, and in the final analysis all of that was explicitly bullshit.

Some naivete there for sure, but ya know, that's not an excuse for the B/R guys to do that. That's just rationalizing why he was suckered for so long.
posted by JPD at 5:30 AM on July 26, 2014 [23 favorites]


As Sean R comments on the Deadspin site, it is a very long-winded and boring piece of writing. If this was his standard writing style at B/R, than I am not surprised they didn't want to offer him a paid job.
posted by Berend at 5:32 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Unpaid work for somebody else's private profit is never okay and the fact that our society has degenerated to the point where this is normal and not routinely punished with severity does not make this acceptable.

As Sean R comments on the Deadspin site, it is a very long-winded and boring piece of writing. If this was his standard writing style at B/R, than I am not surprised they didn't want to offer him a paid job.

And yet somehow his writing was good enough to bring in millions of hits, so I'd say maybe your idea of what does and doesn't deserve compensation (the answer: all work done for a for-profit entity, now and forever, full stop) is faulty.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:35 AM on July 26, 2014 [33 favorites]


This was the only paycheck I ever received from Bleacher Report after my initial paid internship.

So he was paid for his internship, besides receiving school credits for it?

I'd say doing an internship for school credit is fine (I did a six-week internship myself back in publishing college in 1994), but I'm against "summer internships", much less those that last longer. Bleacher Report strung Schreier along giving him reason to think he was making progress towards getting a job with them, and it was totally inexcusable.

I wrote over 500 articles, generated nearly three million page views, and received $200 for my services.

I've written about that many blog posts, gotten a sixth of those page views, and made more than that blogging (though I realize I don't need the access a sports writer does). You're better off striking out on your own and building something that will belong to you than you are working for some asshole company for free.
posted by orange swan at 5:39 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


> If this was his standard writing style at B/R, than I am not surprised they didn't want to offer him a paid job.

That makes no sense. If they didn't like his work they'd have stopped accepting it.

They used him like a tool, and he didn't know better.
posted by ardgedee at 5:39 AM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, once the site was making enough money to hire outside talent they should have started paying the inside talent at least the equivalent of minimum wage for their full-time effort, and letting them move on if they weren't producing enough to justify that.

For a website where page views form an absolute basis for judging someone's work value, to not pay someone who's being this productive is outrageous.

He at least had it better than interns at places like financial institutions who are just used to stuff envelopes, make coffee, and other scut work that doesn't build skills or advance their careers. But they shouldn't have promised him a paying position if there was no intent to ever give him one.
posted by localroger at 5:40 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Unpaid work for somebody else's private profit is never okay

Except here of course.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:41 AM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


But they shouldn't have promised him a paying position if there was no intent to ever give him one.

I'm not trolling, seriously, but where in the article do they ever promise him a paying position? They have badges and levels and a sweatshirt for a certain level of featured columnists. Nobody ever promised him he'd be paid. When he does finally ask, they say no.

I'm not saying any of this is fair or right, but I'm saying he knew exactly what he was getting into.
posted by kinetic at 5:59 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Although no one here is expecting to be paid either.

The problem with internships is that they predominantly go to the wealthy middle class kids whose families can afford to support them through it. If you need to eat and pay bills then you need paying. Hence it is a form of class based discrimination (especially in the UK), to ensure only certain people get in.

No-on should ever have to work for free, it should be one of the fucking fundamental principles we base our society on. That and paying everyone a living wage.
posted by marienbad at 5:59 AM on July 26, 2014 [22 favorites]


Promised? No. Strongly implied that was a possibility? Yes

Knew what he was getting in to? Probably not - and that's OK - he's just out of school.

Clearly management knew what they doing preying on people like this

Glatzer told my dad about how the company had hired Matt Miller, an outsider none of them had ever met before he was offered a job, and all three emphasized that there would be more opportunities in the future. Finocchio stopped by briefly to shake my hand. I barely had enough time to tell him that my father, too, was a Notre Dame graduate.

Bleacher Report eventually expanded its Featured Columnist program to four levels. Instead of just having the title of Featured Columnist, you were a FCI, FCII, FCIII, or FCIV. On a page titled "Writer Rankings," Bleacher Report wrote that the Featured Columnist I got "Featured placement on B/R Team pages; Eligibility for media interviews and credentials for major events." At FCII, writers got "a free B/R Featured Columnist hooded sweatshirt." Level III Featured Columnists got "an interview for a B/R staff job,"

Kaufman was more specific, saying that the Turner acquisition would open up more opportunities for homegrown writers. "Bleacher Report has always been a meritocracy," wrote Kaufman. "Those writers who distinguish themselves on the site put themselves in position for paid opportunities as they become available. As part of Turner Sports, Finocchio says, there will be more opportunities for more contributors."

"Bleacher Report is saying there will be more paying gigs than there are now (after a round of talent acquisitions of some notable names from the blogosphere)," reported Awful Announcing's Ben Koo, "and that it will continue to operate in San Francisco with the same management team running the show."



"Part of the Lead Writers' mandate will be to help identify the new Matt Millers," wrote Kaufman, "those members of the Bleacher Report writing community who are doing great work and could be in line for paying opportunities."

Throughout my time there, however, Bleacher Report maintained that it was developing writers. A post from March 2013, aimed at convincing writers of the benefits of all their hard work, contains a video titled "BleacherReport—Writer Development."
posted by JPD at 6:26 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


So he got paid 200 bucks and got 3 million page views. How much would his employer have made? From my own limited amateur experience of putting ads in Android apps, 2000 impressions equals roughly 1 dollar. Is web advertising much different? If his employer made 1500 bucks of his work and paid him 200 bucks, that's not super unreasonable all things considered.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:40 AM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


Bleacher Report followed thr HuffPo model--catch 'em young, treat 'em rough, ' pay ' em nothing. I can see why this guy did the internship, but why stay on for no pay?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:41 AM on July 26, 2014


"Bleacher Report has always been a meritocracy," wrote Kaufman. "Those writers who distinguish themselves on the site put themselves in position for paid opportunities as they become available. As part of Turner Sports, Finocchio says, there will be more opportunities for more contributors."

If that isn't a promise then the word has no meaning. By every possible metric, especially the holy grail of page views, Schreier was doing as much for the company as people who were getting paid top dollar. Sure, pay him less because he's not famous, but for him to get nothing is inexcusable.
posted by localroger at 6:43 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


From my own limited amateur experience of putting ads in Android apps, 2000 impressions equals roughly 1 dollar. Is web advertising much different? If his employer made 1500 bucks of his work and paid him 200 bucks, that's not super unreasonable all things considered.

AdSense currently calculates my rate for my knitting blog as $3.25 per 1,000 views, and they wouldn't pay as well as an advertiser who would be dealing directly with Bleacher Report, so I'd say your estimation is way, way off.
posted by orange swan at 6:59 AM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


Maybe I have an unusual frame of reference but I thought it was the case in many, many fields a person interns to get experience. Once you've built up enough experience you get a paid position.

Well. What you're describing is historically an apprenticeship. Working class professions had apprenticeships, which generally included room and board, because they acknowledged that as a rule young working class people lived hand to mouth, and could not afford to pay for their own accommodation, sustenance and travel while learning their trade (and providing free or very low-cost unskilled labor to their master).

Professions favored by wealthier people developed the idea of the internship because they had a notional good - a future in a high-status profession - and people who were prepared to spend some time working for free in order to build skills and contacts - and were able to, because their parents supported them. This also had the advantage (if that's the word we're looking for) of weeding out most people from lower-income backgrounds - leaving only those who were so committed that they were prepared to go into debt.

However, internships have specific rules in order to be considered internships, and thus to allow for the possibility of asking people to contribute unpaid labor. These vary from place to place, of course, but generally include a limited term and supervision to ensure that they are actually learning skills. You can't - or at least shouldn't - get an intern and have them make coffee and photocopy stuff, while your staff is too busy to talk to them.

If you are producing content, without supervision and training, and are in effect behaving like a full-time employee of an organization, contributing content that earns that publication money, and you've done that for a year, what you are doing cannot meaningfully be described as an internship. What is is is an interesting question.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:11 AM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


My wife worked for a few months for an online aggregator tabloid. She did get paid, at first for making a quota and later with bonuses by pageview; this latter system all but destroyed the site as the writers stepped on one another to scramble for the best topics insted of taking their assignments according to the system.

In any case, she was paid fairly for the time she spent, considerably more than minimum wage, and three million pageviews is a metric fuckton of pageviews for an ad supported site.
posted by localroger at 7:12 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


What is is is an interesting question.

Well, if you're getting the free work out of somebody by dangling a carrot of paid work in front of them which you never really intend to let them have, "fraud" might be a good word.
posted by localroger at 7:14 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


He seems busy now. Not enough time to write a shorter article.
posted by surplus at 7:23 AM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's actually pretty clear looking betweenthe lines what happened at B/R. The Turner acquisition was exactly the opposite of what everyone claimed for the writers. B/R had been built on the idea that a network of no-name but strongly localized reporters could deliver a product people would want, with detailed coverage of home teams on a national scale.

Turner brought in a bunch of money, but they also brought in the media elite attitude that only name writers are real. They wanted nothing to do with this gaggle of amateurs B/R had been built by.

And so the editors who had to put the site together were caught in the middle between new management that didn't feel on principle that these amateurs should be paid, and the people who had built their site and demonstrated their worth without whom they knew B/R would quickly fall apart.

Those guys knew that if they were honest with the rabble about what the new powers that be believed they would lose all the baseline content that had built the site and, probably about 45 minutes later, their own jobs. So they lied.
posted by localroger at 7:33 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


By every possible metric, especially the holy grail of page views, Schreier was doing as much for the company as people who were getting paid top dollar.

Which metrics? If you look at his contributor page (user #291282), he's ranked #348 based on views and #263 based on number of articles written. That's pretty far from the top, despite his 10 useless badges and 500 useless achievements.

While shitty SEO-driven content farms can make anyone sad, they're part of the Internet, and the only really sad thing here is that he had nobody around him that could tell him to stop wasting his time collecting useless trinkets on shitty SEO-driven content farms (he's on a bunch of them).
posted by effbot at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


6000 views per article. Big whoop.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:00 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


If BR hadn't been hiring away name talent from other organizations instead of paying the guys like Schreier who made the site popular in the first place, it would be easier to shit all over him.

The answer to the well what did he expect question seems pretty straightforward. He expected a long slog where if he worked hard and long enough, he would be rewarded for doing all of the nitty gritty localized reporting and writing that was BR's main product, the thing it used to set itself apart from other sports sites. Instead, what he found was that all of the money that had been generated as a result of his work and the work of guys like him was being used to lure already-established writers from other places. And not only that, but these other writers didn't deliver the kind of local specialized content that he did and which was the BR brand.

Wouldn't you feel shitty about this too? He didn't ask for much in return: credentialing, a chance to have people read his work, and then one day, a real opportunity to be paid by the company he had done so much work for. If he knew going in that he would almost certainly never get paid, he probably wouldn't have tolerated the situation for as long; if he knew going in that the work he did would instead result in BR having the money to bring in outsiders instead of paying him and others like him, it certainly would have changed how long he was willing to work for free.

BR broke the implicit promise that his hard work would be rewarded in the way they led him to believe it would be rewarded. Of course he's pissed.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:11 AM on July 26, 2014 [12 favorites]


What's the going exchange rate between implicit promises and dollars again?
posted by Metafilter Username at 8:15 AM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


The editor of FanGraphs has said outright that he would probably not hire someone with Bleacher Report on their resume. Even by the "gaining valuable experience" metric this job was complete crap.
posted by Gin and Comics at 8:46 AM on July 26, 2014


But this has been the normal for creative fields for at least thirty years.

Sure, internships have existed for many decades. But the widespread shift to internships becoming the norm as a substitute for paid labor is absolutely a recent development. Moreover, in the past, internships tended to lead directly into permanent employment, but this tendency is decreasing as well, with internships often leading only to other internships.

The Unhappy Rise of the Millennial Intern
An Intern at 40-Something, "Paid in Hugs"
Interns Resist Working Free
posted by scody at 9:04 AM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


I agree the article was maybe not the finest example of this guy's writing. It was too long and came off as meandering and unfocused. In going full scorched Earth, he failed to give this a proper editing. The anecdote about some BR staffers stealing food from his fridge when they were drunk might show they could be obnoxious assholes, but it detracts from the main point of the article, how writers are routinely taken advantage of and expected to work for nothing.

That said, I'm really surprised at some of the reactions here. Many of the responses to this article are reminding me of the people who celebrate when the cost of a gallon of gas lowers from $4.25 to $3.97. We've become so accustomed to the ridiculous becoming commonplace that our outrage censors have gone all out of whack.

The idea that a for-profit company would build itself up to the point of being bought out by a large media conglomerate and being in the financial position to lure in big-name, celebrity writing talent, all on the backs of unpaid writers who have been given vague promises of working their way up the ranks to a full-time paid staff position based on a tangible grading system the company itself put together (so it's not as if these writers had just made a weird, false assumption, the company put a program in place specifically to give them this idea) seems to me so self-evidently awful I'm surprised there is any pushback.

Some of the comments here, which are saying, essentially, "Why would this guy ever assume he would be paid for the full-time work he did for a for-profit company" feel like they are coming out of Bizarro Metafilter.
posted by The Gooch at 9:58 AM on July 26, 2014 [27 favorites]


The Gooch, I don't think this is bizarro MetaFilter, but it's real MetaFilter, where sometimes frustration at the rigged nature of the game a lot of us feels like we're playing manifests itself as anti-capitalist vitriol and other times as lashing out at the little people who play as pawns in that game. I sometimes think that it might make us feel better sometime when we have people to blame, and Schreier is a guy who we feel like we can blame. Sometimes it's nice to feel like we're smarter than the rest of those dumb suckers out there.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:26 AM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


Some of the comments here, which are saying, essentially, "Why would this guy ever assume he would be paid for the full-time work he did for a for-profit company" feel like they are coming out of Bizarro Metafilter.

Agreed. The idea of calling what he did an internship is laughable. This wasn't some kid sharpening pencils, getting coffee, and looking up the occasional odd fact; he was actually producing this company's final work product (internet content) and a lot of it, at that. Saying that he shouldn't have expected payment because his articles were boring, or poorly written, or whatever, is completely missing the point, and, I would add, kicking someone when they're down: it was good enough for the website, wasn't it? If they found it good enough to post on their site, then it was good enough to be drawing visitors to their site, which was building up their business to the point where the people in charge were able to cash out in a big way. Again, final work product. If you are creating this, you are an employee, not an intern.

I worry about the Millennials. I (a member of Generation X) worry, because most middle-class people my age grew up in a different world. For many of us, our parents were treated somewhat decently and fairly by their employers (not always, I would admit, but a lot of the time), paid fair wages, promoted from time to time, given raises, decent vacations, pensions, and a few other perks. Mostly, people worked regular hours, and there was a wall between work and leisure that most people accepted and which was even encouraged by decent employers. We were not rich, but we were secure, and at least we had the basics of a civilized existence. We knew that American workers had been exploited like crazy in the past (the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, e.g.), but those days were gone, and as progress continued, the future would be even better than the present for ordinary Americans.

When I got internships in the 90s, it would have been unthinkable not to have been paid. There was a bright line between internships and volunteer work, and everyone knew where it stood. The last 30 years (and last 20 years especially) have seen increasing exploitation to the point where, because there are so many people who need jobs, especially young people, companies just feel like they can exploit the hell out of them, and they'll go along with it, and they do, because what's the alternative? Our bought-and-paid-for legislators simply see it as a normal part of the process of making their donors even richer. But most dismaying, Millennials are maturing in an environment where this exploitation is completely normal. Unlike older generations, they see nothing wrong with it, so they'll never see it as something they need to fight against. Meanwhile, they are all eating each other alive in a race to the bottom. And eventually, the rest of us are going to be sucked down with them.
posted by Leatherstocking at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2014 [25 favorites]


In retrospect, what was the author supposed to do? Start his own Minnesota Sports Blog in the middle of San Francisco and hope that it got some traction? He was victimized by his circumstances and a bunch of middle management jerk-offs who exploited his naivete. And they ruined his 21st birthday by almost getting him killed by alcohol poisoning.
posted by Renoroc at 10:32 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sure, internships have existed for many decades. But the widespread shift to internships becoming the norm as a substitute for paid labor is absolutely a recent development. Moreover, in the past, internships tended to lead directly into permanent employment, but this tendency is decreasing as well, with internships often leading only to other internships.

The Unhappy Rise of the Millennial Intern
An Intern at 40-Something, "Paid in Hugs"
Interns Resist Working Free
posted by scody at 12:04 PM on July 26


"In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do. Entry-level jobs were replaced with unpaid internships. That same monopoly on opportunity reshaped lower-skill labor. Jobs that once offered on-site training now require college degrees. In response, universities ramp up tuition, knowing that students have little choice but to pay to compete. Instead of options, there is one path to professional success — one exorbitantly expensive path."

--Sarah Kendzior, explaining why you should never ever take an unpaid internship (but you will nonetheless because you have no choice) (featured previously on Metafilter)
posted by magstheaxe at 10:54 AM on July 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm just commenting to highlight the brilliant phrase used in the New Yorker piece linked from the Deadspin article, to describe Bleacher Report: "Loser-generated content."
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:12 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Some of the comments here, which are saying, essentially, "Why would this guy ever assume he would be paid for the full-time work he did for a for-profit company" feel like they are coming out of Bizarro Metafilter.

He shouldn't expect to be paid for full-time work because he wasn't hired by anyone to do full-time work, or any work, even -- BR is a content farm in the form of a game where people post articles to compete for virtual bling, with a small number of editorial staff and staff writers at the top (they have in the order of 20 employees, according to Crunchbase).

Anyone can become a "Featured Columnist," you just have to submit enough articles and fill in a form, and with a little luck they start feeding you headlines to write something under. You don't even have to pay five bucks.

And he knew this; he links to third-party articles explaining this in his article.

When I got internships in the 90s, it would have been unthinkable not to have been paid.

He was paid. The unpaid part was when he kept posting articles after the internship was over.

And Bizarro Metafilter is the part where someone doing a short internship between 2nd and 3rd year in college to get some college credits should be guaranteed a top job because they've generated around 0.01% of a commercial web site's traffic.
posted by effbot at 11:23 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just because some people write up a contract and say it's all good and fair because there was a contract doesn't necessarily mean the contract actually is fair or legal. No one, for example, is allowed to sign themselves into indentured servitude anymore, though you could make the same sort of "he should have known" arguments. It's not a default assumption in law that any possible provision of a contract is valid as long as someone signed on the line. And since many contracts now are structured such that they can be revised at any time without the consent of all parties to the agreement, and since so many people are just ripe for economic coercion and exploitation, it's more important than ever that the courts be willing to consider the more fundamental question of just what rights can be signed away in the first place.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


You're seriously arguing that a user agreement that doesn't require anything from the user is the equivalent of an employment contract if the user uploads enough content to a website?
posted by effbot at 11:54 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not so much that he wasn't paid for the work he did, it's that the opportunity for later paying work he was led to believe would be possible if he labored long and diligently enough and accumulated enough points and badges and did all of the other silly things that BR did to give his unpaid labor the gloss of a legitimate workplace, never materialized. And the reason it didn't materialize wasn't because the BR model didn't work and BR was broke, but because BR chose instead to use the money that his work brought to BR to hire other people instead.

Look, he doesn't have a legal claim here. His recourse isn't the court system. His recourse is spreading the word that what happened to him was really shitty. If someone had exposed this practice at BR four years ago, no doubt he would have set his expectations accordingly.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:12 PM on July 26, 2014 [7 favorites]


I remember when a tech recruiter asked me if I wanted to do software development for Bleacher Report. I thought, "Sports journalism, how wonderful!" and then my heart sank as I read about how the company was an exploitative pile of garbage.

One measure of the decency of a society is what % of the time we are telling people, "you fucked up, you trusted us!" Can't we do better than this? Also: there is more to the value of journalism and work than measuring web clicks and page views. It shouldn't be like selling for Amway.
posted by johngoren at 12:36 PM on July 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


Their business model is no different in form or function from the Scentsy's, Costco Knives, 31 Gifts, or any other MLM that tells you you'll be making the big bucks if you just work hard enough to move up a ladder but until then you're doing it for free. The only difference I see with his situation is that someone who wants to be a journalist should have a skeptical enough nature to realize when they're being taken advantage of, which makes it much harder for me to have sympathy for him. How can I trust him to analyze anything sports-related - an industry where salary is both very public and drives the lineups of teams in a very direct way - when he can't recognize a raw deal because of his infatuation with his subject matter?
posted by Metafilter Username at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2014


Most young people can't recognize a raw deal. I wrote a simple program for a friend in college over a couple weekends for $3500, which seemed like a fortune to me at the time - rent money for an entire year! Found out later that he sold the thing to several clients for 40k each. The numbers may be different but the degree of cluelessness is the same.
posted by miyabo at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested in knowing what obvious clues he overlooked. BR created an environment and culture that reinforced the pitch he was given when he started. There was a formalized structure, for God's sakes, with levels and rewards and different titles. He didn't go into this completely blindly: he always knew that he'd be trading his labor for the opportunity to have a platform and gain an audience, credentialing and access to the teams, and for the other things he couldn't easily do on his own. And he also knew that there was not necessarily a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: it was always a possibility he wouldn't get a paying gig.

But how was he to know anywhere along the line, as he played the game and accumulated the points and put in the hard work that the vision he was sold in the beginning just wasn't true, and that the sportswriters who were being rewarded weren't going to be guys like him, but the brand name talent hired with the value he helped create?

And "how can you trust him to analyze anything sports-related?" Seriously? I don't know, read his work, I guess. That's a thin and shitty argument you're making there, Metafilter Username. Like, in one context, his coverage of Minneapolis sports teams, he's expected to exercise a modicum of skepticism, I guess? But had he applied the same amount of objectivity to his own situation that he was expected to apply in being a competent blogger about the Twins, it's unfair to say he easily should have seen this coming.

The vision he was sold on in the beginning made sense, his bosses reinforced it, but then it turns out that they went another way with their plan, and Schreier and guys like him were worse off for it, and it sucks, because it was their labor and effort who put BR in the position to make the choices it did about payment in the first place.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:55 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Which metrics? If you look at his contributor page (user #291282), he's ranked #348 based on views and #263 based on number of articles written. That's pretty far from the top, despite his 10 useless badges and 500 useless achievements.

Yeah, his claims of being a top producer are some solid BS. Of course, he appears to believe a lot of what other people tell him so maybe he's just passing on BS that was fed to him.

But how was he to know anywhere along the line [..] that the sportswriters who were being rewarded weren't going to be guys like him.

When that is what started happening. An experienced person would have picked up on it fairly quickly. And lo, he is now experienced.

Unpaid work for somebody else's private profit is never okay

Pay can take many forms. You don't have to worship at the altar of the almighty dollar.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:21 PM on July 26, 2014


Except this is a time in our history when it's not about worship so much as mere survival for a solid majority of the labor pool. It's not greedy to want to be able to earn a living ever.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


And the company his labor benefits is worshipping at that alter more than anyone seems willing to acknowledge, while you're implying the guy who was the least greedy actor in the transaction ought to feel ashamed. That's a terrible double standard.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pay can take many forms.

Tell that to your landlord when your rent is late.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:35 PM on July 26, 2014 [7 favorites]


6000 views per article. Big whoop.

When my wife was working for $Shitty_SEO_Aggregator 5000 views was considered very good for any particular article. 100,000 views was the stuff of legend. For this my wife and about 40 other writers were paid on the order of around $10-$15 per article. Since they were just aggregating and not doing original research they were expected to produce 10 such articles per day on a quota system; they had no part-time piecework model, so it was a hard grind. But it paid OK for what it was until they got greedy and fucked up their business model.
posted by localroger at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


The vision he was sold on in the beginning made sense, his bosses reinforced it, but then it turns out that they went another way with their plan

And the evil thing is that instead of telling the truth they strung him along with lies that it was still the same as long as they could, because where else were they going to get their baseline content on which the site was built so that the new paid hires could tentpole above it.
posted by localroger at 1:42 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Their business model is no different in form or function from the Scentsy's, Costco Knives, 31 Gifts, or any other MLM

As a big Costco fan this worries me, but I'm going to guess you mean Cutco knives?
posted by mkdg at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


And the company his labor benefits is worshipping at that alter more than anyone seems willing to acknowledge, while you're implying the guy who was the least greedy actor in the transaction ought to feel ashamed. That's a terrible double standard.

Wealthy people who want to augment their wealth via the labor of others are merely exercising good business sense. Their wealth is a reflection of their virtue.

People who perform the labor that generates wealth for others who want to be compensated with a living wage in return are greedy, selfish, and naive. Their lack of wealth is a reflection of their stupidity.

Thus does the moral universe of capitalism remain in balance.
posted by scody at 1:54 PM on July 26, 2014 [23 favorites]


Earth to everyone: people will try to exploit you and screw you over. At the first sign of exploitation, jump ship. I have done it many times, even when I couldn't really afford it, and as a result I don't have any sob stories. If this guy had moved his family across the country for the gig or something I might have some sympathy, but he was a college kid who now knows the meaning of caveat emptor and is the wiser for it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:20 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


A lot of people are already strained too far to easily jump ship. We can't all live in Silicon Valley or wherever the money happens to be flowing. It's not an easy ecomomy for writers to make a living in right now, and a big reason for that is all the free-riding companies like this are doing (deliberately or through wilful or benign obliviousness) on other people's work.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested in knowing what obvious clues he overlooked.

The part where he was working without pay?
posted by Metafilter Username at 3:57 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


There is another dimension to this that I've seen first hand in sports photography: the jock-sniffer who will do anything for a credential. It used to be that sports photojournalists could make a decent living photographing pro and college sporting events. In the mid-1990's camera companies started rolling out technologies like auto-focus that made the craft of sports photography easier. Then came digital and high bandwidth data transmission and all of a sudden anyone could take an endless number of images on a sideline and send them to the wire services. As camera technology advanced and the price of a high-end digital camera fell from $15k to $5k the final barrier that kept the jock-sniffers away disappeared.

Starting around 2001 or so you had weekend warrior types showing up at college games with $8k worth of camera gear offering to shoot for free. I worked in newspapers at the time and thought they were nuts and had a good laugh at their expense but my friends who regularly worked for the wire services could see the writing on the wall. Two or three years later every professional sporting event sideline was filled with photographers shooting "assignments" on spec for wire agencies who would secure credentials for the weekend warriors. Little-by-little the garunteed-pay freelance jobs disappeared but the spec guys would still get paid if SI or ESPN ran their image.

And then, the wire services changed their contracts so that the usage rights included advertising. The old-school photographers dug their heels in and wouldn't sign the contracts but the jock-sniffers didn't care about rights because they weren't making money anyway. They got a free hot dog at halftime and and got to tell their friends at the office on Monday that they rubbed elbows with the local NFL team. The wire services were now full service media companies making deals to become the official image suppliers of the NFL, MLB, NHL, etc and making gobs of money.

Around the same time several upstart sports photo agencies starting popping up. One of them was US Presswire. Presswire would seek out weekend warrior types and college students and dangle credentials in their faces for spec work. The founders built a network of photographers around the country who were expected to shoot games on spec whenever asked and there was always the threat of having credentials pulled if the photographer didn't drop everything and go. These photographers would travel hours to games, supply their own cameras and computers and cover games with no expectation of payment unless one of their images was published. The pay was never more than $100 here or $50 there. Around 2005 or so there were rumblings of US Presswire photographers never being paid even when their images were published. Photographers who complained were promised payment for expenses but then they would stop getting assignments AND not get paid. In 2007 a popular photo-business blog published a scathing investigation on US Presswire that finally blew the lid off the fact that the company was built on creating content for newspapers, magazines and companies with little to know intention of actually paying the content creators. The founders specifically targeted the jock-sniffers because they would do anything for the credentials and then would allow themselves to be strung along for months or even years because they were so wrapped up in the identity of being a big-time sports photographer.

This whole situation would be laughable and sad except that in 2011 US Presswire was purchased by Gannett for a very large undisclosed sum and rebranded as USA Today Sports Images. USAT Sports now pays a laughable $125 per assignment for a full copyright buyout but at least they pay.

(last year Reuters news service announced they were laying off their entire sports photography staff and utilizing USAT Sports Images jock-sniffers instead)
posted by photoslob at 3:58 PM on July 26, 2014 [19 favorites]


Barely into his mid twenties and he's got steady work as a sportswriter. Sounds like his internship was very successful.
posted by humanfont at 3:59 PM on July 26, 2014


Your story would sound a lot better if you stopped calling them jock sniffers.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:07 PM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Rusty my friend, it's a shitty story no matter how I refer to them but it's the same old story that's been going on for ages.
posted by photoslob at 4:11 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I understand the story. It's similar in, say, the game programming industry. It's a case where someone's motivation to do the job is not provided by money, and there is a long line of people who'll do too much for too little (or nothing) and so there's no incentive for the people providing the jobs to do it any different.

Still, the jock-sniffer business is a bad move and if you want your story to resonate with people who don't already agree with you (aka other sports photographers) then it's sort of a stumbling point. It's an in-group vs out-group thing and it's distateful.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:15 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm having a hard time seeing this as anything other than a millennial with ridiculous dreams agreeing to do free work and learning a hard life lesson.
posted by graphnerd at 5:06 PM on July 26, 2014


Eventually you get a break and get a paying gig and another. Suddenly you are in your 40s and have your own intern.
posted by humanfont at 5:19 PM on July 26, 2014


In retrospect, what was the author supposed to do? Start his own Minnesota Sports Blog in the middle of San Francisco and hope that it got some traction?

Yes. He really should have done exactly this.

I think that what many people here are missing is the supply side of this equation. It's a little strange that he physically worked within Bleacher/Report's offices, but there are literally tens of thousands of people who are willing to produce exactly the same results for the company for free.

As mentioned above, it sucks that he had no one around him to point this out, but he was churning out spam for a spam website that was also churning out spam by the truckload from free contributors.

The outrage isn't that they mislead some naive kid. The outrage is that they profit from thousands of people who are remotely churning out garbage.
posted by graphnerd at 5:26 PM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm having a hard time seeing this as anything other than a millennial with ridiculous dreams agreeing to do free work and learning a hard life lesson.

Then you don't understand economics, because this kind of thing creates serious problems when scaled-up to whole industry sectors, regardless of whether or not any individual victim is a chump in your view. The harm these freerider arrangements do ultimately impacts the overall health of the system, foe everyone. It's like clear cutting the underbrush from a forest. Each individual shrub or weed may not seem all that important, but without healthy undergrowth, the forest may die.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:52 PM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


The kid also was working absolutely ridiculous hours.

On the newspaper photo thing--what's happened to newspaper photo departments is awful, even worse than reporters, with predictable results. The NY Daily News, which called itself New York's Picture Newspaper for decades, has just wiped out a bunch of jobs, laying off highly skilled people in favor of these semi-amateurs who work on spec. One of the fired ones is David Handschuh, who was injured while photographing the attacks on the World Trade Center but managed to take this (second photo on the page).
posted by etaoin at 6:47 PM on July 26, 2014


Unpaid labor in the guise of an internship is illegal in the US. The link scody posted about class action lawsuits filed against this practice is a sign that it might be changing, albeit only when the employer is dragged into court.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:14 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


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