If being a freelance writer wasn’t difficult enough, the game has become significantly more difficult with the dumbing down of content online. Once considered an art, content creation is now an industrial process in which the only way to win the internet is by gaining views, and yes that means more cat stories please. How did we get to this state? Content providers are producing a large volume of stories, and following the latest in search engine optimization (SEO) trends, attempting to propel their platforms and stories up the search rankings and social media algorithms.
While SEO is an essential part of any content strategy, the reality is that writing all this content at fair rates is prohibitively expensive for most companies. The void has thus been filled with low-cost operators that quickly produce stories, with information that is often not verified and frequently ripped off from other sources. It’s the reason why readers will commonly find information being repeated across the web, as content producers copy each other in a vicious circle of misinformation.
This is nothing new, but in the realm of freelance writing, it has started to have an impact on how the industry operates. It is becoming more common place for companies seeking content to hire agencies that have a pool of writers online. The model works like any online service – an order comes in, and a group of pre-approved writers are allowed to accept it.
The first person clicking in then finishes the assignment in an allotted amount of time. There is a brief attached, and the writer works on a content management system where the copy is submitted, replete with a countdown clock that determines when the piece is due. You might have six hours to complete a task, and that will be all the time you have, thus robbing the writer of flexibility, which is essential to survival as a freelancer.
It is a sea change from the traditional work processes: the editor provides a brief and discusses both timeline and fee with the writer. The new model is much more rigid, with no room for negotiation – if you don’t like it, then another writer will click in and take the job. Losing a job might not be so bad anyway – the fees are regularly so low that a writer can probably earn more working a minimum wage job.
It is clear that there is a desire for easily consumable articles on social media, such as ‘listicles’ (The Top Ten Disney Characters!). As the providers that churn these pieces of content dominate search rankings, algorithms, and eyeballs across the web, the rest share an increasingly smaller piece of the pie. The result is the dumbing down of the industry as a whole, and journalistic values of fact-checking and balance becoming even less relevant in the battle to control the attention of the masses.
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