More Examining Examiner

File:Thinker Philadelphia.jpg
the Thinker on Wikimedia Commons

Because I am still a journalist at heart, I decided to dig further into the Examiner.com issue that I brought up a few posts ago. I think at this point I’m dealing with the perception game: there’s what people still consider to be journalism, and what journalism actually is. I’m no stranger to blogging, and no stranger to what’s involved in mass communications. I have worked as a reporter in real life, and from what I’m coming across, the Examiner isn’t just raising questions of whether it’s a legitimate information/news source, it’s raising the question and bringing out some misconceptions about what a journalist is and how a person becomes such a creature.

This article on Techchrunch gives
some perspective onto what’s going on
– sort of. If I’m putting together my understanding of the comments well enough, I’m drawing the following conclusions:
1. Yes, there are other professional journalists who have hopped onto Examiner.com. Most of the bloggers are subject matter enthusiasts but not necessarily writers or journalists.
2. The way some people talk about it, they expect journalists to be degreed professionals. Not only is this not always the case, having a degree has less weight than experience writing in most local markets I’ve encountered. There is no industry standard requiring members of the fourth estate to have a college degree, and it doesn’t always give an advantage when management considers new hires. Anyone can learn journalism, although it demands a certain personality type and an insane persistence to make it work.
3. Because those who write for Examiner are required to do their own promotion themselves, there’s often a perception by the Internet-oriented that these contributors are spammers. This is especially true because it’s considered poor netiquette to list your own articles on sites like Digg, Reddit and Delicious.
4. There are arguments from professional writing groups that the pay is substandard, and that the contract is too slippery.

Looking at my own situation, I have some additional factors to consider. My reason for getting involved is that every so often, I like to write something outside of my usual genre of occult/pagan/and now fashion stuff. Back in college I did hard news pretty well for my limited resources (if you want to be a journalist, try to own both a laptop and a car in college. You will need them. A camera will also help a lot.) I just like having a few clips around to prove I’m not just a one or two trick pony, and to make sure I have something for my portfolio to show should that Perfect Job (TM) ever happen along. So I picked up the museum beat, but it hasn’t been fun. About two weeks after I started the gig, my father died, and I was awkwardly trying to post fresh content about Twin Cities museums and keep up on my other blogs while handling a stressful situation in Indiana. Since returning and giving it the attention I’ve scheduled for it I just haven’t been enjoying myself. First, there’s the expense of getting into museums to do any face to face work (library passes only go so far) and then there’s my limited transportation situation – it’s not too bad, but it gets in the way. Mostly I feel like I’ve taken something fun away from myself, since I really do love local museums. While it’s a practice from way back in journalism, I’m none too thrilled about recycling press releases – sure, it’s easy, but it feels cheap so I try not to do it. So in terms of personal feelings, I’m already not enthusiastic.

As to the other factors, the two big flags are the money/slippery contract and the public perception of Examiner writers as spammers. The contract is a serious concern – someone could simply decide not to pay me, and they don’t pay out until you’ve hit a certain number anyway. The pay itself, however, isn’t substandard if you’ve been blogging as long as I have. For blog pay, it’s OK, and writers are notoriously undervalued and underpaid throughout the industry. Remember the writer’s strike in 2008? It’s way too easy for producers to forget that anything they’ve got to work with starts with us writers. There’s stuff I’ve been accruing from writing Fat Chic that won’t pay out for a very long time, and I’m reasonably sure if I keep writing for Examiner I’ll see that money before I see things from my own endeavors that have been in place much, much longer. The perception of Examiner writers as amateur spammers, however, is a very serious concern, as are comparisons of Examiner to tabloid journalism. If I write for a tabloid, I’d prefer it to be along the lines of the now-defunct Weekly World news, not along the lines of the National Enquirer. I’d enjoy writing a weekly log of Elvis on alien spaceship sitings.

The perception of me as a writer being a spammer is also a very, VERY serious concern. As it is right now I’m careful to only promote through venues on which I’m already active, and Digg’s policies allow for you to submit your own articles so long as you don’t submit duplicates. Because writers do have to do their own promotion – and this is a problem not just in blogging but in other aspects of publishing as well – they are put in a position where the unexperienced writer may damage his or her reputation through self-promotion missteps.

While I haven’t fully decided what direction I’m going to go with my own gig, I do have the joint concerns of reputation and personal time and interest resources to consider. I have to admit, however, that finding an article on Ehow about how to make money writing for Examiner is a point against continuing.