Journo Pays Crowdsourcing Company to Write Column

Would a freelance columnist’s day-to-day be easier and more fruitful with a supporting cast of 1,000 active researchers, interviewers, and fact checkers? Adam Penenberg, NYU journalism prof and contributor to The Atlantic Fast Company, decided to find out.

For his profile of San Francisco company Servio (formerly CloudCrowd), he enlisted the services of… Servio, which bills itself as “the largest editorial and writing service in the world.” But can a west coast outfit be expected to dig deep when the assignment focus is its own inner workings? The answer, writes Penenberg, is not really:

Basic facts were accurate; anything that required interpretation, however, was ripe for abuse. They simply avoided the questions I submitted that asked them to describe the company’s greatest weaknesses and to critique its competitors, and I never did find out what the company’s revenues were.

Anything having to do with the company’s co-founders Jordan Ritter and Alex Edelstein was painfully fawning. They were described as “hip, young businessmen” with “boyish good looks,” so much so that “it is not difficult to imagine how they have become so successful in the hip world of Internet business.”

Penenberg gets $400 for his column. Minus Servio expenses, he cleared $177.08. Not bad for half a day’s work. (Although since Penenberg concludes the Servio work was on the level of a first-year journalism student, might just be cheaper next time to hire a student.)