Hits Versus Content At Examiner.com, a.k.a The Best Email Ever

We can’t recommend enough this little gem that just landed in our inbox- a cautionary tale from local journalist L.J. Williamson:

Hey there,

I adore your blog, and I thought I’d share a funny little story about my time at Examiner.com with you.

You’re probably familiar with Examiner.com and other “pay per click” sites for writers. Even though the pay is dismal, I thought it might be useful in some way to be the “Los Angeles Family and Parenting” columnist for the site.

Yet after a short time, the whole setup began to grate on me and my (admittedly puny) sense of journalistic ethics, and it all just fed my outrage about the direction the world is going in. Is this really the future of journalism? There is no fact checking, no editing, no nothing except a regular series of emails from your “channel manager” imploring you to employ SEO and “viral marketing” to increase the number of hits your page gets, and writers are paid next to nothing. An example from one of their emails: “Examiners should avoid obscure references, no matter how ‘clever.’ Search engines don’t recognize cleverness.”

Examiner.com people see themselves as the new media vanguard — “I do see examiner.com replacing a number of the functions of local media,” says Michael Sherrod, Examiner.com’s CEO (http://cbs4denver.com).

Okay, all they care about is how many hits your page gets, and they don’t care about the writing. Fine – I decided to try to do things their way. Unexpectedly, one post I wrote about the vaccine/autism debate really brought the crazies out of the woodwork, and brought my page views to a new record high. So I went with it, decided to start baiting the vaccine deniers more and more, with exaggerations and half-truths. I also wrote a series of preposterous articles on topics like why peanuts should be banned, why panic was a totally appropriate response to the swine flu outbreak, and why schoolchildren were likely to die if they were allowed to play dangerous games such as tag. And no one at Examiner noticed or cared what I said or did for quite some time.

It was only when lawyers for Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey pointed out to the management at Examiner.com that I was spreading rumors about their clients that anyone there actually bothered to read my page. I’d done an homage to the well known Hunter Thompson Campaign Trail prank by writing an article reporting that Jenny McCarthy was rumored to be hosting Ibogaine parties, and that apparently ruffled some feathers. I was immediately “fired,” if you could call it that, but I don’t, since I have yet to be paid so it doesn’t exactly count as a “job.” But it was fun while it lasted, and because of my Jenny McCarthy ibogaine story, I got about three times the number of page views that anyone else did that day, so at least I went out on a high note and did my bit for “journalism.”

McCarthy’s lawyers have demanded that I publish a retraction and apology, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, and probably won’t since Examiner.com says they’ve blocked my access to the site.

Here’s to the future of journalism,

L.J. Williamson

Williamson’s parenting column can still be viewed on the Examiner website. We recommend Tag! You’re dead! Why we must act now to ban the dangerous game of tag in American schools

UPDATE: Examiner has removed the tag story, but a reader lets us know it can still be viewed here