Two AOL Employees, Two AOL Stories

Oliver Miller, a former contributor to AOL TV, wrote last week about his life as a “content slave” for the media juggernaut.

Over the course of less than a year, he churned out 350,000 words on TV for ten cents a word, and felt like life was pretty good.

But not all was well: “We … were all so grateful. Which allowed us to ignore … the fact that AOL editors forced us to work relentless hours. Or the fact that we were paid to lie, actually instructed to lie by our bosses.”

According to Miller, the job went like this: AOL sent him short, 2-minute video clips of a TV show; he wrote about the clips as if he’d watched the whole episode.

“I had panic attacks; we all did. My fellow writers would fall asleep, and then wake up in cold sweats.” When “The AOL Way” came out, it got worse, he said: the emphasis on speed and SEO got even more prominent.

Miller says he was ultimately fired for making a snarky aside about Alec Baldwin, who had just signed on to promote AOL’s brand. It’s possible he was cut not because he was targeted but because, according to others, AOL was not very careful when wielding the axe and cut freelancers indiscriminately.

Either way, he was cut. And five months later, no fulltime writing gig.

(We reached out to AOL media relations about Miller’s allegations of how the Television site worked, but got no response.)

On the other side of things, Benjamin Robert Gilbert, who freelances for AOL’s Joystiq, says it’s not all that bad.

He says:

In the approximately four months since that supposed leak [of The AOL Way], I’ve seen zero change in our editorial policy at Joystiq. We vet everything we run doggedly, every piece that gets published sees the eye of a copy editor before going live (except in rare occasions like, say, a liveblog), and I’ve never once been asked to take a different angle on a piece because it was “sexier” or more Googleable. If anything, since the Huffington Post acquisition, I’ve heard more than ever about the importance of quality content. Admittedly, I’ve rearranged headlines to give them better SEO, for sure, and that’s nothing new. As in, “That’s nothing new to writing things on the internet, for anyone.” This might blow your mind, but we’d like news that we write to be the first thing you find when you search for it on Google.

There you have it. People with conflicting opinions on the Internet. Who knew?