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Management at the home office of Demand Media Studios, located in Santa Monica, California, has begun making several changes that are resulting in a contractor force that is less than happy.

Beginning around the Memorial Day weekend, an extended glitch left copy editors (CEs) locked out of a writing/editing contest in which writers and editors who had either submitted or edited an article were entered into a drawing. The CEs were understandably upset. The contest was extended for a few days – the tech team at DMS had a difficult time eradicating the glitch. Once that issue was resolved, editing numbers for CEs plunged to all-time lows, despite the numbers of titles available for writers to claim.

Management chalked up the low article numbers to summer: “writers are on vacation and their kids are out of school. They’re spending time with their families, so article numbers will naturally be low,” was one (paraphrased) response. Article numbers stayed low well into July, when writers experienced a huge bonanza of easily writable titles.

While the Memorial Day glitch was eventually eradicated, several smaller glitches popped up during the summer months – mainly on or right before pay cutoff dates. On the weekend pay cutoffs, writers and CEs found themselves filing frenzied tech help desk tickets as they tried to let the tech team know that their twice-weekly pay was being impacted by these issues. These issues were not limited to weekends; they cropped up in the middle of the week, frustrating independent contractors on both sides of the article creation aisle.

Writers who had been receiving grammar/structure scores below a certain level found themselves being pulled into WEP (Writer Evaluation Program). These writers found their title claim limits dropped to three (the same as newly accepted writers). The WEP writers were instructed to review current DMS style guidelines and choose their three titles carefully. They could choose all three at once or claim one, write and submit it, then claim a second, then a third. However, they were also instructed to wait to submit further WEP articles until they had received detailed instruction from the SCE (senior CE) assigned to their articles. Some did just this – chose one title at a time, wrote it, went over the guidelines and asked for feedback from the writing/editing community before submitting. Others claimed and wrote all three one right after the other.

Several writers who were pulled into WEP found themselves receiving the “Your services are no longer required” email. Others were told they had passed WEP and had their previous title claiming limits restored up to 10 – they were also told their articles were being “closely watched” to ensure that they wrote them in full compliance with DMS guidelines. What issues caused writers to be included in this program? Management never clearly specified what the issues were. In the past, writers have been flagged for submitting “thin” content, relying on questionable references, writing material that contained gross factual errors or confirmed plagiarism.

A second round of WEP ensued, with more writers pulled into the program, then, after this round, an individual writer here and there would come into the forums, reporting that they had received the WEP email.

After the large title drop mid-summer, the drops dwindled once more. Finding titles that could be written without extensive research became the exception rather than the rule. Toward the end of the summer (after Labor Day), the titles became almost solely about little-known tech topics and writers found themselves able to claim and write fewer and fewer titles.

Close to the beginning of October, writers received an upbeat forum thread announcing “exciting news.” In essence, DMS had decided to divide writers into two camps: Those with scores averaging 4 and above for their most recent 50 articles of the past month and those with scores below 4. The writers with scores of 4 and over would receive a “first look” opportunity at titles being dropped into the assignment pages. This “first look” would last for 48 hours. After this time, any titles remaining in the assignments pages would go to non-First Look writers. Just before F.L. went into effect, every writer, regardless of his or her title claim limit, saw that limit dropped to 10 titles.

Given the tiny size of title drops and the difficulty of these titles, non-F.L. writers were upset. “Where am I going to write to earn money? I’ve been laid off!”

In fairness to the writers selected for F.L. (affectionately called “Flook”), titles continue to be scarce. While they have the first look and grab opportunity, most titles were incorrectly categorized. Rather than being assigned to the Topic View category, they were assigned to How To, but their titles suggested the TV format. In addition, many cannot be written because research from allowable research sites is nonexistent.

Inclusion in F.L. is based on a “rolling” score – writers whose scores drop are removed from the program while non-F.L. writers whose scores increase sufficiently for the month find themselves included. Pressure for both groups of writers is intense.

In addition, several of the writers, myself included, have been urging writers throughout the Studios to line up non-DMS clients, both online and offline. Some heeded this advice – others didn’t. Those who didn’t are the angriest – and the most frightened.

I am not going to copy and paste posts from the forums. Aside from the fact that this goes against DMS terms of service, it’s just wrong. I will say that writers on both sides of the “green line” are angry and scared.

Free Digital Photos Credit Danilo Rizzuti

 

The Case

Two-year old Caylee Anthony was last seen by family on June 16, 2008. One month later, her grandmother tracked Caylee’s mother, Casey down and forced her to admit she didn’t have the child with her. A two-year old is not capable of taking care of or protecting herself. Casey came up with several stories about the child’s whereabouts, when the girl was actually already dead.

After Caylee had died, Casey spent the time shopping, entering “hot body” contests and partying. When her mother finally found her Casey said she had been investigating Caylee’s kidnapping, looking for “Zanny,” or Zenaida, the woman she claimed was Caylee’s nanny.

Background

Casey Anthony gave birth to Caylee when she was 20 years old. She and Caylee lived with Casey’s parents in Orlando for the whole time that Caylee was alive – family videos and photos attest to this. The little girl was primarily taken care of by her maternal grandparents (her father’s paternity was never established).

As Caylee became more and more verbal, learning to construct and speak sentences of two, then three words, it is said that Casey became worried that Caylee would “tell on her,” telling her parents that Casey wasn’t at home taking care of her.

Caylee’s grandparents saw her for the last time in mid-June. Casey disappeared as well, telling her parents variously that she was in Tampa or that she and Caylee were spending time with the nanny, who had been injured in a wreck. When Cindy finally found Casey, Casey admitted that she didn’t know where Caylee was. Casey said that the nanny and the nanny’s sister, Samantha, had kidnapped Caylee.

Cindy called law enforcement and filed a missing person report. Responding officers interviewed Casey. Audiotapes from the phone call Cindy placed feature a young mom who seemed normal, not frightened, worried or concerned.

When Casey’s car was found and Cindy and George Anthony picked it up at the tow yard, George, a retired law enforcement officer, recognized the smell in the car. Cindy called law enforcement again, saying the car had been found and, “it smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”

For this time frame, Caylee is still missing. She was already dead. While the investigation was still being carried out, she was still treated as a missing person.

Allegations From the Trial

Defense attorney Jose Baez said in his opening statement that he would prove that George Anthony had been sexually abusing Casey, and that Lee, Casey’s older brother, had also abused her. Baez also said that Caylee had gotten into the above-ground pool by herself and drowned. Casey found her and panicked. George helped her to cover up the accidental drowning by making it look like Caylee had been murdered.

The prosecution said that Casey did not want a now-verbal Caylee to tell her parents that she, Casey, was not taking care of Caylee as she was supposed to be  doing. Although they didn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, they presented the trunk liner from Casey’s car. The liner was permeated with the smell of death. Prosecutors also presented chloroform evidence.

Because Caylee’s body was so badly decomposed when it was found, the forensic investigators and coroner c

Criminal Evidence

Every criminal leaves a piece of himself at the crime scene.

ould not say with any certainty what killed Caylee – or who killed her.

My Perspective

Now that the trial has ended and the jury has given its verdict, it’s in the record that Casey lied repeatedly. Some of these lies were pretty big whoppers. Whether they were to cover up her guilt and actions, I don’t know.

I do know that her actions while Caylee was missing raise several huge, red, flapping-in-the wind flags. Why didn’t she notify law enforcement right away when she knew Caylee was missing? Why was she shopping, using stolen checks and partying during that month?

A parent with strong maternal instincts would be calling the police daily, at least once a day, first to file a report, then to ask about any information about a missing child. That parent would not be able to work, let alone participate in the party scene.

The photos of Casey with Caylee point up a beautiful young woman, beaming as she and her child looked into the camera. Video clips show Casey playing on the floor with her daughter as they horse played. Other clips show a young child talking and turning pages in a picture book; a photo of a little girl in a car seat, wearing a cap and clutching a doll; a girl resting on her tummy with her chin in one folded hand as she gazed quietly into the camera. Her potential has been snuffed out.

The trial brought into stark relief a troubled family. Casey’s older brother, Lee, was allegedly shut out of the family’s celebration after Caylee was born; a volunteer searcher said that she and George had been intimate; George admitted only to spending time with her; after Lee testified, his mother, Cindy, was caught by video cameras glaring at him in the back of the courtroom.

Any emotional, personality or mental problems that Casey may have will need to be addressed and/or diagnosed by mental health professionals. She may have done her daughter a favor by allowing her parents to be her primary caregivers. Then again, who knows? Would the problems within the Anthony family have extended to affect little Caylee had she not been killed?

The defense allegations at the start of the trial are not easy to take under the best of circumstances. Whether the Anthony family knew they would be raised during opening statements or not, being accused, in front of an international audience, of molesting a family member is painful and humiliating. Answering those questions under oath during testimony is just as difficult. Whether Casey will be welcomed at home, regardless of when she is released, is an open question.

This family has been through one of the most difficult times imaginable and they will need time to recover, heal and mend relationships. Couple, family and individual therapy are all good suggestions.

My Clients
I write for several online clients –– Demand Media Studios, Bright Hub and Constant Content. I also have several private sites (WordPress, HubPages and Triond).

My primary client is DMS. I have been writing for them for just over three years and have built up a hefty writing portfolio, to include LiveStrong, eHow, eHow Personal Finance, Local.com, Answerbag and WhiteFence. I have never edited for DMS, although I am considered a backup editor.  I am also a community moderator, which is a volunteer position.

New Developments
Las Friday (June 24), DMS announced a “CE Feedback tool” that writers can choose (or not choose) to use to provide feedback to the editorial staff members on several points. Since Friday, the forums have been active with threads about CEs, the drawbacks of the feedback tool and discussions of threads a few CEs have participated in, speaking in negative tones about the writers they edit. I suspected, but was not sure, this was happening. Now that it has been confirmed on a non-DMS forum, writers (and CEs) are arguing and saying, in effect, “he said, she said.”

Reactions
To put this new development into greater perspective, DMS put into effect a writer’s “Quality Improvement Tool,” or “QuIT” for short. I can’t go into detail about this, but writers are being referred to editorial for additional attention and assistance.

The two tools are as different as sugar is from salt. Yes, the programs come from DMS and they focus on both groups. That’s where the similarity ends. Just like salt is salty and sugar is sweet, one tool focuses on writers who are struggling with various aspects of DMS’ writing guidelines; the CE feedback tool is intended for –– feedback.

Much of the arguments center on the beliefs of some CEs: writers should not evaluate writers on some issues. Other arguments focus on the different sets of skills required for writing and editing. To be fair, DMS has CEs who also write for the company. These CEs have seen and experienced both sides of the fence. good and bad. Some CEs are concerned that some writers are going to use the feedback tool in a vindictive “I’m gonna get back at you” way. No doubt, some will. Hopefully, the PTB (powers that be) have policies and procedures in place to either prevent or deal with abusive use of the new tool.

Because writers and CEs are limited by DMS policy in their ability and mode of communication regarding articles, writers feel constrained. CEs are hidden behind a veil of anonymity  –– for good reason. Some writers who received in-depth rewrites in the past have threatened the CEs who edited their articles. DMS responded by making each CE anonymous to the writers. (The only writers who know who has edited their work are the LiveStrong writers –– and they only find out when the article is published. If the article is rejected, writers don’t know who edited their work.)

Writers have been clamoring for a way of communicating, preferably with CEs, regarding their work (why they chose the point of view they used, why they used the references they used). The writers do have a comment box where they can, and should, communicate with the CEs. Some use it and others don’t. That box comes up on the final preview page, making it difficult for some to remember points they want to make to the CEs.

The community moderators have been busy this weekend, monitoring and commenting in the threads about the new feedback tool and the CEs. The next few weeks are going to be an eye-opening time –– if we are allowed to keep and use this tool.

Monday Through Friday
As a freelance writer, Jeannie maintains a strict daily work schedule. She isn’t so strict and inflexible that she can’t handle unexpected emergencies, but she has learned that discipline is key to earning.

She wakes up to the sound of her radio alarm. While she’s not up as early as those who work for “brick and mortar” employers, she makes it a daily practice to be up before 6:30. She feeds her cats, makes her bed, exercises, makes two cups of coffee, then takes care of her email. She dresses for her day, sometimes in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt and, on other days, in more professional clothing.

Breakfast

As she’s drinking coffee, she reads and deletes or saves the emails that have come in overnight –– her practice is to get through it early because she gets, on average, 20 a day. It’s easier to deal with the overnight emails, then, as others come in during the day, she deals with them on work breaks.

After breakfast, Jeannie takes care of a single household chore before settling down to writing. Again, she has a daily and weekly schedule, which enables her to take care of the house and the necessity to earn.

Writing

At approximately 9 a.m., Jeannie gets a bottle of water and a quick breakfast, then settles down to her first article of the day. Her research for each article is already done. As she is claiming and accepting titles from various clients, she completes her research, finding acceptable websites or books from which she can draw sources, quotes and cite information. She strives to write one article in approximately 45 minutes to one hour, which means she should be able to write between seven and nine articles a day, depending on which client or publisher she is writing for.

Clients

Jeannie writes for online sites like Bright Hub, Demand Media Studios, Writers Research Group, Constant Content and Writers Access. She does not write for every one of these sites. Instead, she has applied with, and been accepted for just a few. She also has writing/blog accounts with sites like Triond, WordPress and HubPages.

Because Jeannie spent several years working for various brick-and-mortar employers, she is used to sound, conversation, ringing phones, whirring copiers, slamming file drawers and the interruptions of coworkers. She can’t work in silence any more, so she has the sound of her television to help her focus on her work.

By 1 p.m., Jeannie is hungry and takes a quick lunch break. As she’s munching, she browses around the forums of one of her clients. She interacts with some of her colleagues in the forums, sending and receiving occasional private messages, or PMs.

More Writing

Apple Desktop Computer

After lunch, which usually lasts about half an hour, Jeannie’s back at work, tackling more articles. By this time, she has written anywhere between 3 and 4 articles, depending on how much research each title requires.

Jeannie tries to be finished with her writing by 6:30, so she can work on a blog entry, then relaxing with a television show or one of her hobbies.

She sometimes takes a break to take care of personal business –– paying a bill, getting allergy shots, buying groceries or picking up prescriptions.

At the end of the day, Jeannie has written, on average, anywhere between six and nine articles. As an independent contractor, she is responsible for 100 percent of her income, and is always looking for new clients.

Tomorrow will be a new day, and Jeannie faces new titles, new topics and new research.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write until a couple of minutes ago. I spent all day long on my working writing (Demand Media Studios, adjusting my writing schedule at Bright Hub, my book and now, here for WordPress). It’s just after 10 at night –– and I started at about 9 this morning. Took a short break to go to the store for some food we needed.

As a freelance writer, independent contractor and self-employed business woman, I am always busy. I write six, sometimes seven days a week, depending on how my monthly earnings are growing. My goal, after earning badly needed money for several things I am working toward, is to cut down to 6 days a week, take Sunday off, then within the next year, reserve Saturday for my book, crafting, relaxing and friends.

My earnings fluctuate wildly, depending on several factors. These include the availability of titles within my areas of knowledge/expertise, and even some that are just a little beyond those areas. Another factor is technical glitches, such as site crashes or inability of the CEs to access waiting articles.

I was just invited to write for Local.com and WhiteFence, two new DMS publishers. WhiteFence articles are actually moving fairly quickly while Local.com articles are moving. Very. Slowly. It’s a new publisher, so the number of writers and CEs assigned there is still low. Everyone is still getting comfortable with the guidelines and expectations.

Earlier this year, I worked on the photo audit team at DMS. Earnings were fantastic. I earned my highest monthly total ever, whether self-employed or traditionally employed. I’m trying to get back into that, obviously.

I have been approached by a publishing company owner to edit some manuscripts that will be ready for copy editing in the next few months. It’s something completely new to me, but it’s another learning opportunity.

Google’s Panda and Panda 2 wreaked havoc on my Bright Hub page views and earnings. Pre-Panda and pre-Panda 2, I was moving up in page views every month. March was my highest month ever, with over 7,000 page views. Now? I’m lucky to get 2,500. I was following editorial direction in keywording. Everyone, whether writer, CE or company executive, learned from the drop in page views. Bright Hub has since completely revamped the writing process and channels. I am still in the Health channels, but those have been moved to an outside site. I’m writing for Education/Library/Books, Housecleaning/Crafts and Parenting as well.

Even there, Panda has exerted its effect: The crafts and books channels are now editorially managed. For my crafts articles, I have to take pictures of the craft I am making. It’s a moot point, actually. Panda has forced a reduction in the number of writing opportunities every month. Where I could claim 10 at a time from one channel, now I can claim two or three titles.

I am always looking for new clients. I’m signed up with WritersAccess and I have been applying for casting calls.

Why am I doing all of this? I am trying to find the kinds of opportunities that, while I will still be working hard, I’ll also be working smarter. Rather than $20 or $15 per title, I’m aiming for the $100 per article payments. Multiple articles per month.

Where does the relaxation, rest and hobbies come in? Where indeed? My goal is to stop the work writing every day between 6 and 7 p.m. Once I finish for the day, my plan is to spend an hour an evening writing my book.

After all of the writing (work and book) is done, the next part of my evening would be spent reading, watching a television program, then either crocheting or cross stitching. I have a scarf, sweater and blanket I need to finish or get started. It’s time to think of the Christmas gifts for my family (yes, in June. I make my gifts and I have a large family).

Freelancer put so much energy into getting their businesses off the ground, they forget about “me time.” A friend of mine finds this necessary. Her “me time” activities are reading, making and eating a chocolate shake or going for a walk with her husband.

Putting so many hours in the day into writing is good — up to a point. (I passed that point about 3 hours ago.) I know what my healthy balance is; I need to get it back again.

The Business of Freelancing

Freelancers (writing, accountants, graphic designers, personal shoppers, counselors, organizers) give themselves a big opportunity when they decide to start working for themselves. Freelancers also take a huge risk, financially. If they do not have employment outside the home, the responsibility is 100 percent upon them for success –– or failure. Most self-employed people realize this and put many hours into their businesses every week, sometimes more than the usual 40 they would work if they were to be working for someone else.

Setting Up a Workable Work Schedule

Focusing on an individual freelancer –– while it is good to be focused on making her business grow, her efforts will be useless if she does not pay attention to her mental health. She could push herself to the point that she can’t work and bring money in. What should she do to meet two seemingly opposite goals?

First, she should map out a reasonable work schedule that allows her to focus on working during the day. This schedule should allow her to take care of errands that she can’t complete outside working hours, such as paying a bill in person.

Second, she needs to give herself enough time every week to take care of household activities, such as cooking or cleaning. If she can, she should arrange her workday so that the cleaning or cooking are all taken care of in the same time block so that, when she is working, she will not be distracted.

Third, she needs breaks during her work day. Regardless of her self-employment status, she needs those breaks so she can rest her mind and eyes. If she keeps her television on for sound, she can take advantage of this and watch a portion of a program during her breaks and lunch.

The Consequences of Overworking as a Freelancer

Is she at risk of burnout if she doesn’t allow herself to relax? Isn’t that just a bunch of fancy talk that allows her to be lazy at home?

Yes, she is risking burnout which can put her business at risk. No, it isn’t just an excuse to be lazy. Here’s an imaginary scenario:

Our freelancer (let’s call her Vicky) is highly motivated to make her business a success. With this goal in mind, she sets up an ambitious work schedule. Thing is, she overlooks giving herself enough time to take care of business outside her home; she forgets to factor in time for laundry, cleaning or cooking. She forgets about her need to recharge herself.

At first, things are going great. She’s putting in 12-hour days and she’s seeing results. She’s gaining new clients every month and they are becoming repeat clients. She gets excited and redoubles her earning efforts. She begins working on Saturdays.

Her house is beginning to show signs of neglect: laundry is piling up and it’s been a few weeks since the bathroom was cleaned. When she remembers to eat, it’s an apple here, a bowl of cold cereal there or crackers and cheese. She’s had to throw out more than one carton of spoiled milk and moldy or spoiled food.

One morning she wakes up –– or she tries to wake up. Her eyes just won’t open and she is so exhausted. She feels like she got slammed by a freight train. Thinking she’s coming down with the flu, she stays in bed and sleeps until 3 p.m. The next few days are a repeat. She’s getting calls from clients looking for the jobs they gave her. They want to see what progress she has made and all they’re getting is her voice mail. Eventually, she’s able to get up and she checks her voice mails only to find out that some of her best clients are ready to jump ship and look for another freelancer. Even worse, when she opens her email account, her best client has already done so.

She’s alarmed and, despite the fact that she’s still very tired, she resumes her work schedule. She finishes the jobs she’s contracted for and sends them to her clients. She gets calls and emails from them, letting her know that they found several errors in her work. They’re sorry, but they’re going to terminate their contract with her and send her their final payment.

If Vicky had set up a realistic work schedule, this would never have happened — or, at the very least, the chances of this happening would have been greatly reduced.

Find a Hobby and Respect Your Mind and Body

Working for Herself at Home FDP Credit Ambro

The self-employed freelancer needs to give herself a workable schedule.

Where does the relaxing activity or hobby come in? Just as with the reasonable working schedule and work, it comes out at the top. As a self-employed person, Vicky is responsible for it all. She is her own boss and employee. She has to pay self-employment taxes every quarter. She has to pay for all her office supplies AND all of her personal bills. She cannot do so if she is driving herself so hard she makes herself physically ill.

For this reason, it is very important for her to leave herself enough time at the end of the day to relax with something recreational. It should, of course, be something she enjoys learning and doing. Perhaps it’s gourmet cooking or baking; woodworking; making or writing music; a needle craft or creative writing. Just as if she were traditionally employed by an employer, she needs to give herself time at the end of her workday to recharge her batteries (physical, mental and emotional).

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