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Inside the (Virtual) Hallways of Demand Media Studios

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


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