Monday, September 5
My Thoughts on The Death of ExaminerThis post is long overdue, but I was so busy traveling to a convention at the time and trying to rescue my six-years-worth of articles that I didn't have time to comment on the death of the Examiner.com platform.
Before I share my perspective on what happened and why I left, let me first state the positive: Examiner was my entry into pro-am journalism. I won't say it was actual journalism by any stretch -- Examiner had no editors to speak of -- but it did give me press credentials and an opportunity to see what life was like as a journalist in the very small tabletop gaming community. I made friends with WOTC's PR team (man, I miss those guys) and had a great relationship with some of the WOTC design leads. There is no way I would have gotten that exposure without Examiner, and for that I'm grateful. I also met some real pros during my time at Gen Con, like the Gamerstable gang who are just plain awesome and always welcomed me to their table at any event.
That said, the press for tabletop gaming has a low barrier to entry. I met a lot of guys who were bloggers or ran their own hobby podcasts and they weren't too interested in reporting things so much as they were having a good time.
I created my own code of conduct for Examiner by publishing an article nearly every day. I was over nearly 2,000 articles at the end of my run, and worked hard to provide timely formats based on what Examiner incentivized me to write. Sometimes this was a review, sometimes it was a list, sometimes it was me writing a review using two fictional characters. I experimented frequently -- and as I look for a new job and interviewers ask if I can actually write, I can speak with confidence that I've been honing my craft in the battlefield of public opinion for over six years.
The cracks started to show early on. Examiner promised financial incentives based on social sharing, then failed to deliver on them (two years later they finally did implement these incentives). I brought a new Examiner over but because he didn't fill out the form early enough in the process, they refused to make an exception and award me the headhunter fee. Mind you, the bounty for bringing on a new Examiner was $50 at the time, which was easily the equivalent of what I made from Examiner in a month. The fact that they weren't willing to cover a simple thing as a fee for bringing a new Examiner in (something that should have been celebrated) left a bad taste in my mouth and was a sign of things to come.
Then the ads started. Oh the ads! First it was an ad along one side, then along the bottom, then it was an ad across the top, and finally it was an ad that took up the entire screen. The ads weren't just aimed at readers -- logging in to use the tool as an Examiner meant wading through ads that frequently crashed my browser. At some point, Examiner decided to make money off of the suckers trying to write for them, which is a bit like a snake eating its own tail. Sure, you might stave off death from starvation for a little longer, but it won't end well.
The real nail in the coffin was the Taboola-style deal-with-the-devil faux ads. Examiner just gave up any editorial pretense completely and let an algorithm shove its own article-style ads on the side and bottom of the page. These so-called articles were gruesome, with such lurid descriptions (with accompanying pictures!) like "Do You Want to See a Dead Body?"
These changes steadily eroded Examiner's reputation, and by proxy damaged my reputation as a "pro-am" journalist. Then Examiner started to get editorial.
I welcomed editorial guidelines. But Examiner tried to implement guidelines without the financial resources to back it up. They were attempting to stem the tide of drek they had reaped for years and were coming after the most visible writers. The problem was that they didn't earn the additional effort they were requiring. In the end, it was enough to make me decide to quit completely.
I walked away from Examiner when it wasn't necessarily financially lucrative to do so. I formally resigned and moved to Patreon, but Examiner kept my articles and kept making money off of them...for a few months anyway. The site closed in much the way it operated, without enough respect to even notify the writers who made it money. It was through one of my patrons that I even found out what was happening, and then set about saving the articles I valued most.
Looking back, I'm glad I left on my own two feet, so to speak. All the signs were there: the lack of respect for the writers who worked so hard, the race to the bottom with ads, the loss of financial incentives, and then the whole thing suddenly collapsing in on itself.
I've since discovered that Examiner's rise and fall is not unique. Many online outlets have made Examiner's mistakes on some level, like engaging in Taboola/Outbrain-style ads, or just not paying their writers anything but "exposure." At least Examiner paid, even if they never let you know exactly how much you were making.
This is why I'm pleased to announce that I'm part of the ENWorld News Network (ENN). My Patreon allows me to write what I want; ENN lets me report on gaming topics that I'm passionate about and ensure the audience sees it (even if they don't agree with me). In leaving of my own accord from Examiner, I found not one but two better opportunities. You have to go through some tough times to reach a better place.
I will keep that in mind as I transition to the next step in my career, whatever that may be.
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