3/11/2010

Au Revoir Examiner

NOTE: I originally wrote this post several months ago following a spate of problems with the "Examiner.com" writers and plagiarism. I decided against posting at that time to see if things changed there or they cleaned up things. Unfortunately, just a couple months ago one of their writers in the paranormal category lifted something I had written for my other blog and syndicated to select paranormal investigation groups. While, to my knowledge, she did not publish it on the Examiner.com website (or if so, it was removed before I found it), she did publish it under her own name in other places. What's worse is when she was called on it her "apology" consisted of swearing it was all just a coincidence and "misunderstanding."

So, here's my original posting on the Examiner and why, after working for About.com in its heyday, I found the experience, to be frank... embarrassing.


A few months ago at the behest of a friend, I joined the Examiner website covering LGBT issues in Tucson. I promised myself that I would not be writing "news" or in-depth articles as I'd once done when I worked for About.com.

Back in those days, About.com was less a collection of advertisements and more a true magazine and directory. I wrote articles at least weekly covering happenings, politics, and life in the Midlands of South Carolina. It was fun, we got a small stipend on top of a cut of page views, and we got some opportunities for a little a travel. It was pretty rewarding when things went smoothly.

Of course, then I decided to cover the Confederate Flag controversy. I also wrote a several part series dissecting the "history not hate" argument with true historical fact. That little series led to a few death threats against me and even my pets. Not a fun time. Several months later, I decided to leave About.com because of the time investment versus the monetary pay-off. Hey, if I'm going to get a death threat, I at least want to be able to buy something nice before I'm offed!

So, when my friend talked me into joining the Examiner it was with the caveat that I would not be doing heavy stories or reporting. I'd just be talking about current events in the community around Tucson.

Unfortunately, the Examiner likes you to "update" multiple times a week. There is no stipend to reimburse you for your time and you get a "page view" cut that is laughable. In essence the drive at the Examiner is for eyeballs. The more sensational and outrageous - the more the compensation. The more prolific the writer - the more the compensation.

That model leads to a problem with quality. I saw one Examiner who covers the same type of LGBT beat (although a different market) begin to cover Hollywood scandals. Even if they had nothing to do with LGBT issues, he would cover the latest gossip as long as it had a celebrity name that was trending high in searches that week. My disgust finally boiled over when he reported in all seriousness the death of former star - because of a CHAIN EMAIL! Yes, he did not bother to check the facts but just reprinted the wild story from the email as fact. His only hedge was the last line where he rhetorically "wondered" if the story were true.

It took several people pointing out to him on Facebook that the story was false. He finally revised it after several hours. However, two minutes of fact checking would have shown him the story had no veracity. In fact, a single search at Snopes.com would have brought to light the email was a hoax! But, he got page views. In the Examiner model that is all that matters.

So, I found myself competing with this. I was expected to find some story to write about every few days that would drive people to my pages. That meant I'd have to start making stuff up (in Tucson the LGBT community is fairly settled and older) or go far afield to cover other things to lace my stories with "hot" names.

I was very unsure at that point whether it was worth it to continue. The final straw was a food writer for the Examiner.

As you might have noticed I launched my own food blog, Sugar Pies in August. It's been well received and I'm quite proud of it. Because of that I've really gotten into the "Foodie" community. They're a great bunch of people who share a love of good food.

A couple weeks ago one of the better known food bloggers was livid. She'd found one of her original recipes copied word for word on the Examiner website presented as an original creation of one of their authors. He had even copied her photograph of her dish! The fury was swift and sure. Dozens of scathing comments were left on the article and it was reported to the Examiner as plagiarism many times. Still, it took them several days to remove the article and they never apologized publicly for the plagiarism. The page where the article used to reside only said it was "being prepared and would be available shortly."

Of course, I got a few questions since some knew I wrote for the Examiner. "Is this common practice? Don't they have any oversight?" Unfortunately, I couldn't honestly tell these people that this was an aberration or that the Examiner closely checked articles and had an editor read them. Neither happens, generally. In fact, the person who plagiarized the recipe still is writing for them.

I was embarrassed in the face of my new colleagues in the food community over this and decided it was time to sever my ties with the Examiner.

I hope that they eventually get some direction. Part of the problem is allowing anyone to write for them and turning their site from a source of good information into a quasi-Live Journal. Topics overlap and topics are covered that really are better suited to a personal blog. I also hope they can get a handle on editing their writers and fact checking articles in at least some cursory way.

Some type of training needs to happen before their writers are unleashed on the world. At About.com there was a multi week training program that covered the basics of writing, ethics, how to use the website tools, and other important matters. The "boot camp" was overseen by tough editors who really guided the writers into becoming quite professional. At the Examiner once you are "accepted" you start writing the same day.

After all, when you read a story on the March on Washington whose lede is: "October 11th will see an inordinate amount of homosexuals descend on our nations capital.." (All errors in that are original.) You know that editorial oversight is lax.

That type of writing is fine for a personal blog. God knows, I don't spend hours parsing grammar and spelling here, but it's not OK for a professional site purporting to report real news.

So, I took my leave of the Examiner. If you're still sending me your news releases and stuff, I'll be happy to mention them here on SE2SW for you, but won't be putting them up at Examiner.com.

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