Entrepreneurs: The New Con? Writing for the Internet

Robert Redford and fellow conman in film
1973 The Sting

In our computerized world with, almost, instant access to businesses, information and porn at one’s fingertips, the Internet is full of entrepreneurs. While this is nothing new, stories have existed for quite some time about the clever clogs who have made a fortune off the World Wide Web. A lot of these took place when dial-up was the norm and Broadband was still a dream. But are these new businessmen/women now part of the “new con?”

Many are.

It would appear that in some areas, dreams can still be bilked for big money. There is at least one website, the Guardian Liberty Voice, that is still singing a song of sweet success to those who write.

And to those who think that they can write. Back when the online publication was called the Guardian Express prospective writers were enticed to join the “paper’s” bootcamp and learn how to write for the Internet and Google.

Back in those days, the training lasted one week and consisted of learning about how to do images and where to find trending stories and the secrets of Bottlenose. There was meant to be a test at the end of the week’s training but I did not have to take part. My class consisted of me alone and my articles were packing views in at an impressive rate (according to owner/publisher DiMarkco Chandler) so at the end of my “hell day” I was immediately brought on board as a writer and editor for Entertainment.

I did edit as well as write but anything that kept me from hitting my 8 to 10 articles a day output was frowned upon and the duties of editor were taken away, but not the title. As my output soared (on weekends I wrote up to 15 articles a day) I was then made Deputy Managing Editor and Senior Entertainment Editor.

*As I’ve pointed out before, most of these articles were a minimum of 500 words and many were up to 1500. However you slice it, that is a lot of work.*

This promotion was soon followed by the information that I was being made a “late stage co founder.” Something that was made to sound quite profitable, eventually, and rather special. It soon turned out that being able to breath entitled one to earn this special title.

While having worked management positions in retail, I was not qualified in the world of journalism to run any paper’s section. Journalism was a class taken “millennia” ago and although being a manager does help to a degree in helping underlings to make deadlines, it does not immediately qualify anyone to work across the board. Managers should be well versed in the area they are working in.

I’ve written a couple of articles about my time at the GLV and Carol Tice wrote an incredibly well researched piece about the company last year.

This is not meant to be more recounting of an odd experience but a warning that there are other places out there that also take advantage of their writers and staff.

A few years ago, my daughter was approached by a website that specialized in video gaming news. She has her own YouTube channel and she hired on to do videos and write articles for this site. In a matter of days, the publisher had her writing up to 7 articles a day, although she was contracted for 3 to 5. The pay, however, was brilliant.

At first.

As time went on, her output was meant to go up exponentially and she was expected to do a certain amount of videos per week. Starting the job in her break from University she had to stop when the next semester started. After a short time, other writers and video journalists were being either fired or quitting.

The publisher did not take the departed staff’s names and titles down from the site. Thinking that this “established” site was still going strong, when the publisher approached her to do some more work she said yes.

Things were very different in her return to games journalism. The price for the videos had dropped drastically and she was not required to write many articles at all. To make a long story short, the publisher was now writing all the articles himself but putting them under the names of the departed staff.

One of the perks of doing videos and writing gaming news was getting early copies of new games and this became an exercise in futility for my daughter. There was no rhyme or reason in the way games were shared out and it was only after partnering with Sony that the situation cleared up.

In the end, this blogging site lost many of its original staff and left quite a few with lingering sense of betrayal. This video games blogging site was different from GLV in many ways.

There was never any sticking point like a contract, apart from a verbal one, and video walkthroughs and reviews were part of the package expected by its staff. The site, which is still up and running, continues to do its thing and appeal to gamers the world over.

GLV, despite its intent of having a TV channel on the site, never did proper videos and the channel never worked well enough to reach fruition.

Any interviews I did had to be uploaded onto the publisher’s YouTube channel and received a tiny amount of views (less than my own personal YouTube channel uploads). In fact, after the first “big” interview (a hastily put together Q & A with the incredible Marlon Wayans) no camera operator was sent to film these events.

The one thing that both of the sites have in common is that the owner/publisher of each were entrepreneurs. This appears to be the new code name for con men and women. It is not all about selling the unwary the newest thing in bridges, swampland or snake oil, it is about luring the creative into writing or vlogging for sites that have no intention of paying for work being done, despite promises to do so.

I will include one last thing about working for the GLV.

Taxes.

Leaving the company did not solve all my problems, for one thing it now appears that the president (who took care of all the forms needed by the self employed contractors to file their tax claims) has revealed in a confidential email to the publisher that the 1099s are incorrect. Mine, which I have yet to see, she refused to send out as the publisher is attempting to falsify my income by making it much higher than it really was.

As I sit here finishing this last Internet writers scam article, I am now worried to death that I will get a 1099 that is not only falsified, but, one that will leave me liable for taxes I do not really owe or can pay.

Beware the Internet children.  In this cyberspace medium there are creatures who prey on the creative and wannabe creatives. They are not above overworking and underpaying writers and they lie. Do not trust GLV and its expanding offshoots look around, start your own blog, write for experience and do not expect a huge amount of money when you are starting out.

Most importantly, use the very medium that is being used against you to learn if the snake oil on offer is really liquid napalm that is ready to burn you to a crisp.

Postscript: While polishing off this article, I was contacted by The Lyrical Elitist, a fellow blogger and, for a short while, fellow employee at GLV, who thanked me for my article and revealed another that he had just written, concerning a leaked email. One that I’d seen earlier today, that mentions me specifically.

17 February 2015

Freelance Writers: Beware the Scammers (The GLV Experience)

Person in a hamster wheel

There are a number of websites that advertise for “Freelance Writers.” Of course many do not come out and call these aspiring writer’s freelance. Some, like the site I stumbled across almost two years ago, just asked for writers who wanted to be paid for their efforts. Like any rube at the county fair I was suckered in, and it took me a long time to realize that the promises made were never going to match reality. So potential writers should beware the scammers.

A freelance writer and blogger, Carol Tice; wrote an expose on the Guardian Liberty Voice, the publication that caught me in its opportunistic web of half-truths, full-out lies and “black-hat” practices that got the site hammered by Google repeatedly.

Her article came out in 2014 at a time when I was living in the same house as the publisher, DiMarkco Chandler. Carol did not shirk her duties in doing research and contacting members of the site. I remember walking past Chandler’s office and seeing Carol on the big screen monitor asking him questions. Rather interestingly, the two people who had been with Guardian Liberty Voice the longest, the chief editor and myself, were never asked to take part in this rebuttal to her investigation.

No other writer or editor came near my output on the paper. I wrote nearly 1,900 articles for GLV and worked very hard to give the publication a credible Entertainment section. Attending fan conventions, film screenings and doing interviews with professionals from the entertainment community. Since I was an editor who did not recruit, I was never interested in building a team, my focus was on writing and developing a good reputation as interviewer and scribe. That probably explains why I was never asked to add my two penny’s worth of experience to the Tice “attack” (as DiMarkco called it).

I wrote a little about my experience working for GLV in a prior post. I mentioned no names and only do so here because the referenced article by Carol does.

During an emergency meeting last year, DiMarkco urged that no one in the GLV fold should answer any of the “allegations” made by Carol or to stand up for the paper. I was too busy setting up film screenings, attending events and doing interviews. I was also writing around 50 to 70 articles a month while trying to establish television show coverage for popular scripted TV rather than the reality rubbish covered by the publication.

It was only when things began to fall apart and my pay continued to be less than promised that I started reading the comments. Too late I realised that DiMarkco’s version of events was always given in a way that made him look good and everyone else look conspiratorial. In one case, the other temporary “crazy” roomie in the big house in Vegas, to be fair the guy did come across as some kind of nut, (He sniffed Prozac for Christ’s sake!) did turn out to be off kilter. But, initially this guy came across as  normal until his meds (Prozac) came in and then he flew out into left field. As he had the room next to mine, I slept with the door to my bedroom locked and with a computer table wedged against it.

Around the same time that  DiMarkco was arrested for domestic assault, he  braced me after I asked him, quite reasonably I thought, to not move “my shit” without telling me. This 57 year-old one-legged man came up to me ready to resort to fisticuffs and he cursed me out while claiming that I was two-faced.

A former Prison Officer, I didn’t react the way he expected me to and it confused him. I looked him in the eye, as I moved closer (as a Prison Officer when threats are made we were taught to escalate and dominate if we could not calm the prisoner down) and asked him, “You want to fight? What? Are you 10 or 12?”

This slowed him down but he did not talk to me for three days after the incident. This little event soured our relationship of trust; which never did get back to its initial state. Later, when he was talking to me again, I took him aside and explained that bracing me like that was not wise. I told him, truthfully, that I would not attack, but my defense would put him on the floor crying. “10 years of training in the prison service, mate.”

He never acted up again, but that “circle of trust” was broken and only lack of money, and faith that my hard work would eventually rectify the dollar situation, kept me at the house and at the publication. That and the fact was I was having a great time meeting film and television stars, going to Comic Con in Vegas, and the Star Trek convention.

I was actually doing my dream job, writing and getting paid for it. Sadly, I was too busy to realize that I was being paid abysmally for my hard work. While turning a blind eye to the various things that were occurring around me; massive turnover, editors fleeing like crazy, and stories from DiMarkco about how all these new folks were trying to “take over” the company, I kept writing and trying to get my health sorted out.

While the penny dropped about the state of reliability of my “boss” fairly early in 2014, my financial situation kept me prisoner at the GLV and the house. One clue was Chandler’s claims of ill-health. I was told: That he had been diagnosed with cancer, had a tumor, a failing liver, a hernia operation that was done multiple times and deadly high blood pressure. I finally realised that he was massively stretching the truth after being told that he could no longer climb up the stairs due to the hernia.

Two weeks after being informed of this, he sprightly shot up the steps to the second floor to ask me a favor. My jaw dropping did not register with him as he’d obviously forgotten his claim of two weeks prior. Perhaps a little explanation is required here in my role of gullible village idiot.

I always take everyone at “face value” until they prove that their word cannot be trusted. To me, broken or “delayed” promises did not immediately equal dishonesty. Many people promise more that they can instantly deliver, so these claims did not register as dishonesty or scamming.

They should have. Still, once I realized that the man was just another greedy snake oil salesman, I had to get away before I got caught up in the “con” as patsy. I was staying alone in a three bedroom, with pool, house. He was living somewhere else, buying a new car and setting up another “scheme.” All this took place while telling me and everyone else that the company was going under and broke.

Meanwhile the steady stream of “investors” who used to come trooping through the house, I met most of them, suddenly stopped. Whenever these men and women came in, money was made by DiMarkco but no one else. Gifts were made, a big screen telly was put downstairs after one visit, but no extra pay was laid on.

As Publisher, Chandler kept everything segmented, a lot of the editors had no idea what others were doing. There were complaints. One “high earner” fell out of favor after complaining too regularly about being left out of the loop. DiMarkco’s way of handling anything he dislikes is to ignore it. He will stop responding to phone calls, Skype calls, emails and texts.

He will designate someone else to handle the “problem.”

Finally, after accruing enough credit to do so, I made my escape. My main excuse was to come down and look after my parents (which was, in part, true) and I left. Shortly after arriving in Arizona, the only other editor who’d been at GLV longer than I, left.

I read Carol Tice’s 2014 article then and realised that I should have read it sooner. Although to be honest it would not have helped too much as I could not afford to leave the publication or the house. Reading it again today made me wonder just how many other folks have been taken in by the scammers out there in Internet-land.

For the novice freelance writer, like I was back in 2013, the Internet can be an arena full of landmines. Searching for paid work is difficult. I’d already had one unhappy experience before hoisting my flag with the Guardian Liberty Voice, née’ Guardian Express, so I knew the playing field  can be fairly dodgy. My experience at GLV has left me a little wiser and poorer, but I can impart some advice.

HEART-FELT ADVICE:

If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. This adage has been around forever and applies to this situation, even if the sales pitch doesn’t seem too far-fetched (the GLV pitch certainly didn’t at the beginning) look at it cautiously.

The minute something doesn’t add up, get out. When two plus two end up equaling more or less than four, it’s a clue that this is shady business; so turn around pick up your laptop and get out.

If English is a second, or even third, language of many who work there as writers. Same deal, grab that laptop, PC or MacBook and get out.

Quantity is more important than quality? Get out, it’s a content mill and they will leach you dry. Enough will never be enough and your rate of pay will not equal your output.

Overall, any place that caters to people who cannot really write, should be avoided. At GLV there were many who will never get a job writing for any reputable company. Sad but true and many editors were driven mad by having to rewrite entire 500 word articles and consequently left disgruntled and disillusioned.

The advice to start one’s own blog for money is good, if you can write. I’ve always said and repeated this the entire time I was at the GLV, “if you have no talent in this area, no amount of training will teach you or make you a better writer.”

One last bit of hard-earned advice. It is hard to navigate the world of freelance writing and even harder to find any site that wants to pay writers anything that can be called significant. This is not just prevalent to the Internet; I met a critic who wrote for a “real,”  but small, printed publication who only got $10 per review. So here is the last bit of my “heart-felt” advice: As the old joke goes, unless you’ve gotten a real break? Don’t give up your day job.

Yet.

5 February 2015

Counting Flowers on the Wall…

Snake Oil Salesman

Caught betwixt and between leaves one a little exasperated and not a little depressed. With limited funds there are limited opportunities, this latest life-change has left me feeling a little like the old Statler Bros song lyric: “counting flowers on the wall…” I have recently left a publication which provided a “mast” to fly my flag and interact with some wonderful people. I will not name this organization, but keen-eyed followers may be able to guess the name.

Having spent about 18 months (plus) learning that I’m pretty good at interviewing celebs (that’s spelt working actors by the way and other folks in the industry) covering conventions, Victoria’s Secret events –as well as meeting some very lovely models of same – and watching a ton of newly released films and reviewing them, along with television shows, I realized a couple of things.

First of all, my abilities as a writer were better than I thought. On top of the above items mentioned as part of my personal training process, I also covered local Las Vegas events and each time the recipients of my coverage thanked me profusely for my efforts. It sort of feels like journalism is similar to riding a bike; once trained never forgotten, no matter how long the stretch…

Secondly, I found that I was in a lose/lose situation.

What started as (or what seemed to be) a great offer, soon turned into something very different. Granted, I was still under a certain amount of shock from the very invasive and “hard to recover from” operations that saved my life on August 31, 2012. *On a side note, I discovered while still in hospital, that Michael Duncan Clarke (Green Mile, Armageddon) had the exact same procedure…He did not make it.*

In my England home, I could no longer pay the rent, I owed thousands of pounds and no landlord wanted to let me lease a property with my daughter and her boyfriend. With the prospect of bankruptcy looming, no homeowner trusted me not to default on my share of the rent.

I had been working for website, since April 2013 while still living in my Kesgrave three bedroom home. I’d been released from my job as Prison Officer (ill-health retired with a tiny pension) and given a payout. Hindsight being 20-20, I should have taken less of a payout and more of the pension.

Still, I was writing professionally for a news publication that seemed to be intent on growing in both viewing figures as well as respectability. Pay was pretty dire, but it would increase as our ratings got better (I had been told) and hard work seemed to equal a pretty good payout. The owner, promised to pay his writers and editors fairly for their work.

Google News Logo

On the respectability front, the paper had sources in South Africa who claimed that in June, 2013 Nelson Mandela died, despite what was reported by the corrupt government and the world’s media. This combined with a serious approach to gathering and writing articles raised our ranking and this too felt legitimate.

After writing an article on Madiba’s death where I quoted what we had learned, (Our then World News Editor actually released the story before we could verify another source.) the website was then attacked for three days straight and I was sent to South Africa to talk to sources.

Back in those days, the site seemed to be a proper news publication trying to compete on a global scale. Meanwhile back in the UK by December 2013, I had nowhere to live and my boss then made the offer for me to come over to the USA and stay with him until I “could get on my feet.”

Desperate, I accepted. I paid for my airline tickets and to have my few remaining things shipped over. The cost of all this was covered by me selling practically everything I owned, I then flew to Las Vegas and was met by my employer.

On one hand, my joining the site in Vegas was an excellent chance for me to write for more than my personal blog in a “safe” environment and after an almost 32 year absence a return “home.” I’d been posting up to 8 articles a day for some time on my own site; all for free before working for Vegas site. This was a continuance of working professionally and, in the beginning, my stories were getting hundred’s of thousands of views and I soon joined the “million” club. (Million equaling views and not money.)

Oddly, these huge view counts virtually ended once I got back stateside. Again, making me believe that some “blackhat” techniques were being used by someone.

The money, apart from one very exceptional paycheck, was not brilliant; I was having to use up my small pension from HMPS to live and still running out. The cost of living in the US was much less than that of the UK, I was told, and this turned out to be false. Still, the fact that I had a place to stay and had use of a vehicle was a Godsend and the only real problem was  that views on my articles were steadily decreasing.

While being associated with this site gave me a chance to write for, and become “part owner” of a rising news publication, a lot of the opportunities I got for myself. Once I arrived in Vegas, I began responding to all the “invites” received by the paper to events that excited me.

Comic con, Star Trek con, et al. I began making better contacts with the local Hollywood studio reps at the screenings and became a member of the Nevada Film Critics Society. I got our invitations from the studios sorted out as we were missing a lot, apparently, and in short order I was going to around 5 to 7 screenings per week and writing reviews on the films.

On top of that, I was encouraging other writers (I was an editor) to write reviews on popular television shows to increase our Entertainment area. I also worked very hard to do interviews with many actors and other people in the industry to solidify our exclusive content.

Watching the analytic performance of my articles I noticed a disturbing trend. My views were struggling to reach their previous numbers. Where my average per story was around 50,000 and up in the beginning; now all articles died out at fewer than 10,000.

Combined with penalties from Google News, the site was a member, my pay packets got smaller and smaller. I was on a pay system of (supposedly) $600 per month stipend for being an editor and for doing all the above-mentioned things to set up our entertainment section. Anything over that stipend was to come from my view counts.

The stipend money was taken to pay for my rent. As mentioned above, it was $600 pm for (in the beginning) a single room, shared bathroom and use of the communal areas. Later I got the bathroom all to myself, which had been my understanding all along, and the other bedroom as an office. I was paid between $300 and $500 for my views, but my boss was quick to point out that he was “carrying me.”

My time spent setting up our entertainment section was paying off with interview offers, event invites and despite the fall in viewing figures, we were getting pretty good reception from the industry in terms of responses to queries, et al.

There were many “questionable” things about the business that I either ignored or took at face value. Continual meetings to get money from local politicians and other deep-pocketed investors were the order of the day for most of the year and completely outside my realm of expertise.

I was more interested in writing articles, building a respectable base for the entertainment section of the paper and expanding my contacts in the industry. I also felt that despite the gratitude I’d initially felt at the offer, I was being taken advantage of.

The biggest issue was the change of direction of the publisher. When I first started writing for the paper, his goal was two-fold. To pay each writer fairly for their work and to build the site up to be able to eventually compete and stay in the top 50 news sites in the US.

This emphasis slowly changed. The site was getting a lot of malware problems, a lot of Google penalties and a lot of bad press from former writers who were leaving in droves. Furthermore, they were complaining that the owner of the site was running a pyramid scheme.

While this allegation was not true, at no time did the publisher ask for money from anyone working for the paper, he got funds from advertisers and investors and things were not adding up for a great many who worked for the paper.

There were a great many of these disgruntled folks who got caught up in the penalty issues, the site was hit several times, some were given poor information or training and others just couldn’t get the program. Still more were apparently lied to.

This was something beginning to creep into my dealings with the publisher, along with getting cast in the role of general dog’s body or servant. What started as my not minding doing the odd favor for a “friend” became an overwhelming amount of time doing things that he could not be bothered to do.

Over the time period living with the publisher, I was told about serious illnesses that he had just been diagnosed with such as cancer. A lot of promises never transpired and as things trundled along, the communication became less and less. Information was segmented and only parts were passed on. As a “late stage” co-founder and 2 percent owner of  the company, I found myself continually out of the loop and learning about important things second-hand.

As my dissatisfaction continued to grow, the relationship began to sour. This “friend” who’d made such a great offer suddenly seemed to think it was okay to yell at me in a meeting or during phone calls…it was not. After this happened for the fourth time, I realized that the mutual respect that had once apparently been there was now gone.

After being told repeatedly how it was possible to exist for $300 a month, the money kept getting smaller as were the views. As mentioned above, it began to look like the massive view counts at the beginning may have had more to do with questionable practices that probably helped to bring about the penalties.

Overall, I enjoyed the work I was doing. Meeting celebrities, watching new films and writing about things that I was addicted to, attending comic cons, and doing entertainment journalism was a dream come true. Sadly, once the trust was gone and the “scales” lifted from my eyes, I realized that things were not all as advertised.

For one thing, the site was never going to be sold, as long as money was being made by the publisher  2 percent of this company was never going to amount to anything. Another issue was the accusations of the site being a “content mill.” This allegation was, pretty much, true. The amount of articles required was staggering. I myself wrote almost 1,900 articles from the end of April 2013 to December 2014. For a year I wrote and published between 8 to 10 stories per day on weekdays and up to 15 per day on Saturday and Sunday; a total of around 70 to 80 articles per week.

Before I left, I was contracted to write 62 articles per month. When I began attending the Las Vegas conventions, as mentioned above, the paper was hitting the number one slot in Google News and was generating interviews and making some good contacts. While I was at the Vampire Diaries Convention (A truly abysmal experience as the entire group running the event were small-minded and elitist.) I was called during the second day by the publisher who told me that the conventions would have to go.  Telling me that our output was suffering I was informed that I needed to write more on the weekends. Not more original output, but more regurgitated stories for the readers.

Another charge of “citizen journalists” was also levied against the site and there was a lot of truth to this as well. In most cases, writers for the site were not journalists. I had been trained years ago but many who wrote for us had never been trained apart from what our boot camp gave them when they joined.

Granted not every writer was asked to produce such huge amounts of articles but the idea was to have a lot of stories for people to choose from. In other words a content mill. I did personally learn just how much I could write each day and I also found out that self-discipline was in my vocabulary after all.

Of course writing such copious amounts, with little in the way of monetary gain and little support for original output, led to me becoming  disillusioned with the job. This went a long way to my decision to leave, but I did so secure in the knowledge that my first love of writing (which really ties with acting as first love but only just) is something that I should be doing full-time. *I promise to refrain from using such long-winded sentences in future, if I do so.*

While my time with the site was a learning experience, it was also an exercise in frustration.  Despite this, I truly enjoyed my time as the head of Entertainment and only wish that I’d been more au fait with the world of online journalism.

I do not consider myself a “citizen journalist.” I did take courses years ago and apart from the beginning of my time with the paper, attempted to do unique and exclusive content for my section. Ultimately this was never going to be a winning situation apart from lip service  as volume was required, not originality.

My leaving has put me in the position of counting flowers on the wall, if there were any, as my current abode is out in the middle of nowhere with shaky Internet. While I attempt to get a better set up to continue my writing for other sites, which I am currently doing, interviews and reviews are continuing as and when a signal makes itself available.

Rest assured, I would have left my job earlier if funds were available. Unfortunately pay was kept shallow enough that it was not possible for me to make good my escape. At one rather insulting point, my benefactor informed me that he purposefully kept my pay low so I would know what if felt like to be broke in Las Vegas! I told him in no uncertain terms that I already knew what being broke felt like in a lot of different places, I needed no “teaching.”

I am currently writing more on my own blog with plans of setting it up for proper advertising and I’m working for another news site and writing my memoirs (Goodness that sound very “up my own arse” doesn’t it?), for those who are interested,  from my years working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

In many ways this is a cautionary tale; when you hear too many things that, ultimately, you want;  pay attention and realize that you are probably being played. Some people are very good at feeding information that you will believe because you want to.

Since leaving, my life has been hectic and full of reflection. Sort of like the Flowers on the Wall song says, “playing solitaire till dawn…” has given me plenty of time to realize that at the site, things were “okay” for so long because I wanted them to be. Apart from the money issue, I was having fun and learning that I could do so much more than I realized. Finally my end came, like so many others, because of greed and the fact that the company dream as portrayed, was not real.

As a final point: I left the publication on December 31, 2014, despite fulfilling my amount of articles and doing interviews and covering events right up till the end, I have received no money since my half-pay packet in December. So unlike the song’s message, no one is too concerned about my, or anyone else’s, happiness.