How freelancewritinggigs.com Exploited Its Own Writers
One of the main caveats that all freelance writers should have engraved onto their computer screens is "Never Give Away Your Work." Any prospective job poster who asks for a free sample should be categorically denied. There are some pointers on how to handle these requests in my Hubs: How To Beat The Send Me A Sample Scam, and Avoiding Freelance Slave Labor . That is why I am completely flabbergasted by the "writing contest" being run by freelancewritinggigs.com (FWJ), one of the previously most reputable online freelance writing job sites and communities.
In this particular case I'm going to spare the usual biting sarcasm and corrosive vitriol I usually ladle onto online scams. I have a great deal of respect for this site, its principals and what they have accomplished. Starting from rather threadbare obscurity, Deborah Ng has managed to maneuver her site over the years into prominence as one of the primary "go-to" sites for freelance writers seeking online jobs. The community of freelance writers that she has so carefully nurtured may just be the most active, cohesive and friendly in the online writing business.
That is why her latest project simply floored me. After establishing a reputation as one of the champions crusading against online scams that prey on writers, Deborah decided one fine day to launch something called FWJ Idol. The idea sounded great at least at first. A whole bunch of bloggers would audition, American Idol style, and the community would vote on the winning blogger who would then become a paid regular contributor to the site.
However, as everyone knows, the devil is in the details. The way Deborah chose to structure this Idol contest opened her site up to widespread catcalls. Just like American Idol, the bloggers would audition, make a cut, do another audition, make another cut, and so on and so on and so on.
That is the part that totally floored me and many others. After years of educating and informing her far-flung writing community on how to avoid online writing scams, Deborah (I like to believe "unwittingly", but I do have to doubt how skewed the thought processes were that allowed her to come to these outrageous conclusions) managed to set up one of the biggest sucker traps I've seen in my years of cruising the freelance writing market.
The 22 initial contestants keep writing and writing and writing all sorts of very high quality content which is posted to the site and keep getting eliminated with the survivors getting to write and write and write some more! Of the 22 contestants, 21 will have participated in this marathon of blogging which has now run for over two agonizing and painful months for absolutely nothing. Thousands and thousands of quality, unique words for no pay and not even any credit, as the sucker... er... contestants are only identified by numbers!
In the meantime this FWJ Idol has turned into nothing more than a free content mega-stuffer for the site. Deborah has been lambasted for preying on the very members of her own community who have supported her for so long, and her "solution" has been that she will delete the blogs of the losing participants when the winner is selected.
This "solution" is so disingenuous that it boggles the imagination. Those pages will not only live on in Google caches long after they're gone, but the net benefit in pageviews and pagerank from all of this unique content will persist indefinitely: all at the expense of the bloggers who wrote great content for free. Let's not even get into the fact that the voting process was set up in such a blatantly amateurish manner that the dedicated attempts to "game" the polls have succeeded in distorting the process to the point that whoever wins will be always under suspicion.
Deborah, Deborah, Deborah... in the famous words of Jay Leno when he interviewed Hugh Grant shortly after his Hollywood arrest for picking up a cheap prostitute in his car: "What were you thinking?" The only ways out of this sticky wicket that I can come up with would be to either retroactively pay a reasonable per word rate to all participants (which would then allow her to keep the content online) or to just cancel the whole mess right now and apologize profusely to everyone for her ghastly lapse in judgment.
Whatever the answer, Deborah Ng needs to go into damage control mode now, as this misbegotten and profoundly flawed FWJ Idol is a fubar blunder of historic proportions.