I can only describe it as rage. Pure, unadulterated rage.
I’d never felt rage before. But this was the last straw.
Over the past few years I’ve seen a lot of professional success. I’ve been featured in Entrepreneur and Business Insider. I have a biweekly column for Inc. HubSpot let me write for them. Thought Catalog, Copyhackers, and The Observer did too. Sivers said nice things about me, so did Godin and Noah. It’s been a very validating ride for my ego.
In marketing we call these “credibility indicators.”
You acquire a nice little logo bar to prove to the world that you matter.
Acquiring these logos takes time, but little effort for the reward. To the outside world, logos prove you’re an “authority” who is “killing it!” To the inside world, well…
It was my understanding that we all knew this was a rigged game.
Which is why when major outlets approached me to write for them, even ones I thought were trash, I thought, “I AM THE CHOSEN ONE! I will be the paragon of virtue in this dumpster fire!”
Hero’s journey and all that.
And for some of my pieces that was true. I was able to put out quality content that stood out amongst the garbage.
But for others, I failed. Not because the pieces were bad, but because, well, how do I put this? Editors took pieces I gave them and…made them worse.
Here’s just a tiny fraction of the things publications and editors did to my work to ignite my current state of rage:
- Stuff made up about my personal narrative. Legit fiction.
- Grammar made worse. One major publication turned me into a valley girl who, like, really abuses adverbs.
- Arguments diluted to such an extreme that it sounded like I was negating my own points.
It’s bad enough that it’s the norm to change headlines without permission, add distracting CTAs mid-article, remove credible sources, and assume your readers won’t read past the second paragraph — but I accepted that as part of the game.
You’re here to sell ads and move up in the search rankings; I’m here to get my logobar and backlinks. I get how it works.
I just thought we were in this together.
My Tipping Point Was The Lying
Changing someone’s tone, altering their narrative, adding points that never happened — that’s not editing. That’s effed up.
Let’s set aside that my ego is bruised (No one wants to sound dumber than they are. I achieve that quite effectively all on my own, thank you very much) and go to the bigger issue:
We’re tacitly participating in a system that’s designed to make readers reactive, angry, and thoughtless.
And we’re rationalizing it by telling ourselves this is how it is. “You gotta play the game.”
No. You don’t. You choose to play it. And it’s a terrible, terrible game.
We’re propagating a culture of idiocy. And then we’re playing dumb like we don’t know how it happened.
We’ve been talking about the “demise of the gatekeepers” as though it’s this positive thing — the great equalizer — when really, it’s the rise of the dunces.
The Rise of The Dunces
Here’s what you find when you take a snapshot of the online business world, content marketing machines, and media outlets:
- Clickbait tempting you with false promises of simple solutions
- Unqualified hacks posing as experts
- Idiots with MASSIVE platforms
- Junk, junk, and more JUNK
The once-liberating label, “Blogger,” has been dragged through the dirt and emerged as Theon Greyjoy of the internet.
We Need Our Gatekeepers Back
We need ethical codes, we need quality standards, we need our damn principles back. And for goodness’ sake, we need good grammar!!!
Or is it “better grammar?” How do I know I haven’t had a decent editor in years!
It’s embarrassing what constitutes editing today: “Researches keywords, weakens quality in the name of search ranking, and publishes without your consent.”
We’ve created an ecosystem that rewards bad behavior. And then we act surprised when it bites us personally.
And by “we” I mean….me.
But I will not defend lying. And I will not sit here and pretend like it’s a “gray” area.
It’s not gray.
Lying is deception.
Deception is when you’re writing in a voice that isn’t yours, making claims that aren’t true, diluting your content to make something difficult seem easy, using false testimonials, and/or lying by omission.
Manipulation and deception are not the same. Manipulation is a useful tool to provoke action, deception is lying.
Content today is deceptive. Continuing to “play the game” makes us complicit in this deceit.
What’s a Writer To Do?
I get the impulse to commit these indiscretions. Trust me, I get it. When our success metric is attention, and you’re chasing that logo bar of credibility and that dream of going viral, it’s hard to care about quality.
Play the game. GET THE EYEBALLS. Be legit later, when you’re established. Once you’ve climbed the ladder, gotten the eyeballs, and everyone is paying attention to you.
Ask any of my colleagues with massive followings and they’ll tell you it’s a losing game. A hedonic treadmill of “churning” out content and pleasing the masses who want their minute-by-minute hit of dopamine.
The way to make it better and fix things isn’t to “play the game.” It’s to STOP playing the game.
Participate in a New System
If we have any hope of coming out of this unscathed, we cannot keep playing a game that’s designed to sensationalize, oversimplify, and profit off our outrage.
We haven’t cracked the code on how to get people’s attention without clickbait and lazy content, but there are some people are working on creating a new system that’s better.
We have Medium putting editorial control back into the hands of the writers (Thank you, Mr. Ev Williams). We have companies like Patreon emancipating creators from the old world order and giving them a means to profit.
We have successful writers who refuse to dilute their content, like Tim Urban who famously spends 600 million hours on a long-form post he publishes “every sometimes.” Mark Manson does the same (you’re lucky to hear from him once a month…and most of us look forward to it).
People are trying to fix this.
It’s going to take a long time to break the old model, but together we can make a difference.
I don’t know how this story ends for us. I am not optimistic that you’ll stop yourself from clicking on dumb headlines engineered to make you crazy. Frankly, I’m not optimistic that I can stop writing them to bait you into reading something worth your time.
I don’t know how you opt-out of the keyword-driven dumpster fire and still amass a following (there are plenty of online courses that will purport to teach you, though).
I just know that we have a huge problem and I’m tired of feeling rage.
Which is why I am done with guest posting for free on media outlets that publish crap content and claim to have MASSIVE REACH. You don’t have massive reach. You don’t have engagement. I don’t know what you have but whatever it is, it’s not for me.
So, I will take my mediocre writing and stick to cultivating my tiny list of amazing humans (you guys really are amazing) and, in the vein of Sivers, Holiday, Manson, and Urban, I will write quality pieces “every sometimes.”