On Monday night, Demand Media’s SVP of editorial Jeremy Reed sent an email to all the writers announcing the creation of the “First Look” program.
The program gives writers with a “structure” rating of 4.0 or higher on their last 50 articles a 48-hour window to claim stories before the rest of the masses can.
On the surface, the plan makes sense as a way to increase quality while giving its best writers an advantage.
One writer, however, wrote in with some criticism of the plan:
In early August, Demand staff shared that only 15% of all writers have scores over 4.0. Demand is only adding a few hundred of articles a day. The First Look initiative is effectively shutting out the 85% of writers from producing content, since the “best” writers will grab all of the writable titles with their 48-hour head start. With a conservative calculation from Demand of 4,000 active writers, this means that 3200 writers are out of luck.
The “structure” score of 4.0 relates to grammar – use of commas, hyphens, etc. Not content expertise – that is a separate score that is not used in evaluating who stays and who goes.
There are two issues here.
One, the changes mean that a lot of Demand’s writers will not find much, if any, work. This will cause a great deal of resentment. That said, we understand the nature of the freelance game is that work dries up sometimes and it’s well within Demand’s right to make changes that affect the writers who work for them. So while we sympathize with the writers who will lose out on assignments, we also see that Demand is trying to improve its business by increasing quality and have no objections to that idea.
Which brings us to concern No. 2: Will the “First Look” program actually increase quality and usefulness? On one hand, it will because it prizes writers who have good “structure.” But, as our source writes, “structure” has nothing to do with content expertise. So there’s a danger that the “First Look” program will increase the technical proficiency of the writing while decreasing the usefulness of the content.
We contacted Demand to get their take on the situation but have not heard back. We’ll update the post when we do.
UPDATE: According to Demand PR, the structure score is not the only factor in allowing writers to get assignments. Expertise in subject matter will also count. They also wanted to point out that writers can only claim up to 10 articles at a time.
The full text of Reed’s email:
We are excited to announce a new program called First Look. It is intended to reward our highest-rated writers by giving them the first look at new titles. Starting this week, the highest-rated writers will have advanced access to view and claim new assignments for 48 hours before they are released into the Find Assignments pool.
We’ve all invested a lot and we want to further reward writers who best exemplify the attributes of good writing. The eligible group will be those writers who maintain an average structure of 4.0 or higher for their last 50 articles.
The score will be recalculated with every new article. While we plan to add this updated score to your Work Desk, it will not be immediately visible. We may also at some point modify this method of calculation. If your average falls below 4.0, you will lose First Look privileges until you bring your score back within the qualifying range.
In an attempt to be mindful and fair to all eligible writers, all writers’ assignment claim limits will be set to 10. As with the current system, once you submit an article, you may claim another assignment. We will notify those writers eligible for First Look via email. All changes will go into effect in the next few days.
We will continue to listen to your feedback and invest in programs like this. Please visit this forum thread if you have any questions
Jeremy Reed, SVP Editorial
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