Blogging: The Dangerous New Sweatshop?

Dan Gainor forwarded this addled beauty to me from The New York Times: "In World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop." As in die. Reporter Matt Richtel suggests the stress of blogging can be fatal, and the compensation is dreadful. Blogging, the new sweatshop:

SAN FRANCISCO — They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece — not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop. You may know it by a different name: home.

A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.

Of course, the bloggers can work elsewhere, and they profess a love of the nonstop action and perhaps the chance to create a global media outlet without a major up-front investment. At the same time, some are starting to wonder if something has gone very wrong. In the last few months, two among their ranks have died suddenly.

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

To be sure, blogging is competitive, and it can be rewarding to be first with a story. But the "sweatshop" angle is really missing a convincing whip-cracker of a villain. Can anyone imagine Kathryn Jean Lopez banging on the drum of a galley slave ship? Oh, well:

Blogging has been lucrative for some, but those on the lower rungs of the business can earn as little as $10 a post, and in some cases are paid on a sliding bonus scale that rewards success with a demand for even more work.

There are growing legions of online chroniclers, reporting on and reflecting about sports, politics, business, celebrities and every other conceivable niche. Some write for fun, but thousands write for Web publishers — as employees or as contractors — or have started their own online media outlets with profit in mind.

One of the most competitive categories is blogs about technology developments and news. They are in a vicious 24-hour competition to break company news, reveal new products and expose corporate gaffes.

To the victor go the ego points, and, potentially, the advertising. Bloggers for such sites are often paid for each post, though some are paid based on how many people read their material. They build that audience through scoops or volume or both.

Some sites, like those owned by Gawker Media, give bloggers retainers and then bonuses for hitting benchmarks, like if the pages they write are viewed 100,000 times a month. Then the goal is raised, like a sales commission: write more, earn more.

Bloggers at some of the bigger sites say most writers earn about $30,000 a year starting out, and some can make as much as $70,000. A tireless few bloggers reach six figures, and some entrepreneurs in the field have built mini-empires on the Web that are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. Others who are trying to turn blogging into a career say they can end up with just $1,000 a month.

Speed can be of the essence. If a blogger is beaten by a millisecond, someone else’s post on the subject will bring in the audience, the links and the bigger share of the ad revenue.

“There’s no time ever — including when you’re sleeping — when you’re not worried about missing a story,” Mr. Arrington said.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we said no blogger or journalist could write a story between 8 p.m. Pacific time and dawn? Then we could all take a break,” he added. “But that’s never going to happen.”

All that competition puts a premium on staying awake. Matt Buchanan, 22, is the right man for the job. He works for clicks for Gizmodo, a popular Gawker Media site that publishes news about gadgets. Mr. Buchanan lives in a small apartment in Brooklyn, where his bedroom doubles as his office.

He says he sleeps about five hours a night and often does not have time to eat proper meals. But he does stay fueled — by regularly consuming a protein supplement mixed into coffee.

I lack that degree of obsession, although the spouse sometimes thinks so. But I'm always putting ice cream in my coffee. My coronary would come from the Frappucino-philia.

Business Coverage New York Times
Tim Graham's picture


Sponsored Links