By Sam Adams | Criticwire March 27, 2014 at 12:10PM
Good news, aspiring writers! Entertainment Weekly is looking to hire you! The bad news: You can't pay your rent in cool points.
According to an article in DigiDay, the Time Warner subsidiary is going the platform route, with plans to recruit writers from "social media and J-schools" to provide content for its new "Community" vertical.
Old-media companies are moving away from the top-down approach to editorial content, too. Forbes was at the vanguard of this shift, opening up its site to outsiders two years ago; it now has about 1,200 contributors. More recently, EW sibling People announced that it would allow celebrities to publish content directly on People.com.
Still, Time Inc. hasn’t often been accused of being on the digital cutting edge, although that may start to change when it spins off as an independent company from Time Warner. And the brand seems to want to distance itself from other publishers-as-platforms. Asked where EW fits in comparison with some of the aforementioned others, White stressed that The Community is not just a play for traffic.
"While, yes, there’s SEO value, this is really about super-serving the entertainment audience," she said. "The filter here is, the quality does have to be up to the EW standards. This is not kind of a free-for-all by any stretch of the imagination."
Stifle, if you will, the gag reflex inspired by the word "super-serving" for just a moment and let's think this through. Not every site can afford to pay for content: Though I've never asked anyone, I've accepted pitches from writers I wasn't able to pay. (It may be a thin one, but I do believe there's a line there.) But this is Entertainment Weekly, which is owned by one of the larger media companies in the world. Surely they've got some money floating around -- or, more precisely, Time Warner has the cash, even if they're not inclined to share it. What it comes down to is they want to generate more traffic without spending more money, which while not exactly a sin -- I also want that, plus a pony -- leaves their editors in an awkward position. Although it's still crumbling, EW still has a powerful brand, but it's based more on entertainment reporting than it is criticism, which I mean as no slight to fine critics like Owen Gleiberman, and as something of a slight to the less-fine ones. So the "Community" section seems like a way to expand one element of the site without damaging the other. (For numerous reasons, including but not limited to legal liability, it's unlikely they'll be handing reporting duties off to unpaid contributors.)
From this account, it sounds like EW is trying to square the circle, soliciting unpaid writers while preserving at least the appearance of editorial oversight. (I'm not sure how you reap the benefits of publishing writers for free by paying people to edit them; time will tell.) But it would be nice if we could drop the fiction that writers can be "compensated in the form of prestige," when that prestige evaporates the instant EW opens its digital doors to glorified interns, or that "access to the brand’s editors" means something when all those editors can do is assign more unpaid work. The overriding rationale is that these kind of foot-in-the-door gigs can "lead to something," but that can't happen if the jobs they're meant to lead to keep being replaced.