AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out -- News
I was given eight to ten article assignments a night, writing about television shows that I had never seen before. AOL would send me short video clips, ranging from one-to-two minutes in length — clips from “Law & Order,” “Family Guy,” “Dancing With the Stars,” the Grammys, and so on and so forth… My job was then to write about them. But really, my job was to lie. My job was to write about random, out-of-context video clips, while pretending to the reader that I had watched the actual show in question. AOL knew I hadn’t watched the show. The rate at which they would send me clips and then expect articles about them made it impossible to watch all the shows — or to watch any of them, really.
That alone was unethical. But what happened next was painful. My “ideal” turn-around time to produce a column started at thirty-five minutes, then was gradually reduced to half an hour, then twenty-five minutes. Twenty-five minutes to research and write about a show I had never seen — and this twenty-five minute period included time for formatting the article in the AOL blogging system, and choosing and editing a photograph for the article. Errors were inevitably the result. But errors didn’t matter; or rather, they didn’t matter for my bosses.
I had panic attacks; we all did. My fellow writers would fall asleep, and then wake up in cold sweats. I worked the graveyard shift — 11PM to 7 or 8AM or later — but even the AOL slaves who wrote during the day would report the same universal experience. Finally falling asleep after work, they would awake with a jump, certain that they had forgotten something — certain that they hadn’t produced their allotted number of articles every thirty minutes. One night, I awoke out of a dead sleep, and jumped to my computer, and instantly began typing up an article about David Letterman. I kept going for ten minutes, until I realized I had dreamed it all. There was no article to write; I was simply typing up the same meaningless phrases that we all always used: “LADY GAGA PANTLESS ON LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” or some such.
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When it comes to an article, what AOL cares about is the title, and the “keywords” that will make the article more likely to show up among the top results on Google. You type phrases into “Google Trends,” and it suggests the most popular combination of words associated with that topic. You then stick those words into your title and first paragraphs. Rinse, wash, and repeat. The article itself was just ballast.
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