Sort of exclusive! The #judasgoat rises: Yahoo is joining the Huff Po herd and it’s bad news for your brain

“Feel free to forward this entire email to family and close friends. But please do not promote on social networks at this time.” 

Oh dear and it was highlighted in yellow and everything. I’m not a close friend of anyone within the Yahoo! New Media Deathstar (in reality, I have about five close friends and that number is subject to change at any time) nor am I related to a Yahoo! I am related to several yahoos but we don’t speak about them, their many children or vestigial tails.

Still, thanks to the previous #judasgoat posts which covered exploitation by the Huffington Post then expanding out to look at Tesco and the phalanx of braying corporate mooks using Workfare), a source within Yahoo! punted the email pictured above in my direction. I’m going to call them Deep Search as we all know that no controversy is quite real until it gets an unnecessary Watergate reference. 

The email above, which is much longer than I can conveniently screenshot, announces the arrival of the Yahoo! Contributor Network in the UK. Unlike HuffPo and its “exposure will buy your baked beans” strategy, the Yahoo! Contributor Network (isn’t that ! just so cheeky and fun and ‘we bought bean bags during the first internet bubble’) will actually pay its contributors. 

“Hooray!” I hear you cry because you respond to things like a boarding school boy presented with a tuck hamper in an archaic children’s novel. But wait, Billy Bunter, you won’t be able to stuff your fat face with the tasty riches from the Yahoo! Contributor Network because, well, they’re pretty meagre. This is the publishing equivalent of when they reduced the size of a Curly Wurly and frankly no less shocking. 

What Yahoo! is proposing to its friends, family and co-conspirators is effectively Judas Goat+. It is a step up from the brazen ethics taught at the Arianna Huffington Yah Whatever School of Business but it’s still a distinctly negative turn of events.

This is Yahoo! slaking off its previous pretence at becoming some bastion of editorial quality and instead planning to bring a vast content farm of ‘that’ll do’ pieces predicated on the need to get clicks, clicks, clicks (which is the song a young Beyonce would have written now if confronted with that terrible boyfriend, Google AdWords). 

Let’s look at the list of suggested topics new recruits should be prepared to write about:

fashion trends, photography, pregnancy advice, ‘Towie’, rom-coms, beauty secrets, ‘Made in Chelsea, app reviews, classic B-movies, dieting, ‘Dancing On Ice’, Brit flicks, video games, exercising, home cinema, tips for new fathers, internet security and more?”

I like the special quarantine quote marks around the reality TV shows as if they can somehow contain the toxicity. Stare at that list and what you’re seeing is the vomiting out of some SEO gold, of search terms that have been doing the business. 

The deputy vice admiral writing the email says the new Yahoo! Contributor Network is looking for writers who might be students, bloggers or even (this is where I laughed spluttering my mouthful of Vimto over the computer screen)…professionals seeking additional work. 

It’s the line “and they even get paid!” that’s particularly enjoyable as if the notion of receiving payment for labour is like a quaint hobby, Morris Dancing with a keyboard. And there’s that damn exclamation mark again. Truly loyal Yahoo! staff get one tattooed on the inside of their eyelids so they are greeted by surprise each morning . 

Now I’m certain that those of you who have already written to me to yell “quit y’er whining, journo pig” or words to that effect will renew your howls of protest now. Yes, the Yahoo! Contributor Network will be pouring a few pennies to contributors but it will be a very meagre lot. The fee for accepted work will be set at £20 which works out at £0.025 per word for the 800 word articles provided by the email as good examples of the sort of ‘content’ that will be required. 

The email notes that the authors of the two pieces flagged up have earned £60+ from each of the articles and will “keep earning as the articles are read over the coming months”. Assuming that those authors earned exactly £60 in the weeks since their articles were published (3 weeks at the timing of writing), that bounty would bring the effective word rate up to £0.075/word.

As the email states that 70p will be earned by contributors for every 1000 page views, that would mean that the pieces would need to have racked up over 57,000 views to reach those totals. Are that many people interested in black bridal wear? It’s not totally implausible but the fees don’t take into account the time required to interview people, do research or check facts. Many of those tasks are likely to go by the wayside entirely. In vast swathes of the web they already have. 

The problem is that, as professional freelancers of all stripes know, big companies tend to push their rates down over time and even at the dawn of the #judasgoat+ future of the Yahoo! Contributor Network, the pay is risible. While it may make nice pocket money for some, this is another blow to professional writers attempting to pay their bills and bring in a living.

The need to bring in a sufficient number of clicks to make your pay day will also lead to articles that are geared entirely to the predictable whims of the search engines and social networks rather than creating anything original that could surprise with its popularity by dint of a journalist’s skill at telling a story or writing a compelling opinion piece. So what’s new? OK, fair point. 

As Deep Search so eloquently puts it: “Yahoo! are planning to launch this ‘great’ initiative whereby members of the public get paid f*ck all for writing shiploads of content on the promise of a tiny share of the revenue it gets per click.”

This is another example of paid employees of a media conglomerate conspiring with the grey suits to see writers provide their services at far below the minimum wage. In a sense, it is worse than HuffPo because in its derisory payments and metric for measuring success, it accepts that yes, these words do have value, it’s just that the creators of them won’t get a fair slice of the rewards. 

Yahoo! Contributor Network is already up and running in the US where content farms like Demand Media (latterly stuffed by a Google search algorithm update) are staffed by battery hen hacks tapping out click fodder for pennies are rampant. It will launch in the UK on February 28 and be integrated into Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Lifestyle, omg! and Yahoo! Movies with plans to weave it into all other sections of Yahoo! editorial.

While there’ll be a little tag to tell you the article you’re reading is the product of the #judasgoat factory farm, it’s likely many readers will not realise that these news sources have brought in a new strain of cheap labour.

The excitable cheerleader says in his email that there is “no cap on earnings from a single article” and that “page views can be anything from a few hundred to a million or more!” That’s possible but it’s very unlikely.

While some of the targeted topics farmed out from the central nodes of Yahoo!’s journalistic Skynet may catch fire and find riches pouring down on a lucky scribe, most with fizzle and die within the first few days. They may puke out a few pennies now and then in the future but the tiny increments hitting PayPal accounts will be like the depressing royalties reaching a long forgotten songwriter whose novelty hit gets played on a Uruguayan 80s pop station every few months.  

The Yahoo! Contributor Network will not initially allow those writing for it to pitch ideas. While the email suggestions it may in the future, it is just as likely that the project will remain a restless machine demanding highly structured, keyword rich copy to feast on.

Read that list of topics from earlier in the post and glimpse a terrifying future where Google search, Facebook Likes and Twitter trends are the unseen overlords of news to an extent that is almost unimaginable even in today’s SEO saturated, social media ninja plagued business. 

In his email signature, the Yahoo! editor has included a funny quote: “What doesn’t kill you makes you smaller – Mario.”

Unfortunately that’s just what the Huffington Post and the Yahoo! Contributor Network are contributing to journalism, they are like poisonous goombas, shrinking the ambition of writers to a list of popular search terms, to some vaguely snappy captions about Kim Kardashian’s arse or Justin Bieber’s bastardised lesbian Beatles wig. These developments may not have killed journalism yet but they are helping to further shrink the idea that good journalism needs resources to pay for it. 

Read the rest of the #judasgoat series: 

Part 1 The Huffington Post is the Judas Goat of journalism 

Part 2 Revenge of the Judas Goat: the HuffPo strikes back

Part 3: The future of the Judas Goat and pulling shapes 

Part 4: The Judas Goat goes to the supermarket