The rate that my employer, Gawker Media, pays its contract writers was adjusted tonight at midnight. The staff of this site has not been told the details of the new pay rate, but we do know that everyone at Valleywag is getting a per-view pay decrease. Senior management is promising the hit is only a "modest reduction." I'm told we'll find out the new pay plan by the end of the week. In the mean time, writers are getting a paycut, but are expected to continue working even though we don't know what we're getting paid. Read on for some background and an explanation of how Gawker writers are compensated.
Gawker writers are each assigned a "Monthly Base" pay. No matter how much traffic their posts generate in a month, writers will receive at least their base. On top of that, productive writers can receive a "Pageview Bonus," which varies depending on which site they write for. All Gawker sites are assigned a "pageview rate". Any amount of traffic a writer generates over their minimum is paid as "bonus." By comparing their monthly base to the pageview rate of their site, a writer can determine how many pageviews they need to generate per month or, if they exceed their minimum, how much they're getting paid in total. A leaked memo explains the whole process in great detail.
For example, my monthly minimum pay rate works out to 256,000 page views a month. If I deliver under that, I'm (theoretically) reprimanded and encouraged to write more popular posts. To determine my pay for a particular day or month, I multiply my total page view count by Valleywag's pay rate. Our contract is pretty standard fare for performance-based pay, offering a "monthly base" and a "page view bonus." However, Valleywag's writers have soundly beaten their minimum post counts all three months we've had this program in effect. Our page view rate is our de facto pay rate.
Since this plan was announced in late December, we've known that the pay rate is to be changed on the first day of every quarter. I expected to be informed of the pay rate before the month started, but that hasn't happened, even after repeated requests to my superiors. We're working in the digital equivalent of a sweatshop, effectively being paid based on how many views we can drum up — and now the goalposts are being moved mid-kick. This is unnerving and a slap in the face to the "creative underclass" that writes for Gawker's blogs.
If a potential advertiser asked Gawker to start running its ads and promised to negotiate terms later, they'd be laughed out of the room — but that is exactly what the company is asking of its writers. If I were a salesperson, I'd expect to know my quarterly sales goals well in advance.
Gawker Media is, let's not forget, a for-profit business. The company might need time to make proper pricing decisions. But that goes both ways: Writers are for-profit as well and we should not be expected to work blind.
And, no, this is not an April Fools' joke.
(Photo by Hey Paul)