The more I write for them, the more I am struck by how different it is to write for that site versus writing for this site. Over here, I am free to post photos of my cats, tell jokes, contemplate my navel, and spout off ill-considered opinions at my whim. Over there, the rules are very different.
The first thing I have to be aware of is that I am writing as a representative of Examiner.com. We are frequently reminded that they wish to be viewed as a serious source for news, accurate information, and responsible opinions. We were, for example, repeatedly warned to resist the temptation to write ‘joke’ or ‘hoax’ entries for April Fool’s Day. Quick terminology lesson: When I write for them, I am not a blogger; I am an examiner. While many examiners deal primarily in the reporting of current events and relatively objective information, my site deals primarily in opinion pieces fueled by facts and observations. But even if my entries are relatively subjective, there is still a considerable responsibility on my part to make sure I’ve thought my position through.
The result is that it takes substantially longer for me to turn out a piece for Examiner.com than it does to turn out a piece for this space. Here on LJ, I can get away with assuming that my readers know me to some extent; I regard this space as a more intimate look at the facets, bumps, and troughs of my brain. Over there, I have to assume an audience of strangers who may have happened across my entry as part of a key word search. Furthermore, I want to reward those strangers for deciding to read my words, and maybe even give them a reason to check back on future entries of mine.
The bottom line, in the eyes of Examiner.com, is site traffic. It’s also my bottom line, in a way, since I am paid one cent for each hit on one of my entries. I find, though, that I can’t write just for the bottom line; I have to write what I care about, what interests me, or what I feel compelled to get off my chest. Fortunately, I have no shortage of such topics.
If all I cared about was site traffic, I would concentrate all my writing into two areas: Religion and Current Events. My postings on religion invariably generate more hits than normal. The fact is that I frequently touch upon religion there, but it’s simply because I am the Chicago Skepticism Examiner and, from a skeptic’s point of view, there’s always something to say about religion. But the big money is in current events. If you can fashion an entry on the hot button topic of the day – and particularly if you can work that topic into your article title – you can suddenly jump from dozens of hits in a day to thousands – or so we’re told by the folks at Examiner.com.
I experienced a modest example of that just recently, when I posted an entry on the Shroud of Turin. By coincidence, a newswire story came out the same day about the shroud. The result was that my posting generated about ten times my usual number of hits.
Religion, though, is pretty much an eternal hot button issue. Even though I write about it frequently, it is always with some trepidation. I have to keep myself braced for reader responses, which can be piercing. I also try to remember that if people are responding, it means people are reading. In response to one of my entries on religion, I was taken to task by a religious reader who felt that my point of view was unfair and ignorant. Another response to the same entry was from an atheist reader who felt that I was being too sympathetic to religion. Maybe it’s a sign of success if you can mange to piss off both sides of an argument!
The result of all this is that my writing style for Examiner.com has subtly evolved over the past couple of months. I am now much more aware of what I am offering as opinion and what I am offering as fact. If I’m going to write something that might offend someone – well, that might be perfectly fine. I’m not here to please everyone. In such cases, I want to be able to look at the offended person’s reaction and know that the offense they’ve taken is entirely their issue, not mine, and that I’ve expressed myself the right way for the right reasons.
Postscript — Examiner.com is growing like a weed these days. When I started in January, there were about 1,800 examiners writing for them nationwide. Now, there are over 4,000. If you check out their site, there are still plenty of openings for writers on specific topics. If you are inclined to pursue writing for them, let me know so that I can recommend you. It will cost you nothing to do so – but I get a small bonus if someone I recommend gets hired. Thank you! If you have specific questions about the job, drop me a line and I’d be happy to talk to you about it. But know this going in: It’s a lot of work for not a lot of money. You won’t be quitting your day job for this any time soon!