Discovering and nurturing talent has always been an essential, if unsung element of Gawker culture. Some of our best writers were first elevated from the commentariat, or came to our notice by writing an effective takedown of one our stories on their own blogs.
Yet a particularly pithy commenter might not have the guts to do real reporting, or the temerity to learn how best to build an audience. Hiring is a gamble: we can't tell if a writer has The Knack without seeing them work on the real, live internet; if they flail it's awkward for all involved. Our site leads tend to hold tightly to talent that works (a good thing) at the expense of creating opportunities for new blood to join the ranks.
To address this, I'm creating a new program at Gawker Media that we're calling "Recruits." Recruits will be paid, short-term contractors who receive a monthly stipend, their own Kinja subsite attached to one of our eight core brands, mentoring and direction from our site leads and their staff, as well as an aggressive bonus structure that will reward the capturing of uniques (using the same Quantcast "people" metric we use across all the sites).
It's a fantastic opportunity for aggressive reporters who aren't afraid of hustle and experimentation.
It's also sink-or-swim: every Recruit will be evaluated after 90 days. Those that hit (or exceed) targets and meet our editorial standards will be folded into our teams on an ongoing basis, either with a full-time position or a long-term freelance contract—perhaps even continuing the manage their own subsite.
Those that don't will be sent on their way, and a new Recruit will take their place.
Recruits will operate on a $5 eCPM—earning $5 for every 1,000 uniques they bring in each month. We will "spot" Recruits their first $1,500 a month; we're not monsters. Recruits can post as little or as often as they'd like; determining the sweet spot will be part of their learning and tuning process. Monthly uniques over the first 300,000 ($1,500) a month will be paid out at the $5 eCPM, up to a maximum of $6,000. (An atypically aggressive bonus for Gawker, reached at just 1,250,000 uniques per month, but we want to reward initiative.)
Recruits will report to their site lead and take direction and advice. Recruits will abide by the same editorial standards to which all Gawker employees and contractors abide. Attempts to "game" the numbers by nefarious, unethical, or needlessly impolitic behavior (bot nets, false reports, or republishing without linking, in respective example) will result in the termination of a Recruit's contract, at our discretion.
My goal is to discover and train new talent with which we can build a long-term relationship, not to momentarily mine cheap traffic with a rotating pool of contributors. That said, I anticipate less than 1 in 10 Recruits will be given a long-term offer: we want only the very best.
This opportunity will not be for everyone. And not every future hire will come through the Recruits program. (There will still be need for Editorial Assistants, for example, although you can, as a site lead, expect me to ask "Why not try them as a Recruit first?") Yet as we move forward in developing the collaborative journalism platform that is Kinja, the Recruits program will offer us the first of many new "rungs on the ladder" between civilian allies and paid contributor.
FATBAQ (FREQUENTLY-ANTICIPATED-TO-BE-ASKED QUESTIONS)
Q. How many recruits will you bring on?
A. We're going to start with around 3 per site, or 24 in total.
Q. How do I become a recruit?
A. We're not currently taking unsolicited applications, but as ever, building a strong history of intelligent discussion and contribution within Kinja is a smart way to get noticed.
Q. What happens if you decide not to hire a Recruit after 90 days?
A. We either shut down their subsite or find another Recruit to take their place.
Q. I'm a site lead. Will this come out of my site's budget?
A. No. This will have its own budget. Recruits uniques will be counted into a site's total uniques numbers; how that affects uniques bonus calculations is TBD, but the aim is for it to increase your bonus pool slightly without requiring us to "double pay" a bonus.
Q. Can existing freelance contributors qualify for the Recruits program or structure?
A. Sure, if they want to take the risk. Let's talk about it.
Q. Won't this encourage bad or lazy attempts at journalism at "traffic whoring"?
A. There's a difference—often misunderstood—between doing one's utmost to bring in an interested, engaged audience and simply fooling readers into clicking or sharing a headline. While we differ from more timid news organizations in encouraging our contributors to push as far against that line as is useful and expecting the occasional toe across the line, most audiences are smart enough to recognize a cheap trick. Me too. I know it when I see it. Don't make me see it!
Q. Can a Recruit's site feature pornography, copyrighted materials, trojans, unfounded slander, pictures of pigs with poop on their balls, 1,000-word posts with only the word "abortion" pasted within, Nick Denton photoshops, or…
A. I mean…no? Or at least no to most of those things. Recruits will be expected to follow the same policies as any other Gawker contractor. And see the previous question: We're looking for talent that brings an audience, not tricksters who live to scam Quantcast, their audience, or us.
Q. Is this longer than you intended?