Though it’s hardly the Wild West it was during the emergence of Web 2.0 last decade, online media is still a highly competitive, under-regulated landscape. Creator platforms, like Vine, come and go. Platforms like YouTube have been accused of being unfriendly to their creators. Where once the trending algorithms of popular platforms pushed small, independent creators to the forefront, now the front pages are crowded with clips from late night shows and media giants.
Given the prohibitive difficulty of trying to launch a career as an online media creator in 2016, it makes sense that some creators would adopt an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. Why risk everything to build an audience from scratch when you could take a consistent paycheck from a Big Media Company? What does a creator have to lose by signing up with, say, BuzzFeed?
It turns out that the answer to those questions is more complicated than you might think.
Gaby Dunn and Alison Raskin, known for their Just Between Us channel, this week became the latest creators to speak out about their experiences with BuzzFeed. Here’s the original video of Gaby and Alison from John and Hank Green’s Vlog Brothers channel:
They’re not the only ones. Former BuzzFeed Video creator Kenny Moffitt released a video on the same topic in August. So did YouTuber and former BuzzFeeder ElloSteph in September. And those are just the creators who left voluntarily: staffers Brittany Ashley and Jenny Lorenzo were fired for violating the exclusivity clause of contracts they signed with BuzzFeed.
The reasons creators have given for leaving BuzzFeed are manifold, but tend to fall into a few different categories. As near as I can tell from watching ex-BuzzFeeders’ videos, here are the primary reasons:
—Career Restrictions: while working for BuzzFeed, creators can’t create non-BuzzFeed content or grow their own brands except as an extension of BuzzFeed’s brand.
—Independence: creators want to have control of their own work and not submit to BuzzFeed’s brand and standards.
—Company Policies: creators are uncomfortable with BuzzFeed’s frequent reorganizations and the corporate climate they engender.
Of course, there’s pushback against creators both from internet commenters (largely for joining BuzzFeed at all, or for signing contracts and then responding negatively to the contracts after having signed them) and from BuzzFeed itself, which asserted in a memo after the firings of Ashley and Lorenzo that BuzzFeed “invest(s) heavily in its producers”, who are “expected to be fully committed to (their) work” as a result.
Still, for creators considering working for BuzzFeed or any other digital media company, these defection videos might make one take pause. Creators who find themselves in this position must ask themselves which they value more: a steady paycheck (that might be taken away at any time), or creative and career independence (that carries huge risks). And once they make that decision, they’ll have to face the consequences.
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