Tuesday, 17 June 2014

What Culture! What Happened?!

As I write this it has been one day less than a year since What Culture - the entertainment website about movies, games etc. - approved me as a contributor to their website. That contributor status was today revoked in, I can only assume, another attempt at the site remaking its image. In the e-mail informing me of my removal from the site, the What Culture editorial explain that they are looking to use a "smaller, more dedicated" team of writers going forward. This I feel is a mistake that is the latest in a long line of changes that I feel may be damaging to the site.

To anyone from the What Culture editorial who may be reading this I say please do not see this as an attack from a disgruntled former contributor, but instead some sincere words of advice about the future of your great site from an outsider's opinion. There were many frustrating events in the last few months of my What Culture career and now it seems unlikely I will be a part of the site going forward, I simply want to voice some concerns and opinions on the site and its recent changes.

"a smaller, more dedicated team"

First, I want to address the biggest change in What Culture's management yet: the reduction of its writing staff. That is, after all, why I'm able to write this letter. When I was accepted into the What Culture community of writers, one of the best things about it - aside from the larger audience than that of this blog - was that it was there whenever I wanted it. Currently I am in full-time education studying to do my AS Levels next month, and as a result I don't have huge amounts of time to write articles. However, on school holidays I would almost always take the time to write an article for the site because I did enjoy it, and I'm hoping to pursue a career in Journalism post-A-Levels.

I am sure that I'm not the only aspiring Journalist on the What Culture team, and I am equally sure I'm not the only writer who is still in education be that school, sixth form, college or university. To bar entry for people in my position who are unable to write frequently for the site due to unfavourable circumstances, I believe is highly unfair. Dismissing a writer from your team should be done if that writer is not writing well, not if the writer cannot post regularly. The saying "quality over quantity" comes to mind.

I feel that it is a great shame to remove these less active, but still passionate, contributors as it not only limits them in terms of what audience they can reach, but it also damages the site's image. One of the best things about the site is that it is run by volunteers predominantly, people who write articles for the site because they love to write with no financial motives whatsoever. While there will still be unpaid volunteers I'm sure, the fact that there will be far fewer is disheartening. It doesn't make What Culture look more professional (I assume that was the idea behind the reduction?), but it does make them seem like they do not care about their writers. And having written a couple of e-mails to the editorial team (who ensure you in their e-mails that if you have any questions, "don't hesitate to ask"), only to have been ignored, I'm not entirely surprised.

Shifting Focus

Another cause for concern in the new era of What Culture has been the website's shifting focus particularly towards what the site is calling "Offbeat" articles. While the website itself still manages to strike a delicate balance between most sections of the site, the What Culture Facebook page has been devoting a lot of its time lately to these offbeat articles. Take a glance at the What Culture Facebook posts of the last few weeks (March 20th to April 10th) and you'll see 2 posts linking to music articles, 3 to TV articles, 9 to film articles, and 21 to "offbeat" articles. This strange emphasis on the "offbeat" section of the site is puzzling. 

I can only assume that this section of the site is being spotlighted as it allows for more mainstream articles, possibly bringing more visitors who do not have an interest in the somewhat niche genre of movies, games and comics. While I don't have a problem with the site expanding its subject matter, it should not be to the detriment of other parts of the site - parts that have given the site the popularity it has today.

Case in point: the comic book section of the site. In my time as a contributor the section I posted to most was the comic-book one, and in the short time I was there I saw it be harshly tossed aside. While a contributor I requested to write many comic reviews, almost all of which were denied to me due to the reviews apparently getting a low amount of views. The frustrating thing about this is that while the section has never been the most popular part of the site, it certainly had its fans and those fans I'm sure would grow had the editorial made an attempt to revitalise the section. Instead they seem to have given up on it. The site currently only posts comic-book articles that are lists, with editor of the comic-book section Noel Thorne the only one with the ability to publish comic reviews, and being only one man the reviews are small in number.

Had the What Culture editorial encouraged comic reviews, they could have been able to grow a comic section the size and popularity of IGN's, or Newsarama's. However, it almost feels like they have a vendetta against the comic book section going so far as to remove it from the list of sections on their homepage. To wrap-up this section of the letter, what I am saying is don't neglect a loyal audience who have long been a staple of the What Culture website, in order to pursue a new audience that frankly seem a little out of place in a website about entertainment.

This time, it's impersonal

An interesting frustration I had with What Culture in my last few months there, was there strong reluctance to include any personal touches to their articles. Using "I" or "I'm" in a review is apparently forbidden and it puzzles me as to why. To put this in context, one of the only comic reviews I was able to write before What Culture's decision to end them was of New Avengers #14. One of my opening sentences in the post I sent to editorial was the following:

"The book went through a short phase where it lacked direction, a phase which I'm happy to say, is coming to an end."

Upon viewing the published article, this had been changed to a more grammatically incorrect, but infinitely less personal sentence:

"The book went through a short phase where it lacked direction, a phase which happily to is coming to an end."

This I bring up only because it is yet another bizarre decision by the What Culture editorial. Reviews are after all the opinion of one person and the use of "I" is common in reviews from many outlets because of this. I could perhaps understand the desire to change the "I'm" to "I am" in order to come across as a little more formal, but to remove "I" completely replacing it with a sentence that makes no grammatical sense is just odd.

5 Great Things About Lists (and a hundred annoying things)

My final and perhaps most significant frustration with What Culture comes from their over-reliance on lists. Aside from a few reviews, and occasionally a news story (if the news is big enough), What Culture is comprised entirely of lists. But why? Lists certainly have their place in a website, and I'm not saying they shouldn't post lists, but it does confuse me as to why they confine themselves so strictly to lists. Why not editorials? Why not more news articles? These would give the site a lot more variety, and would stand it up against more established entertainment news outlets more fairly.

Additionally, some of the lists thought of by What Culture staff for their Unclaimed Assignments page, are so ridiculously esoteric that a writer would need huge amounts of time to research the information necessary for one entry, let alone five, ten or however many they are asking for. This again bars entry to anyone who has other commitments outside of writing for the site, whether that is education, work, children or any other time-consuming things.

I really think that What Culture are doing themselves a disservice by relying so heavily on these lists, and would ask them to consider injecting some more variety into their website sooner rather than later.

To conclude

I once again would like to stress that I have no bad blood with What Culture. They gave me an opportunity to produce writing for a much larger audience than this blog will likely ever give. However, I needed to get the points in this letter off my chest, as I had been bottling my frustrations with the site for a long time. I feel it is likely - particularly after this post - that I may not have the opportunity to write for What Culture again, so I would like to say thank you for the opportunity.

David Craig, Editor of TEN


Sorry to hear about your experience, David. Sad to say it sounds pretty familiar. WhatCulture have a horrible track record, and their editors can be disgustingly unprofessional. To say the least.

In fact, from what I've heard, you should probably be happy that the editors have ignored your emails. The stories I have seen and been told from other past contributors are horrible. Those editors can be vicious and threatening in their private correspondence. They were certainly rude with me.

I've seen them refuse to pay people that were owed money. I've seen them then threaten those writers after they mentioned it on the internet. I've seen them be dismissive and insulting to writers who just wanted to know why they had been fired. They've lied to people going for job interviews, making them work for free on a 'trial' basis while profiting off their work. They've even repeatedly lied in job advertisements, which I'm pretty sure is just straight up illegal.

And that without even getting into how badly they behaved during the whole plagiarism scandal, where they dismissed the overwhelming evidence being presented to them and protected their plagiarist employees for months until it was impossible to ignore any more.

Just stay strong if they do try to contact you.

Like all liars, they hate it when people point out their bad behaviour. From what I've heard they like to threaten and throw their weight around when they can't charm you into doing what they want. Just remember that they don't have any power, and you don't owe them anything.

Sure they gave you a 'platform' to publish your work. But they made money off it. They weren't doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. And they way they are behaving now, their obsession with stupid lists and dumbed down content, shows just how little even they cared about that platform anyway.

Better to just find a new place to publish that will actually treat its contributors right.

Thanks for the support! I definitely feel like they have to stop treating people the way they do, and your comment brings up some things I wasn't aware of before. I hope more people see this post and your comment, so that they can avoid getting involved with that site.

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