Oliver Miller, a former AOL TV writer, alleged unethical practices at AOL in an online column for The Faster Times, where is currently an associate editor.
Miller wrote that AOL would provide him “eight to ten article assignments a night, writing about television shows that I had never seen before.” According to Miller, AOL provided “short video clips” from TV shows, which were to be the basis for his articles.
“Really, my job was to lie,” Miller claimed. He explained that the high frequency of story assignments prevented his watching the shows he was supposed to report on.
“My job was to write about random, out-of-context video clips, while pretending to the reader that I had watched the actual show in question. AOL knew I hadn’t watched the show. The rate at which they would send me clips and then expect articles about them made it impossible to watch all the shows — or to watch any of them, really.”
Miller also alleged that AOL eventually requested his “turn-around time” to research, write and format each article be twenty-five minutes.
“Errors were inevitably the result,” Miller commented. “But errors didn’t matter; or rather, they didn’t matter for my bosses.”
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Miller noted that a recently leaked “top-secret business document from AOL,” the AOL Way, indicates that “editorial integrity” is the least of AOL’s concerns, whereas getting traffic and page views was the most important. In Business Insider’s story on the AOL Way document, AOL’s “master plan” is described as assigning content “based on four considerations: traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turn-around time.”
Miller also alleged that after one of his stories stepped on an unnamed Hollywood star’s toes, one who had recently signed an endorsement arrangement with AOL to “promote the AOL ‘brand,'” he was “put on notice,” and a new editor would review his work and “add grammatical errors to them.” The New York Observer reported that the celebrity in question appears to be Alec Baldwin, who blogged on Huffington Post about AOL’s blog.
After “less than a year,” Miller said he was fired, but that in that time, he wrote “more than 350,000 words for AOL.”
Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum, who called Miller’s article “harrowing,” also pointed to The Awl’s Jessanne Collins’ November 2010 report on her experience working for “content farm” Demand Media.
Collins likened her experience as a freelance copy editor for Demand last summer th the famous “I Love Lucy” clip in which “Lucy and Ethel take jobs in the chocolate factory and the conveyor belt starts pumping out candy faster than they can pack it in the wrappers so they start stuffing their faces and cleavage with the excess, cowering from the intimidating factory matron.”
iMediaEthics is writing to AOL for comment and will update with any response.