Illustration: Jim Cooke (GMG)

On Wednesday, Deadspin published a report about how FanSided uses unpaid and underpaid labor to power its websites, which in turn bolster Sports Illustrated and its parent company, Meredith Corporation. With names and other identifying information redacted by request, here are some of the dozens of emails and Twitter messages I’ve since received from current and former FanSided workers.

“I definitely feel remorse and responsibility for the culture I am perpetuating by writing for FanSided.”

Thank you for the excellent story about FanSided. My experience as a writer there are very similar to what is in your story. I started writing there as a hobby. I always wanted to be a writer, journalist, etc. however I chose a different path in college. Everything about the pay, desire for clicks, and, de-emphasis on reporting is accurate. I have never received any pressure to get more articles posted. I have never hit 50 articles in a month, nor will I ever, and I have only receive positive feedback from my editor. My experience may be different though as I am on a hockey site and they are currently struggling with hockey contributors.

The vetting process was laughable. All I had to do was submit a 500 word story about the team I wanted to cover. I am not a fan of the team I cover nor do I live in that market, both of which I informed them about in my application. I simply wanted to start writing about hockey and FanSided seemed like a good opportunity.

I definitely feel remorse and responsibility for the culture I am perpetuating by writing for FanSided. Although I have no delusions about ever becoming a full time writer, I know that the existence of sites like FanSided hurts aspiring writers. That being said, I enjoy writing about hockey and the interactions I get to have on social media with other hockey fans.

Thank you for your great work and for listening.

“I received a check for $4.”

This is just my own personal drop in the bucket in the context of the exhaustive research you’ve already done, but in case it ever helps with this story in the future: I covered the English Premier League and the NBA for a while for FanSided. The soccer work came during an especially hectic summer in my personal and actual-living-wage-paying-job lives. I love the sport and my editor ([Redacted]) was actually super cool about not pressuring anyone directly for content and providing in-depth, content-specific feedback. Having said that, I busted my ass writing multiple articles every week to qualify as a “paid contributor,” was told it’d be a few months before I was paid; later that fall I received a check for $4.

More striking to me was my NBA experience. I write for an SBNation site covering the Knicks, and when I reached out to FanSided to cover basketball was thrilled to get responses that indicated I was actually known to them and they actually did appreciate my work (the editor I worked with, [Redacted], is a wonderful dude). I was thrilled when almost right off the bat they offered me a $250 monthly stipend to write a weekly NBA power rankings feature. It wasn’t until the first weekend rolled around that I began to understand what I’d stepped into — FanSided wanted a weekly slide show, about 300 words per team every. Single. Weekend.

For the rankings to be timely, I had to write them over the weekend for publication Monday. That meant 9000 words every single weekend for six months (plus formatting pieces for FS involves a number of specific touches that aren’t too bad in and of themselves, but multiplied over 30 slide shows they add up, time-wise). Every model of power rankings I grew up reading featured a couple of sentences, maybe one paragraph per team; what FS asked for was unbelievable. I type 105 words per minute; even so, I spent at least 8 hours Saturday and at least 8 hours Sunday putting together 30 slide shows. After that first weekend I emailed my editor to tell him I couldn’t accept the job anymore. To do what FS wanted meant I would spend half the year having zero weekends and virtually no time with my family.

I was fortunate to work with two wonderful editors at FS. I love EPL and the NBA; as I usually am exclusively covering the Knicks for SBNation, the opportunity to write about the NBA at-large held immense appeal. When I was offered the chance to write power rankings, something I’d grown up reading “real” sportswriters do, I was ecstatic. But the truth is I haven’t written for FS in more than a year, and I have never once missed it.

-Matt Miranda, former FanSided contributor

“It sucks. I hope for change. I just don’t expect it.”

I wrote for two different FanSided MLB sites, first as a contributor and then as a site manager. For a contributor, it was actually not awful—there was a big stable of writers, so if you just wrote something once a week, whatever you felt like, it could be a true “hobby” just to kind of keep sharp and nobody pestered you. If you did a slideshow, great; if you thought they were stupid, also great.

Becoming an editor sucked. This was early 2017 and it was me and another kid—couldn’t have been older than 19—tasked with essentially resurrecting a team site after everyone else had fled. Step one: A four-hour Google hangout with a geriatric on-boarder (that a way to have your finger on the pulse of internet content, FanSided), telling us every bit of every thing that we should know to become the best FanSideders we could be. A document (the Bible According to FanSided) was given to us, and we were encouraged to familiarize ourselves with it in order to maximize our site and our platforms; we later learned that everything in it was subject to change on a whim. True ‘editing’ of the content barely mattered; I read just some horrible crap on comparable sites, but I never saw anything like standards mentioned on the (up to thrice) daily emails from our overlords. As an editor, we were mostly just told to encourage people to write more. More what didn’t matter at all.

Daily, we were encouraged to chase down rumors (how, I was never told; we were provided no access, no contacts and I was flat turned down regarding a credential, so I assume just make stuff up) and run slideshows. For me, someone whose aversion to old Bleacher Report and everything even remotely click-baity, this was not what I had in mind at all. Halfway through the season, I happily bailed for something better (i.e., something that wasn’t a slideshow farm).

FanSided was bullshit, and its bullshit model was not lost on me. But I know what lured me in: a platform. When I was first contacted, I was writing locally. I wanted to go up. I wanted more people to see my stuff. I had no idea at the time there was such a thing as a ‘good’ platform; I’m just a poor dumb hick who wanted to write and didn’t know where to start. Now I know better, but I don’t know if I know any differently; if you don’t live in a media capital, it’s damn hard to find your way as a writer. So people like me will still take these risks, it’ll still suck and where SB Nation and FanSided fall, something equally as evil (with a better understanding of labor loopholes) will rise. It sucks. I hope for change. I just don’t expect it.

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“I received the credit I required for graduating, but that seems like one of the more positive stories regarding these sites.”

Great work again in shedding some light on these exploitative blogging sites. After reading your piece on SB Nation last year, and its massively over worked and underpaid labor force, I realized that the site I had written for during college, Fansided, and specifically GMen HQ, was operating in almost identical fashion. Reading through your article, I saw Neal Lynch mentioned as a subject in your piece, and he was actually my “manager” for a time while I was writing. I never met the guy, but he always was helpful in what I was trying to get out of my time at the site, namely cooperative/internship credit at my school and a chance to write easily digestible articles about the Giants.

My time with the site was uneventful, I never made any money nor did I expect to; after earning credit during the summer going into my senior year, I lost interest almost entirely and stopped contributing. And that seems to be the extent of what these types of sites can offer; if not credit for college, at least some semblance of experience in published writing. I received the credit I required for graduating, but that seems like one of the more positive stories regarding these sites. Anyway, it’s good to see a former site manager make his way out of that machine because I know they were always committing more time to the sites than I would, and now I know being paid like garbage for their efforts. Thanks for the great article and reporting.

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“This guy had been copying and pasting articles for a long time and they named him employee of the month for it.”

Thanks for your hard work on the FanSided story. I spent about three years with them, managing a team site and writing at the news desk for FanSided.com. They got a lot of content out of me with the “we might hire you full-time” carrot. I hated my day job and bought in, but never got enough page views to be considered. As the writers you talked to pointed out, I literally never got any feedback on my writing except page views (that I wasn’t getting enough).

Here are a couple stories about how desperately they chase page views:

1. This is an article from a writer they did hire full-time and who still works there (I think). It’s about then-Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill eating an ice cream bar in the snow. Just one problem: it’s not Jerry Kill.

I was on staff and pointed this out at the time. They didn’t take the article down and it’s still up almost four years later. Why? Because page views.

2. They do this “Fansider of the Month” thing on the “Huddle.” They would suggest that we go see what those people are doing, especially if we were looking for chances to move up. So I did go check out the site manager featured on some given month. The first article I saw was a fantasy football “start ‘em, sit ‘em” that looked awfully familiar. That’s because it was lifted word-for-word from NFL.com. The only difference is that he had broken it out into a slide show.

I emailed my division director or whatever his title was, and he passed it along to somebody else with that sort of title. They thanked me, quietly fired the writer, pulled the articles from the site, pulled the recognition on the Huddle, replaced it with a reminder not to plagiarize, and asked me to please keep it under my hat.

I guess I don’t know if their handling was appropriate or not, but I do know that this guy had been copying and pasting articles for a long time and they named him employee of the month for it. Because page views.

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“It was an ugly, discouraging situation”

Thank you so much for your piece on FanSided. I can say with absolute certainty that your criticisms are 100% accurate. Exploitation, sloppiness, incuriosity and laziness permeate FanSided to its very core.

At no time during my two stints of blogging for FanSided did I ever feel my work was supported, cared about, or even properly edited. Going in I knew the $1 per 1,000 words rate was awful, I knew the site was a wasteland of SEO-humping slideshows, but I was naive: Hey, this site is undeniable dreck, true, but maybe I will stand out, make connections, move on to bigger and better places. 

How foolish. Really, I should have just stuck with my personal blog. Sure, my audience was 15 people at most, but at least there I wasn’t asked to fabricate trade rumors and squeeze out 10-part slideshows for pennies.

During my time at FanSided, I learned contributors were not promoted to editorial positions based on any actual felicity with language. A basic understanding of grammar also seemed irrelevant. No, the editorial jobs existed solely to reward the people most willing to churn out pointless “What Time Does [Event] Start?” posts, the people most willing to chase clicks above everything. This created a situation where I, an aspiring writer, was putting my work (and my fledgling “reputation” LOL) in the hands of people who couldn’t care less about usage errors and grammar blunders. Hell, even basic typos made it past the editing process. At one point I started a folder to keep track of all the mistakes I discovered across the main site, but I soon gave up due to sheer volume.

It was an ugly, discouraging situation. Outside of “include more GIFs” and “you need more SEO keywords in the opening sentence” I never received any actual editorial feedback about my work. I would send published pieces to friends only to receive texts informing me that there were typos in the lede, that I flubbed the like-vs.-as distinction, that the transition between paragraphs three and four was nonexistent. What’s the point of “getting your name out there” — the only selling point FanSided offered — when the people in charge of handling your work (people making far more money than you!) can’t even be bothered to do some basic proofreading before hitting publish?

Some other horrors:

-Being on the News Desk, which was where I was told the big money was. During those shifts it was required that I write three posts (300 words minimum) every hour. As you know, the world of sports does not produce that many interesting pieces of news every hour, much less every hour during a six-to-eight-hour shift, so in order to meet that quota I had to dig deep into less popular sports (track and field, extreme sports, skiing, etc.). You can guess what happened next: When I voiced my displeasure at how meager my pay was, I was met with, “Well, that’s your fault. People aren’t clicking your posts; you need to focus on finding more interesting stories.” Which made me frustrated to the point of irate. On any given day there are a finite number of stories that people find truly, deeply interesting! I can’t just, like, conjure eyeball-attracting NFL news out of thin air! To which they’d shrug and say if I wasn’t satisfied, there was the door.

-When the head editor at the time bragged to me over Slack that he had lied about his feminist beliefs in order to convince a woman to give him a blow job. He also liked to photoshop himself into pictures next to Kate Upton for some weird reason, to make it look like they were dating or something? I dunno. Creepy guy. (I wish I had kept the receipts, so to speak. Alas I did not.)

-The time I was berated by another editor for quibbling about payment for a lengthy article (at that point I had moved away from the pay-per-pageview model and was receiving a whopping $30 flat-rate per piece, no matter if said piece was 750 words or 1,200). He volleyed a personal and undeniably unprofessional attack against me, calling me entitled and whiny and selfish. In his email he underscored what he felt were his best talking points with Stone Cold Steve Austin GIFs. I tell ya, it was kind of surreal to have an editor with a middling grasp of the English language attack you with all the rhetorical skill of a 14-year-old doing battle in a YouTube comments section. (I wish I had kept the original email, but all I have is a copy-and-paste version.)

Anyway, yeah, fuck FanSided. The only good thing about my experience there was gaining the knowledge that pursuing anything else as a career would be to my benefit.

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“It was hard to justify continuing considering my hourly wage rivaled an Ivanka Trump sweatshops.”

In my experience, Fansided provided solid support and communication with its writers. They’re available to answer questions, offer post ideas, and tech support in content design. It’s a good opportunity for aspiring writers to practice and build a modest (at best) portfolio of writing samples. I grew increasingly irritated with demands for social media promotion (extra time you aren’t spent meeting your post quota) along with precise word count minimums and layout demands all in support of SEO purportedly. I’m a peacock you gotta let me fly on this. But the supply of mediocre writers like myself is seemingly endless so they’re happy to profit of that by offering little pay. The pay is insulting (which I knew before starting), and it was hard to justify continuing considering my hourly wage rivaled an Ivanka Trump sweatshops.

“I’ve strongly recommended anyone not write for them.”

I read your piece on FanSided today. I worked at FanSided for just under two years as editor of [redacted] and [redacted] with a very brief spell on the FanSided news desk. [Redacted] was a top 3-5 NBA site for my entire time there.

My experience was in line with everything you outlined. Nothing particularly ground-breaking but a lot of the same things. Lots of turnover. Denied requests for pay increases or full-time positions. Ended pretty messy.

I’m glad someone wrote about FanSided. I’ve strongly recommended anyone not write for them.

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“Everything presented in your story matches up with every experience I ever had while with them.”

Just wanted to let you know that I thought your article was interesting. I spent just one year as a “site expert” for a FanSided site. Everything presented in your story matches up with every experience I ever had while with them (though you’re not really ‘with them’ as it is contracted work).

One thing not touched on in the article, perhaps it’s not particularly relevant, was that our work - along with that of our unpaid writers - ended up on FOXSports.com with no compensation to the author.

Example of a piece by one of our writers.

“I was told I should’ve used more slides for more clicks.”

I want to thank you for this in-depth article on FanSided (and SBNation). I’m a former journalist from Albuquerque, N.M., now living in New Jersey, that had attempted to write for the SBNation Mountain West Conference site and the New York Giants site.

I was treated with, what I would consider, a lack of [respect] from the Giants’ sites editor. Especially for the fact that I wasn’t being paid. I was working a full-time job at the time and was essentially not given “assignments” anymore because I couldn’t hit a specific deadline for the sole fact that I was at that paid, full-time job.

I also had a contact inside FanSided for one of their NBA-related sites. I like the editor and is essentially a friend. I was laid off from my job last June and decided to give what these sites do another chance. I know it wouldn’t be paid much or at all.

I was asked to cover the Memphis Grizzlies. Living in New Jersey, I found that to be absurd and tried to cover either Brooklyn, New York of Philadelphia.

Also, the pay: $1 for every 1000-page views.

I wrote one story.

It took me almost three hours to complete the process. Writing, their editorial procedures, posting and using “keywords” that was requested.

I don’t have the e-mail anymore from the editor, however, he told me that it was a great piece but too much of “old school journalism.” I was told I should’ve used more slides for more clicks. If I remember correctly. Also, the web site that my article was supposed to be published on, through FanSided’s system, didn’t post to the correct one. I am 99.9 percent positive this was not my fault.

I had several high schoolers request to connect with me on LinkedIn who worked for these sites. Not that it’s a bad thing, I’m willing to give advice and discuss the current state of the industry. It was just mind-blowing that they had hired people that young and some with no previous journalistic experience.

I’m sure this isn’t anything new for you researching this story, I thought I’d reach out with another perspective and my experience.

Again, thank you for the read.

- Ryan Tomari, former FanSided contributor

“The pay structure was and still is $1 for 1,000 clicks.”

Great article. You’re surfacing a growing problem not only with Fansided but with countless other sports websites.

I covered UFC/MMA for a small sports website and was offered to write for Fansided but turned it down. The pay structure was and still is $1 for 1,000 clicks. The amount of work that goes into covering a live event simply is not worth it. In fact, in paying $50-60 for a PPV, you’re actually losing money.

There are countless websites like Fansided out there that make big $ off ads and pay writers close to nothing.

Hopefully more articles like yours will bring media coverage and expose sites like FS.

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“Any chance to parlay this into a career outside the content mill is slim.”

As a former FanSided writer, I can tell you everything presented in your piece is accurate.

I spent nearly two years co-running the [redacted] site and part of this summer covering the [redacted]. The most I ever made from the [redacted] job was $200 a month, once, and never met the 50-post requirement for the caps.

I watched $150 go bye-bye.

The hours are as you described. What little attempt to help us become better writers were quickly abandoned. Any chance to parlay this into a career outside the content mill is slim.

Although quality writing is tough when you are responsible for 3,000 words or so a week, the recruits passed on to us were, in some cases, terrible.

To be fair, knowing the money was awful, I enjoyed my time at FanSided and made lifelong friends. It is a double-edged sword.

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“FS put the onus on site experts to find ways to motivate and incentivize more work out of unpaid contributors.”

I wrote for FanSided for about three years while I was in school, working as a paid editor for one of the team sites for two of them. I’m no longer a paid FS editor though, I got the writing fever during the NBA playoffs and I published a few posts as a contributor.

I think you did a great job capturing a lot of the shady and exploitive aspects of the network. The paragraph that outlined the pay almost gave me PTSD, taking me back to long days in the library obsessing over numbers and quantity of posts.

Two years ago, FanSided announced that they were entering a partnership with Fox Sports. I’ve attached screenshots with the FanSided Huddle announcement.

I remember speaking with some members of my team and there was no clear direct benefit for FanSided contributors. Our stories would go up on Fox Sports’ site (like this one) and it wouldn’t do much for our page views and definitely didn’t do anything for our pay. The link that re-directed readers back to the original source was hidden at the bottom and, essentially, pointless because why would anyone read it a second time on a different site?

I’d also like to share two e-mail exchanges I had with Phil Watson about finding some compensation for one of my writers (I attached screenshots). [Ed note: screenshots not included to protect anonymity.] Basically, FS put the onus on site experts to find ways to motivate and incentivize more work out of unpaid contributors.

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I’d like to add that my experience with the network isn’t entirely negative. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet a lot of great and talented people, improve as a writer, and have the experience that helped me land a full-time, non-sports writing job after school.

Despite that, I was frustrated at times because I feel like my pay did not reflect the amount of time and effort I put into the work. Ultimately, I got burned out. At first, quality was most important and then, when the results weren’t there, they encouraged us to make slideshows and, like you wrote, manipulate SEO. Then, when I was extremely focused, I was knocking out a handful of posts every day. I knew it was time to step away when it took me several hours to write a basic 250-word recap.

So, it wasn’t all bad. There was some good, of course. But I wish it was fairer.

“I was very grateful for the opportunity to write for a modest but solid following”

I read your story on FanSided today and wanted to relay some of my experience from writing for the network. I wrote pretty extensively as a contributor to FanSided’s University of Miami site Canes Warning in 2015 while I was a student at the school. I routinely spent multiple hours per week during my sophomore year writing diligently-researched game previews and other assorted posts without receiving any pay. However, no one at FanSided ever mandated any posts from me or put me on any kind of schedule. (It’s worth mentioning that I did write very briefly for UMiami’s SB Nation site State of the U last year and this was not the case—we were put on a mandated post schedule even if we were unpaid and I ultimately left fairly quickly because of it.) FanSided also never dictated editorial direction to me or edited any content that I wrote.

There was certainly a heavy emphasis on SEO optimization, but I never felt it was overbearing or out of line. I was also never promised anything along the lines of being “discovered” or going on to work at Sports Illustrated. My editor even downplayed FanSided’s connection with the company.As a college student with a lot of free time and a desire to write, I was very grateful for the opportunity to write for a modest but solid following and proud of my work. I know I could never have reached practically anyone (and certainly not immediately) if I started a site of my own from scratch. I ultimately stopped writing for Canes Warning due to other responsibilities eating into my free time and never felt any acrimony or pressure to return. I can’t speak to anyone’s experience as a site editor, but I did have a positive experience.

I have absolutely no connections to any of the corporate interests currently or previously connected to FanSided (in fact, the Best brothers always came off as clowns to me and I wrote for the site in spite of their leadership more than because of it), so this certainly is not me defending my friends. I have no doubt that there are some serious issues with the management of writers at the site editor level. I just wanted to relay my honest experience as a contributor and why I’m grateful the opportunity existed for me at the time.

- Harry Kroll, former FanSided contributor 

Update (1:25 p.m. ET):

“I was told because of my duties I had to cover what was going on which led to me having to cancel on family in order to work”

I worked for FanSided from May 2012 - August 2014. During that time I went from a unpaid staff writer at NFL Spinzone all the way to the Technology and Gaming Editor at FanSided.com. During that time, I believe the most I ever made in a single month was about $85, and that’s when I was a co-EIC for their gaming site that I helped launch (GameSided.com).

While at FS, I would work upwards of 30-40 hours per week, providing reviews of products, exclusive interviews, and weekly columns. I even traveled from Buffalo, NY to San Francisco to cover an event for GameSided. While the company hosting the event paid for my hotel and flight, I was responsible for all of my other expenses. Not once was reimbursement ever offered, even when asked.

During my time there, the pay structure of $1 for every 1,000 views and it was a three month delay. So, for the traffic you did in August, you wouldn’t see that check until November. That is if you hit your posting and site traffic goals. To make matters worse, if you split EIC duties, that payout got cut. Making a small compensation amount even smaller.

Multiple times during my tenure I asked about a salaried position due to my workload — Managing a staff, assigning and editing stories, and writing dozens of stories per week — and title. Each time I was met with “you haven’t earned it” or “you don’t produce enough”. To work days or weeks on stories to make just 75 cents for the effort was the final straw. One article in particular. It was New Year’s Eve where a Twitch streamer was Swatted and a DDOS attack took place live. During the events, I was told because of my duties I had to cover what was going on which led to me having to cancel on family in order to work. All of that netted me a WHOPPING $2.25 in compensation based on traffic.

In August 2014 I asked for a raise once again. Once I was declined, I stepped down immediately.

Were there some good times there? Sure. But the stress of being constantly nagged about production when they aren’t paying you anything near worth your time was too much to deal with.

- Michael Straw, former FanSided contributor