A Washington Post article posted not too long ago commented on the topic of amateur writers who write for the Web. (I would gladly post a link except the article is no longer at the site.} The article comprised the opinion that allowing ‘anybody who writers’ to publish lessens the quality of writing everywhere. This same article created a huge backlash at Associated Content.com (AC). Writers there felt insulted and put down by the professional author, and the lines drawn in the sand marked the cold war between experienced with the inexperienced writers.
Some argued that AC did, in fact, have some very articulate authors, while others agreed that with having ‘just anyone’ being able to publish added to the growing number of low quality work. Anyone can write for Associated Content, which provides articles for web sites who don’t have the time, patience, or fortitude to have articles (content) for their sites. I’ve worked as a webmaster, so I’m keen on this type of service and the growing need for them. Keeping updated material is a time consuming venture for webmasters, and sites like Associated Content provides a much needed service.
I did not feel any insult by the article. This was, after all, a professional, paid writer who worked for the Washington Post. He had obvious skill in his craft. The words included concise, well versed sentences to illustrate his skill, so there was no doubt to his profession. I did not, however, agree with his assessment. Having amateur writers publishing on the Web does not lessen or even threaten his position as a ‘real’ author. It simply allows new voices to be heard on a new medium known as the World Wide Web.
The Internet is not the Washington Post or any other printed publication. Web writing requires keyword saturated articles to get the most hits to sites. Readers searching for specific topics are as varied as the skill level of the writers, many of which are interested more with facts than proper grammar or sentence structure. They simply want answers to their questions, not wordy dialog by professional writers.
Another site for writers on the web is Epinions.com. This also serves as another example of what I mean. Amateur writers have opinions, but are less likely to fill an article with lengthy paragraphs that have words no one uses in everyday language. This site works much like Consumer Reports but with no fee, and reviews are written by people like you or me. Here, you can not only find a number of brutally honest reviews on products and services, you can add your own and earn a minimal amount of money (or more) depending on your marketing savvy. You also gain feedback from other reviewers that can help improve your writing/reviews, while also finding various opinions on hundreds of subjects.
I tend to prefer the opinion of people like me over the ‘professional’ reviewer. The personal opinion of a housewife raising five kids is just as valid (if not more) as a professional reviewer on many matters because the housewife speaks my language. She avoids the overuse of three syllable words as she makes her point plain and clear. Add the experience she has with products or her day to day events with her children, and there you have an expert ‘in the field’. An avid gore fan will have a better idea of a movie based on terror than someone who prefers drama but forced to write the review for their job. The same goes for a blue collar worker, an avid video gamer, or your average ‘Joe’ that simply wants quality products/services that work.
Some online writing also allows for the cream to float to the top by the use of voting. Helium.com works this way by having members compare and vote between articles that places the better writer closer to the top ten. The site provides no upfront payment, but you can find an area of places looking for writers. Your writing can lead to paid jobs, and you gain a minimal income from hits received online.
Amateur writers have a place in the world, adding to the myriad of voices to be heard and shared. Not all of them are great, some aren’t even good, but I think the growing audience and need for content is there to be filled nonetheless.