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Dec. 10, 2018, 12:48 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   December 10, 2018

Whenever a company in the public eye fails, out come the tell-alls, the instant memoirs, the this-is-what-it-was-like-on-the-inside tweetstorms and blogposts. And so it is with Mic, the digital publisher that met its end (at least in its existing iteration) with a $5 million fire sale to Bustle last month, despite having previously claimed a valuation in the “mid hundreds of millions” of dollars.

One of the first in line with a story to share is Nicolas DiDomizio (Twitter bio: “Jersey Italian with a dad bod”), who wrote about his time as a staff writer there — which, it should be noted, was in 2015 and 2016, so he wasn’t impacted by last month’s sale. (Why write about it now, two years later? He says he’d signed an NDA to get severance in the round of layoffs that cost him his job. “But now they’ve crumbled, so let’s discuss!”)

He describes being invited to leave a full-time job for a three-month stint as a full-time freelancer:

It was a very shitty offer! But it was a career change. And they made an excellent case for their ability to help me grow a following and develop my chops as an online writer. Plus, this was during an era when Mic articles were going viral all the damn time. It was thrilling (and naive and stupid) to imagine myself writing one of those posts and finally proving to literary agents that I could be popular enough to sell a book.

I did notice that a lot of Mic content was clickbait-y and formulaic, but the vision I’d laid out in my edit test was adorably not clickbait-y and formulaic — and management seemed fully on board with that direction for the section I’d be helping to launch. Plus I saw that Ashley Judd (a famous person!) had written an op-ed for them earlier that year. So the place had to be legit.

Our narrator takes the gig and begins to learn the art of churning out #content at scale — and offers up a particularly astute metaphor for a certain kind of Internet-content-assembly work (emphasis mine):

I wasn’t in love with everything I was posting — I never had the time or freedom to inject thought, nuance, or humor into my relentless coverage of relationship studies, sex toys, and viral celebrity tweets — but I needed to get an actual staff position out of this whole ordeal. I became adept at filing my work, hitting reset on my brain, and moving on to the next post. It actually wasn’t all that different from managing a pipeline of projects/emails in a thankless office job.

Quickly the scales begin to fall from his eyes:

Mic’s lack of editorial standards became suffocating over time, though. The only stories approved by management were those that could be squeezed into “frameworks” that had already been proven to perform well on Facebook. This issue obviously wasn’t unique to Mic, but they took it to ridiculous heights with their various paint-by-numbers headlines…

[In weekly pitch meetings] you’d have to make the case for how your headline would rile up at least one reliably share-happy chunk of the internet. It was especially encouraged to craft pitches with the “outrage share” (pandering to PC culture/liberal outrage) and the “identity share” (pandering to millennials’ obsession with self-identification) in mind.

I’d silently die inside as my pitches were dissected and reassembled by the Audience team to become more click-y and formulaic. For example, an idea I once had for a thoughtful personal essay on whether I had made a mistake by leaving my hometown somehow turned into “There’s Good News for People Who Go Back to Their Hometowns.” (The post contained no news, good or bad.)

After he scores a big hit — topped with the very-Mic headline “11 Brutally Honest Reasons Millennials Don’t Want Kids” — he gets the job. Does he enjoy it? Reader, he does not.

Now that I had secured the staff role, I figured I could at least finally speak up about my concerns. I detailed all my complaints in a lengthy email to my new editor. She was supportive and understanding — I got the sense that she agreed with the majority of what I was saying — but it was largely business as usual for the time being.

I resigned myself to the belief that good writing and “Mic” were mutually exclusive concepts, so I focused on turning around quick trending stories with as much voice as possible. I packed my posts with sentence-to-sentence jokes and over-the-top phrasing in hopes of at least slightly differentiating them from the boilerplate Mic hot takes of the day.

But the Audience team was nevertheless encouraged to slap inflammatory headlines on all content when packaging it for social…

Meanwhile, weekly pitch sessions had become a special circle of hell. I was reluctant to share good ideas with the team because I knew there was no way I’d ever be given the space to execute them properly. So instead I just spat out half-baked and outlandish pitches that were basically second-rate ClickHole posts. I considered it a small, sad victory when one of them actually got published.

The directive to spark outrage and/or foster empowerment at every turn intensified. I was required to write about slut-shaming, body-shaming, post-baby-body-shaming, food-shaming, working-mom-shamingselfie-shaming, period-shaming, boob-shamingbreastfeeding-shaming, age-shaming, phone-shaming…all in a way that suggested I personally gave a shit! Not to discount the validity of (some of) those issues, but the standard for something to be labeled an act of “shaming” was remarkably fucking low in the Mic universe.

DiDomizio acknowledges that, by this point, he was becoming “a nightmare to work with,” lashing out “at the slightest piece of editorial feedback” and becoming “unprofessional and unfair.” (Protagonists can be complex, okay?) Management eventually gets involved, but our narrator just refocuses his revolt into bizarre editorial decisions:

I seized every chance I could to quietly revolt. I accepted an assignment to write “something about Earth Day” and turned it into a vulgar and ridiculous roundup of Earth Day sex tips that reads like a rejected Howard Stern Show bit. I randomly argued that Ariana Grande was a closet pegging enthusiast. I agreed to give the SEO director “A Complete Guide to Taylor Swift’s Ex-Boyfriends,” but instead gave him a complete exploration of what would happen if all her ex-boyfriends were cereal.

(Calvin Harris is Grape Nuts, if you’re wondering.)

Eventually, his Mic vertical gets eliminated and DiDomizio gets bounced. He lands on his feet, finally writes the book manuscript that gets him an agent, and eventually finds a job at Condé Nast.

Ex-employees — especially ones who’ve been fired or laid off — are not perfectly reliable narrators, of course. DiDomizio does cop to being what sounds like a pretty terrible employee. But nonetheless, when he wrote Earth Day sex tips, Mic published them. When he decided Jake Gyllenhaal was just a taller version of Apple Jacks, Mic shared that wisdom with the world. A model based on “outrage share” and “identity share” pretty well sums up a lot (if not all) of Mic’s output. What hath Facebook wrought? That.

(FYI: His full piece features a telling Khloe Kardashian anecdote I really shouldn’t publish here.)

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