Startup's 'Editorial Process' Involves Stealing From Writers
Hello, class! What did we learn from the Cooks Source incident of '10, in which Judith Griggs, editor of Cooks Source, stole a recipe from a blogger named Monica Gaudio, who then asked for an apology, but instead got a nasty response from Griggs claiming that the Internet was "public domain" and that, frankly, Guadio was lucky Griggs had edited her awful piece. Griggs, whom it turned out had done this with numerous recipes, went on to be publicly shamed on the public domain that is the Internet, and Cooks Source was shut down.
This was a valuable, and rather inspiring, lesson for bloggers and writers who often spend as much time waiting to get paid, hoping they'll get paid, as they do working on their stories. Sure, Gaudio never got a penny for her troubles, but at least an Internet house had fallen upon the Wicked Witch. Unfortunately, there are those who have not learned the lesson.
Case in point:
A San Francisco-based, Groupon-style startup with the unfortunate name of Pinchit posted an ad on Mediabistro a month or so ago for a "Job Applicant for Writer/Feature Editor/Elite Ninja (112584)." The ad has since been removed. Our tipster applied, following up with a requested "sample" write-up (a 500-word description of a ski resort called Kirkwood).
"I did and sent it in and never heard back," he told us. "A week or so later the write-up shows up in a Google alert I had set on the site. I sent a polite email noting that they'd used the write-up I did. After about two weeks of the emails back-and-forth, I finally get an email from the CEO telling me there's no compensation and that it's 'part of the application process' and also that he'd be in Beijing until Saturday."
His emails with his original contact, Lou Kosak, and Pinchit's CEO, Aneel Ranadive, follow.
On Mon, Mar 28, 2011 at 12:10 PM, [Redacted] wrote:
I hadn't heard from you but I see you used the copy I wrote for the Kirkwood sale. I was wondering what was happening with the position.
From: Lou Kosak
Date: Mon, Mar 28, 2011 at 12:37 PM Subject: Re: mediabistro.com Job Applicant for Writer/Feature Editor/Elite Ninja (112584)
Thanks for getting back in touch. I passed along your writeup on Kirkwood to our editing team for opinions, who in turn bounced it off Kirkwood themselves, and I guess they ended up choosing it for the feature. Good stuff, and congratulations--sorry for not following up with you on that.
After a hectic period of fundraising, we're getting back into hiring mode. We'll follow up with you later today or tomorrow about next steps.
Then, Aneel Ranadive, Pinchit's CEO, got in touch.
On Wed, Mar 30, 2011 at 5:06 PM, Aneel Ranadive
I work with Lou and would love to connect to further the dialogue. Where are you located? We're based in San Francisco and ideally would like all team members to be full-time at Pinchit HQ.
Upon telling Ranadive he was in Napa, our tipster got no response. So he tried again.
Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 9:51 AM Subject: Re: mediabistro.com Job Applicant for Writer/Feature Editor/Elite Ninja (112584) To: Aneel Ranadive
Cc: Lou Kosak
I haven't heard from you, but I wanted to follow up about compensation for the copy I produced for the Kirkwood sale and you used. When can I expect payment for this?
From: Aneel Ranadive
Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 12:31 PM Subject: Re: mediabistro.com Job Applicant for Writer/Feature Editor/Elite Ninja (112584)
[Redacted], i'm in beijing until saturday let's talk when i'm back
And minutes later, this:
On Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 12:34 PM, Aneel Ranadive
No payment for the copy - it's part of our application process.
Our tipster wrote this in response:
Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 12:50 PM Subject: Re: mediabistro.com Job Applicant for Writer/Feature Editor/Elite Ninja (112584) To: Aneel Ranadive
Cc: Lou Kosak
I was never asked if it could be used, and if I had been asked I would have asked for compensation then. It's not part of my application process. I've been a freelance writer for more than 10 years, and I've done countless writing samples, but I've never had someone use my writing without paying me and I don't intend to start now.
Should I go directly to Kirkwood and ask for payment?
Ranadive, perhaps sensing someone who might not be easy to get rid of, then backtracked and sent this:
From: Aneel Ranadive
Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 10:09 PM Subject: Re: mediabistro.com Job Applicant for Writer/Feature Editor/Elite Ninja (112584)
As part of the application process you submitted the content to Pinchit which then is and remains Pinchit property. That said, as a gesture of good will, I will reimburse you for your time and I believe $40 (standard rate that we pay our editor per article) is fair compensation. Let me know which address to send this to and I wish you well.
At this point, our tipster's original copy was removed from the site and replaced with this writeup from Pinchit's "editorial team." We'll keep you posted on the $40.
Ranadive, who was also behind the startup BoredAt, feels, according to questions answered on Formspring, that the secret to happiness is "lots of money," and thinks his most attractive feature is his "dilznick." He says the best advice for a young, first-time startup CEO is to "believe in yourself," and claims he is interested in new groups about adult betwetters. He's also a fan, apparently, of the two-fingered victory salute. (Also: here.)
Out of respect for our tipster, we've left his name out of our story. As he says, "The deal I wrote up for Pinchit.com and didn't get paid for is hardly my proudest moment."
We reached out to Ranadive for comment, who said this:
Thanks for the note. That's completely false. I'm out of town overseas but can talk more if you'd like when I'm back Sunday...
We'll update after our conversation.
Maybe this is just a fluke, but we're wondering if there are other writers who've been subjected to the same treatment by Pinchit, or by other sites. If so...please get in touch.
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