Job of the Day: Managing Editor at A Content Factory

Here’s how your internet clickbait gets made.

Photo: Alden Jewell/Flickr

The best and worst times I spend on the internet by far are the times when I accidentally on purpose click on a quiz that purports to tell me what kind of man I’ll marry by the items I select for my dining room and descend into a swirling miasma of viral media. Hippos wearing tiny hats; baby sloths dressed like the Spice Girls. I will look at all of it, not really absorbing anything and then emerging bleary-eyed fifteen minutes later, very thirsty and tired.

I have a vague idea of how the viral media sausage gets made, but this clear-eyed look at the realities of doing so for a living proves that there’s no real formula for success. Also, it kind of sucks as a job.

The Viral-Media Editor Who’ll Get a Click With Cute Babies and Animals

“Kate” is a managing editor at a website that churns out the kinds of things a kindly aunt might share on Facebook — “This Little Girl and This Puppy Made The Most Amazing Bundt Cake & You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next.” She started her job after moving to New York with a dream in her heart and a degree in English literature and ended up working for a website that makes listicles about kitten-sloth-capybara sanctuaries and babies being cute.

Here’s how it happens.

It starts with one person who scours the internet. Then, my boss goes through the list that person has suggested. My boss will accept or reject, and assign a priority level, and then I assign the “stories” to people. The writer will “write” it, and it goes to a preliminary editor. Then, I give it the once-over, and it goes to a separate team that packages all the content. They do the titles and the feature images to get clicks on Facebook. Then, their boss looks at everything and the data people post it. They post it on one of the smaller Facebook pages and watch the numbers over the course of ten minutes or something. From that, they decide whether they’re going to post it on the company’s main page.

It’s a Henry Ford–type setup. We are in an assembly line and content pops out at the end. There’s no attachment to the finished product. Nobody cares about the quality of their work.

Is working someplace where no one really values their work or the quality of said work demoralizing? Probably, though it’s not a requirement that we be attached to our work. Loving your job is a fun bonus, but just liking your job fine is good, too. Still, churning out listicles about sloths who love flowers or micro-pigs or babies covered in various foodstuffs is bound to be draining in a very specific kind of way.

There are moments I see people working on podcasts or working for magazines where I get jealous. I definitely do. These people get to come up with original ideas, and talk to people and learn new things and make the world a better place. But as far as media jobs go, it’s very hard to get into a place that isn’t viral and click-based, if you don’t have unpaid internships or Ivy League connections. My family doesn’t have any money. There is a class system built into who gets jobs in New York.

The nudge-and-wink nepotism of industries like media that give jobs to the same kind of people over and over again is an infuriating barrier to entry. In order to get a job at the “good” places, it helps if you know someone who knew someone else. The “class system” she mentions is very real. Without an inscrutable combination of connections and luck, it sometimes feels like getting a job at one of the good places is impossible.

Click on the clickbait: Not because you want to read it, or maybe because you do, no judgement. Click on the clickbait because it keeps people working (though I don’t imagine click bait’s going anywhere anytime soon).

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