In early September, we, the three authors of this article, chose to resign our positions with the Odyssey Online. We have chosen to write this article to detail our experience with the company, as well as to discuss the role of content aggregation blogging websites. These websites act as a central hub for the thoughts, media, and ideas of its writers, who are compensated for their additions to the site (think Buzzfeed and the like). The Odyssey Online seeks to act as a platform for writers on college campuses, and normally caters to a Greek-oriented audience. The three of us each took an editorial position, with Dominique picking up the editor-in-chief position of this Odyssey chapter, and Rudy and Joseph coming on later as writers and then editors. It is important to note that these opinions are our own, and reflect our personal experience with the UR chapter of the Odyssey Online. We do not mean to deter anyone from considering writing for a content aggregation site, but rather wish to offer our critiques of the system of aggregation.
Dominique Noriega, former editor-in-chief and writer
When I was first tucked into the editor-in-chief niche of the content-aggregation system that is the Odyssey Online, I gave no thought to the structures into which I had been nestled, and instead was blinded with uninhibited excitement for intra-campus intellectual growth and increase in cross-group dialogue. Thus, I spent the first phase of my editorship trying to bring together an eclectic group from all stretches of campus to come together, in the name of promoting discourse.
Gone were the days when our mind’s spillings had been available only to only those within our respective, immediate circles: suddenly each of our opinions and views were accessible to a vastly larger community via loose social media connections. Every so often, people who might otherwise never have spoken to each other would congregate inside Starbucks to discuss relevant issues both on and off campus. I had completely ignored the system which makes up the Odyssey, and skipped off in my own idealistic direction.
All good things, however, come to an end. Our “team,” a buzzword religiously emphasized in the million Odyssey emails I used to receive daily, unfortunately underwent a schism at the end of last spring. After the split, the Odyssey suddenly ripped me from the clouds and reminded me of what it is: a corporate scheme to make money off of freelance-writing millennials.
Between the split and the start of the summer, our “team” lost most of its members. Emails from upper-level management began to seep into my inbox at an alarming rate. Could I try to have 12 articles by next Monday, the minimum number required in order to maintain our status as a chapter in this corporation? Did I mind writing multiple articles per week until we had 12 writers again? Was I utilizing the recruitment strategies, emailed to me numerous times, to increase membership?
Suddenly, the Odyssey was no longer a meeting place of minds, a means of communication across a large group of people. It was now quantified into numbers of pageviews and numbers of articles.
Ultimately, I can thank content-aggregation sites for providing me with a structure with which I could make my own voice stronger and louder. However, at the end of the experience, I have found that we can manipulate structures to fit our needs only to the extent to which they are malleable.The Odyssey Online is little more than a stepping stone to creating my own WordPress blog, which I can update at my leisure, and without cold, capitalistic pressure from a corporation.
Rudy Wycallis, former co-editor and writer
There was little to no support given to the writing staff. The pressure placed on the writers is insurmountable.
Aside from the general emails from Odyssey management letting me know about new features and opportunities, I also received almost daily Facebook notifications reminding me to write. We received weekly emails suggesting clickbait-style headlines and responses to other Odyssey content. Occasionally our manager would text me to encourage me to write or to ask if I wanted to write a second article. That’s another thing—whenever we failed to make 12 articles a week, our manager would contact everyone who already submitted to see if someone could churn out a second (or even a third) article.
Once we joined, we were expected to produce articles immediately. It didn’t matter what day of the week someone joined the Odyssey; the expectation was entirely driven by the deadline. I had friends on our staff who joined on a Friday or Saturday, and who were expected to produce content for the Sunday deadline.
Even when I agreed to be a contributing editor, there wasn’t any sort of guidance from management. The expectation was just that we were going to produce content no matter what. I went camping for a week without Internet or cell service, and when I got back on Monday I was still expected to produce content for the deadline I had missed. This was after I explained multiple times to our manager that I was, quite literally, off the grid. In my brief moments of cell service I still had to advocate for myself that I was unable to write.
This pressure to write sapped all my creative energy, and turned me into a creature looking to exploit my own life events, just to give me something to write about. It started off fun, but quickly became draining and downright miserable.
Joseph Orman, former co-editor and writer
When writing for the Odyssey Online, there is a constant push to reinvent the wheel. New sites are always in beta; new article forms are available weekly. Test launches for new platforms are advertised in emails you receive sometimes once, sometimes three times a week. One week there are opportunities to become a video blogger, the next week they’re launching a new podcast system. A monthly update is sent out, letting us know how we are growing as a platform, carefully including all the buzzwords one associates with an NYC startup.
But in this thousand-mile-an-hour process, it is easy to lose what I would call a “personal voice” in your writing. As a co-editor and “contributor” for the Odyssey, I often wondered if my articles were appreciated by the company for my personal experiences and style, or if I was simply a list of page views and subscriptions. The Odyssey’s writing platform is almost a catch-22, advising its writers to write about whatever they want, while simultaneously advocating for a very specific subset of topics and styles of writing. And at the end of the day, there was a sense that the Odyssey as a platform just didn’t care.
I was forcing myself to write about topics I felt completely uninspired about, from asinine top-10 lists to bands everyone had already heard of. What mattered to my manager wasn’t quality, it was simply quantity, and that was that. As long as they saw 12 articles in their editing dock on Monday morning, they were happy.
This is my inherent issue with the Odyssey Online—that the writer gets little out of the transaction. Sure, I got some beer money out of it every few weeks, but I never felt like my writing improved, or that I was maturing as a writer. For a platform that advertises its writers as its most important resource, there was little work being done to refine or improve them. At the end of the day, the life of a content-aggregation writer follows a familiar formula: optimism, cynicism, and burnout.