Following up on the link-bait article “If I Was a Poor Black Kid”, Kashmir Hill — a staff writer from Forbes — contemplates the conflict of interest in their contributor payment model:
Forbes has a stable of 850+ writers who are “contributors” — they get a little special tag on their pages that says, “The opinions expressed are those of the writer.” Forbes pays these folks for the unique visitors and repeat visitors they attract.
She poses a rhetorical question:
Does having a payment model that rewards controversy encourage writers to bait readers with offensive material?
Yes, I believe that is the problem. She offers a surprising “market-based” solution:
So what keeps people from trolling? When your name and face are attached to what you write, you start to develop what our CPO Lewis D’Vorkin loves to call “a personal brand.” I think of it as voice, authenticity, and reputation. As writers’ bylines become bigger and our photos become more prominent, this comes to matter more. After a certain amount of race- and gender-baiting, you establish a “troll” brand and that brand may become so toxic that you become irrelevant. And that is the worst fate for any writer (and every troll): to be ignored.
Personal brands and larger byline photos? No, sorry, this is basic editorial irresponsibility. As much as they’d like us to believe otherwise, the brand here is Forbes. Some commenters are applauding the piece for its “transparency,” but it’s a useless kind of transparency. Nobody is seriously going to start evaluating each and every author under the masthead, having now been informed of the publication’s tiered contributor model.
The solution is simple: fire the trolls, and fix the broken revenue model that rewards trolling.
See also: Cord Jefferson’s response in GOOD