Last spring, I found myself looking into a little side gig as a content editor for a startup out of New York. It seemed a good deal at first: ten flex hours at the rate I requested. It was a rocky start even getting in the door, with impersonal communication actually becoming curt and then rude. And they were desperate, pleading with me to jump in within a half-hour of the first phone call, late on a Friday afternoon, asking me to edit three articles over Memorial Day weekend.
But I wound up figuring I could handle it once I was in the door and through the initial messiness. Mind my own business. Do what I said I’d do. Collect my paycheck.
It changed. It grew. Heck, it mutated.
A week in, I was asked last-minute if I could “just bail them out on a few things” due to a writer who’d had a baby and left several articles half-done.
I went ahead and bailed them out.
Now, before I took the position, I made sure of what I was and was not expected to do. And my pay rate followed word-count brackets that were based on those clear expectations. I was to edit as I saw fit. I was not required to explain my edits. I was not required to read source articles or fact check (both expressly stated as responsibilities of the writers).
But I noticed in that first set of “emergency” articles that some of the claims and statistics just didn’t seem plausible. So I checked the sources and, sure enough — the data being reported was off. I mean way off. Not even close to what the article was saying. I thought, If a client ever saw this level of egregious errors, they’d drop this company in a heartbeat!
I alerted the boss.
She asked me to fix it “just this once.”
The articles I was editing, on the whole, were extremely poor. Honest to Pete, they read like a sixth-grader had written them (and not a particularly astute one at that). It quickly became standard fare for me to have to slash 80% of the copy — which, of course, was taking much, much longer than agreed upon. As much as ten times longer, in fact.
In the next few days and weeks, I pointed out to the owner that most of the articles I was given to edit were now not only poorly written, fluffy, off-topic or illogical — but the misinterpretation (or misrepresentation) of supporting research was rampant. I reminded her that we’d agreed this was the writers’ job, not mine.
The owner became snippy and condescending. I reflected back to her how she was coming across, despite the fact that I was now “bailing her out” constantly. She returned with, “Well, if you want me to be honest …