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Will NewsBreak’s Hire of Former Snapchat Exec to Head Original Content Improve Conditions for Disgruntled Creators?

Natalie Frank, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, specializes in pediatrics, behavioral health and stress and coping in everyday life.

After almost a year of attempting to enter the original content business, Newsbreak is unofficially starting over. On September 28 the platform announced it had hired Xana O’Neill. O’Neill previously had headed Snapchat’s original content division focusing on partnerships with news publishers.

Newsbreak CEO Jeff Zheng said in a press release, that O’Neill’s job will be to “deliver informative and timely local information to our audiences, particularly in areas of the country where local newsrooms have closed and a new generation of trusted creators and journalists are needed to fill those voids.”

The previous year has been marked by frequent changes and a lack of stability for creators. In an attempt to address some of this shakiness, O’Neill stated in an email, “almost everything related to our current creator program is now in review or actively being revised.”

O’Neill definitely has got her work cut out for her as over the past year there have been numerous complaints from creators regarding the frequent changes to contracts and what the platform focuses on. Other complaints involve a lack of transparency.

For example, while news stories comment on the email O’Neill sent, apparently it was only sent to news outlets not to Newsbreak creators who, for the most part, as of the writing of this story, were unaware of the leadership change. Nothing was sent to creators from Newsbreak about this hire or what the creator program “review” and “revision” might entail.

This is another problem that creators have criticized, as often changes occur without warning and at times have been punitive with the platform failing to provide an opportunity for creators to address the new policy that was not a rule previously.

For example, when the platform announced to creators that they would begin prioritizing local or hyperlocal news, many tried to clarify whether this meant you could only creator about your own city or state. Newsbreak’s response stated that creators were allowed to create stories about any U.S. location provided it was a local story. Many creators, while focusing primarily on their own city and state in order to provide more variety for their readership, began writing stories about other locations where they had previously lived and knew well, or had visited.

Then, three months after this policy change, there was an announcement that all accounts were being reviewed to see if creators had written about locations other than where they lived. It was stated that this was seen as fraudulent content and creators who had done so would lose their base pay which was the main earnings for creators. The email stated:

“If we find certain accounts continue to publish “local” content outside of their local area . . . those accounts will risk losing their premium monetization terms. We also may suspend or terminate your account depending on the severity or frequency of your violations. We will start reviewing all creator accounts this week, and the future monetization opportunities will be determined, accordingly.”

[Email sent to all creators who had published content about places outside the their local area of residence]

This was put into place after the fact, and creators could not address it by agreeing to only publish about their own location from that point forward. All creators who had already done this, having followed the terms set out by the original announcement about local content, had their base pay terminated over the next few months.

Additionally, their RPM (Rate Per Mille or amount paid for every 1000 views) was no longer set at a high premium but were determined after articles had been published for several days at a much lower rate. RPM’s which were originally set at 12 ($12 per thousand views) dropped significantly for these creators the following month with a top amount appearing to be set at around $10.

Over the next two months RPM’s dropped precariously and creators complained over extremely low rates and small earnings, with some articles given RPM’s as low as .01 (one cent per thousand views) or at times, even 0, something that other platforms, such as Hubpages, who use revenue share to compensate their creators never do. It’s assumed that if the creator has been accepted into a monetized position that when an article is deemed of appropriate quality to be accepted and published that it will receive some compensation, even if it is low.

It is unclear if the position that O’Neill occupies is a new one created for her by the platform but it is hoped that this leadership addition will help creators by stabilizing policies and providing greater transparency as to newly established or altered company rules that will affect creators.

Newsbreak states that its creator program has nearly 3,000 participants, however this number may not reflect the large number of creators no longer are willing to write for the platform due to the constant changes and inability to earn a reasonable amount for their work.

There is also resentment over the handful of creators that have retained their base pay and premium RPM which others only know about because they themselves disclosed it while the platforms announcement misled creators to think everyone’s base pay was cut. The email stated:

"Beginning August 1, we are introducing new Monetization Terms for all creators on NewsBreak. . .

Important changes include:

  • · Removal of base pay: We will no longer be offering base pay on any articles and/or videos that you publish. Instead, you will receive a monthly payout based on revenue generated from your qualifying content."

[Email sent to the majority of NewsBreak creators hiding the fact that there was still a group that would receive basepay and premium RPM’s.]

If you go by what has been said in private groups of Newbreak creators, it is clear that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction over the frequent changes to contracts and the loss of earnings. This is especially the case for those who apparently lost base pay because they wrote about locations other than their own, despite this initially stated to be acceptable, then declared fraudulent, then again determined to be desirable.

It is hoped that this new hire signals a change of direction in terms of how Newsbreak content creators are treated and compensated for their work. The platform can only be successful when experienced creators are willing to provide high quality, original, ideally exclusive content. Given that most other platforms also fail to compensate their creators at a high rate, this would attract both new skilled creators and old ones who had built a sizable audience but left due to chaotic course of the first year and loss of earnings.

Creators who lost their base pay and premium RPM’s were especially upset when just a few months later NewBreak again changed their policy stating you could write about almost anything, including other locations. The email said:

“While we never required local content, we have been prioritizing it within NewsBreak, especially as it relates to monetization. This will start to change slightly.

Here’s what you need to know about what types of content you can publish on NewsBreak:

  • · You are free to publish national or international stories on NewsBreak, so long as you label them correctly
  • · You can publish both timely stories and evergreen content
  • · We are looking at ways to reward content that not only does well on NewsBreak, but also on other platforms from shares and searches
  • · We encourage you to write in areas where you have an expertise in, such as mental health if you are a licensed therapist, parenting, finance and more
  • · You can also explore other content categories such as events, recipes, local guides, trends and pets
  • · Yes, you can definitely still write local”

[Email sent to all creators.]

(Although this email states they never required local content, this was stated as a major part of their “mission” and for at least six months they would not distribute non-local content such that impressions for these articles were zero translating into zero readers and zero earnings.)

© 2021 Natalie Frank

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