Holy fuck, we all survived to see another Thanksgiving! Let's celebrate by airing our grievances.
Normally, this is the time of year when we do an article inviting people to come write for us. (And don't get me wrong; you should totally still do that. We've raised the starting pay scale to $150 per article and it jumps to $250 as of your fifth, You can click here to join the fun.) But I wanted to do something a little different this year.
I'm Cracked Executive Editor David "Buy My Book" Wong, and I thought I'd answer some of the more common, and often angry, questions we get in our various inboxes. To be clear, most feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and most complaints are minor. (You guys are super good at catching typos!) But it wouldn't make for an interesting article to only answer the softballs. ("Does all your smartness make your brain hurt?" "What are your favorite times and places to rendezvous for anonymous fan sex?")
So before we let the tone turn too negative, let's establish a few things: Cracked has just completed its eighth year in its current form, it is still growing (we're in the middle of hiring more people as we speak), and we all are incredibly lucky to have these jobs. So don't let me skip that part of the Thanksgiving update where we say thanks. We'll only be here as long as you are, and I hope all of you feel like your support over the years is rewarded on a daily basis. We try really hard to make that happen.
So let's dive in. And yes, I'm putting this shit in list form.
I'm going to have to answer this with a list within a list, because my crippling list addiction has permanently rewired my brain.
A) It's never to our advantage to intentionally run an ad that yanks you off the site and/or annoys you so much that you're afraid to come back. How could an ad campaign ever pay enough that it would be worth it to us to lose our audience? If you guys go away, this whole operation goes dark. So it is not our policy to ever intentionally run ads that take you off the site, or play sound, etc. unless you specifically tell them to. But ...
B) No large site hand-picks its ads. Everyone signs up to an ad network, and then the network goes out and sells space to the specific advertisers. So if a site ever seems surprised to have certain ads showing up on their content, that's why. This is why a feature article mocking Scientology wound up with ads for the church right at the bottom of the page. I assure you that we didn't plan that! We apologize to anyone who clicked on it and was immediately converted.
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Which actually happened in a similar incident with some of our magazine readers in the '80s.
C) It is incredibly difficult to keep obnoxious ads from slipping into the network. This is an industry-wide problem, caused by technical issues I'm not smart enough to understand. As far as I can tell, the problem is that it's easy for unscrupulous advertisers to hide annoying behavior in their ads in a way that avoids detection by the people who review them before they go live. It's also easy for good advertisers to write sloppy code that makes their ad unintentionally do something obnoxious, like permanently block the content you're trying to read or continuing to make noise even after you've muted it. (Which isn't even to their advantage. Why would you buy a product from a company whose ads make you want to set your computer on fire?)
So when complaints about a campaign come into our support inbox (email@example.com), we shut it down as quickly as we can (the campaign, not the inbox). But even then, it sometimes comes back again a short time later, because the people making these ads can be persistent. All we can do is try to stay on top of it, and hope that there's a permanent fix at some point. We want to keep the site free, and we want to pay our staff and freelancers what they deserve. Right now, this is the only business model that makes that possible. That also goes for those whose real complaint is that we have ads at all, or that the ads aren't all subdued, tiny, and easy to ignore. Advertisers won't pay for ads nobody notices. Ads either have to be prominent or sites have to put content behind a paywall.
And try to remember: As annoying as it must be for you as a reader, imagine being the creative person who spent a hundred hours and ten sleepless nights putting a piece of content together, only to find out that an obnoxious ad ruined the experience. We're all in this job because we want to create things, and for people to see the things we created. I guarantee we hate this as much as you do -- if not more.
Coming up with clear, short, intriguing titles for articles is one of those tasks that sounds simple until you have to do it, like invading Russia.
With the list-style feature articles, we try to give the writers the freedom to deviate from the list somewhat if the entries are interesting and/or fun enough, but the front page template only gives us 60 characters to work with. So we have run articles where the title was something like "6 Movie Heroes Who Should Go To Jail For Murder," but where the most accurate title would have been "6 Movie Heroes Who Should Go To Jail For Murder, Though One Was A TV Show Hero And Maybe #4 Would Technically Be Manslaughter."
All we can do is give the article the most concise title we can, and hope that the content itself will be funny or interesting enough that you'll forgive the fact that said title wasn't accurate to the letter. But we're never trying to trick you -- it's not like we're running a headline promising a "SELENA GOMEZ WARDROBE MALFUNCTION!!!!" only to give you a Vine of Selena adjusting her hat. A bunch of people in the organization collaborate to create the titles, and we really do our best.
Well ... we've actually been writing about subjects like feminism in pop culture since early 2008, so your memories of a time when we wouldn't touch such a loaded subject must go back to the Bush administration -- an era when the first iPhones were hitting shelves and almost none of the current staff had even heard of the site. That's a year before Seanbaby arrived, for example.
But more importantly, please remember that all content is political. If you write about pop culture and never write about, say, racial stereotypes in movies, then you're making a strong political statement (specifically, that racial stereotypes in movies aren't worth noticing or worrying about). Every word you fail to say conveys an opinion on some subject.
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Like how I'll never write a column about my World's Biggest Penis trophies. To me, they're not that big a deal.
So whether or not you perceive a piece as being annoyingly political depends entirely on your point of view. For instance, this article on a gay man living in a country where homosexuality is illegal could be seen as blatantly liberal by some readers, because we're clearly siding with the gay man in that scenario. But this article about awesome war heroes could be seen as blatantly conservative by others, because we don't challenge the assumption that warfare is inherently heroic. So could this piece about government waste. The point is that they tend to only feel political when you disagree with them. But don't let me or anyone else tell you that their content is unbiased. There is no such thing -- that's the most common lie content creators tell. They're trying to convince you that their particular point of view is in fact the cold, logical truth.
Now, you might think that the obvious solution would be to simply run an equal number of articles from both sides of each issue, but that's impossible. You wouldn't, for instance, try to run a positive Scientology article for each critical one, or insist on a counterpoint quote from a vegetarian every time we joke about bacon being delicious. Remember that everything is a political hot-button issue for somebody, and you can't give equal weight to every conceivable "side." So from Day One, every single outlet has to decide what points of view are and are not worth giving a platform to.
You may agree or disagree with where we fall on that spectrum, but if you ever find a site that you think contains no political message whatsoever, it simply means their politics happen to align with yours. It's kind of like how you're not conscious of how your clothes fit unless you're wearing something that's pinching your crotch. I think that interesting content should pinch your crotch now and then.
First of all, if you're even vaguely interested in maybe thinking about writing for us, sign the hell up and see what it's all about. It's free and you're not committing to anything. Go into the Workshop and lurk around for a bit. Nobody will even know.
As for the question, that requires a quick lesson in Cracked History. I realize only the most hardcore of fans will care about this, but if you're reading this at all, I assume you're already either a Cracked fan or a crazy person.
The site as it exists now, with its list articles and such, began in the middle of 2007. I was hired in September of that year. Fun fact that some of you might not know: My predecessor was a comedy genius named Jay Pinkerton who was hired away to work at Valve, and his first project there was to help write Portal 2. He now works on their fantastic Team Fortress comics.
Amazingly, at the time, Cracked.com had a mere two full-time employees -- myself and Editor in Chief Jack O'Brien. Dan O'Brien (no relation) was still an hourly intern helping edit and such, and the technical side was handled by staff at the parent company, which was dividing its time with other, bigger sites. Cracked had no office to speak of. We published six feature articles a week (we took Saturday off), and that was it.
Today, we have about 40 full-time staff (plus a small army of contractors) and each week we publish 16 feature articles, 11 columns, seven image collections, five or six videos, and two podcasts. So we went from six pieces of text content a week to around 40 pieces in multiple formats (that's still a drop in the bucket compared to a site like BuzzFeed, but they had about 800 employees the last time I checked). We now take up most of an office building in Los Angeles, and our video team is producing big-budget series like The Stumbling Dead ...
... and Starship Icarus:
We've published two books, and are approaching four million fans on Facebook and one million subscribers on YouTube. We've won Webby awards and served billions and billions of page views. Freelance writers for us have gone on to get book deals and write for TV shows. Video collaborators have gone on to get spots on Saturday Night Live and even their own shows.
The point is that these days, when writers come along and prove themselves, they tend to get sucked away quickly, either by other outlets or by other departments at Cracked. You've noticed that we now have a whole section of the site where we do interviews with regular folks who've led interesting lives. Well, that team is made up of people who originally showed up and clicked that sign-up button. The editorial team who reviews article "pitches" also came from that same pool, as did the bulk of the columnists and the article editors.
This means that our appetite for new, good writers is ravenous. We do everything we can to be welcoming to new writers off the street, and make no demands in terms of prior experience or education. Either you can do it or you can't, and if you can only sort of do it, we'll coach you along. That's how badly we need people.
It's not for everyone; I'm not gonna lie. The door is wide open for freelancers, and room for advancement is everywhere ... but once you're in, you'll find out how exacting we are in terms of what we accept and what the finished product needs to look like. Expect a lot of feedback and back-and-forth discussion, along with a crash course in how to write for the Internet. If you make it through, expect the biggest audience you can possibly get as a beginner -- if there's another outlet on earth that gives this prominent a showcase to new writers off the street, I don't know of it. Sign up. We need you.
Sitting down to write a fresh new comedy column every week is one of those things that sounds simple until you have to do it, like winning an argument with a toddler. In reality, you can only write a weekly column for so long before your mind breaks. It's mentally exhausting work, and eventually you either A) find yourself wanting to do something else or B) circumstances intervene, as happened in Robert Brockway's case.
No, not this time.
We've had columnists who put their work on hiatus to have kids, we've had editors give up their regular columns when they got too overloaded with other projects (see: Dan, Soren, etc.). They all still hang around -- Seanbaby edits feature articles, for example. Sometimes they come back after a hiatus; sometimes they don't. This is yet another reason we are always desperate to refresh our pool of writers.
Okay, I slipped in what is clearly a stealth compliment. We have more popular shows than what we can make at any given time. The video team is still only a handful of performers and crew, and even a simple "Dan sits at a desk and talks to the camera about ninja turtles" video can take dozens of hours to put together.
Meanwhile, a more complex series like Rom.Com takes hundreds and hundreds of hours and dozens of people. So when we choose to do one show, we're choosing not to do another -- you can only work humans so much before they fall over dead. Then you have the fact that we have to split our resources between making more episodes of stuff we know people like versus developing brand-new shows so that we can keep growing, and at the end of the day, someone will always be disappointed.
Obviously, we're not making any more New Guy Weekly videos because Alex was eventually caught and sent to prison. We apologize for that little episode.
We see your complaints. The mobile app can act weird on some phones, there is content missing from the navigation, readers insist that their comments aren't saving or are deleted immediately after posting, Ann's Saturday macro collections are still phrased like contests due to how the site template works, etc. But trying to keep a site this size running smoothly is one of those tasks that sounds simple until you have to do it, like finding an actual new release on Netflix's New Releases list.
You're on you own for that, but we've definitely got your back for the "chill" part.
The problem is that taking priority over those issues I just mentioned are projects that are urgent yet largely invisible to the reader. Site security is a big one (if you're a big site, that automatically means hundreds of people are continually trying to hack it), as is server stability, issues that affect payment to the writers -- the back end stuff that is more about preventing disaster, rather than fixing annoyances or upgrading the experience. I'm betting you can't remember the last time the site went offline completely for a day. That's due to a huge amount of hard work that's being done behind the scenes, all the time. It's like how you don't appreciate all the things your kidneys do until the day they stop working and suddenly your blood turns to earwax.
But I assure you that everyone is working relentlessly to make the site better, all the time. In the meantime, all we can do is ask for your patience. As with the annoying ads earlier, you can't imagine how much the creators hate spending weeks putting something together, only to get mail from frustrated fans venting about how some glitch kept them from even seeing it.
I don't want to dismiss this complaint out of hand, because the "Are we doing this too much?" conversation comes up about once a day here, as it does at every single creative outlet on earth. Right now, there's some poet in Indonesia asking herself that exact same thing.
But it's hard to give an answer that can't be taken out of context in the worst way. I don't want to just say, "The old reliable list articles still get the most traffic, so we keep doing them!" because that sounds like we're all a bunch of suits worried only about profit. "It shouldn't be about the bottom line," you'll say. "It should be about art! Otherwise all you're doing is cranking out a bunch of mindless sequels, like Hollywood!"
"You even already split articles onto two pages!"
But even if you take money out of the equation, everyone here wants lots of people to see and enjoy the stuff we make. I can prove it: Pre-Cracked, I wrote on the web for free for eight years, and also gave my first novel away for free for five years before I ever got a book deal. Almost everyone here has a similar story -- they would still be doing it even if they weren't getting paid (and have), as long as people were enjoying it. Well, "traffic" means lots of people are reading the stuff we made, sharing it with their friends and otherwise doing things that indicate that it made them happy. So in my mind, there's nothing cynical about saying we will continue to do certain content as long as the traffic is there.
It's easy to say that a true artist would only make art to fulfill their own creative vision, but it's all about striking a balance. If you showed up here to find 10,000 words of my free form poetry memorializing my pet rabbit, you wouldn't be thrilled that I stuck to my vision -- you'd be annoyed that I was so far up my own ass that I didn't consider whether my work would interest anyone but me. So every single creative outlet has to balance the more experimental pieces with the stuff that they know will get traffic/ratings/sales, even though in our case, the Cracked connoisseurs might be getting bored with the latter.
And hey, if you think you've got a unique voice that could take Cracked to another level, sign up to write for us.
Look, I'm not asking for a medal here. There are people out there who are saving lives and inventing medicine and shit. That we get paid any money at all to do this work is almost obscene, and after civilization collapses, we'll all be forced to work in the mines alongside Pewdiepie, each of us whipped daily for not hauling as much coal as Soren.
But I want you to know that everything you see on this site is the work of very passionate and often exhausted people doing their absolute best. It's a team made up almost entirely of creators who were amateurs or freelancers just a few years ago, who worked their way up by sheer determination and unflagging enthusiasm. Before Cracked, Cody was a dude making funny videos in his bedroom ...
I know it comes off as pretentious to go on and on about this ("Wow, it's so inspirational how humans can miraculously defy the odds to create a website"), and I know that to most of you, this is nothing more than a thing you browse on the bus on your way to work. I know that to most people on Earth, this is nothing at all. But on our end, you find people who live and breathe Cracked. We go to bed thinking about it, we wake up worrying about it, we get knots in our guts when something breaks. We obsess over ways to make it better, ways to make it last. That's all.
So thanks again, and enjoy your holidays. Barring some kind of planetary disaster, we should be back here the same time next year, bigger and better. Here's a GIF of a pigeon waiting patiently to board his train:
Happy Thanksgiving! Be sure to check out such Turkey Day classics as 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About The Founding Of America and 5 Facts About Thanksgiving Your History Teacher Left Out.
Also, follow us on Facebook, because we're your family now.
Let us pitch you a sitcom ...
What does the person who has everything buy for themselves?
Sometimes the follow-up is worse than original headline-grabbing story.
Some people in entertainment don't even bother trying to come up with fresh ideas.