Last week, a Buzzfeed Community user posted an article written by an Odyssey Content Creator critiquing some of the major changes to Odyssey's business model over the past year, in regards to their impacts on creators. (She claims that Odyssey refused to publish the piece, where it was originally submitted, due to its negative representation of the company, a claim that I cannot definitively speak to one way or the other without personal knowledge of her experience.)
This story sparked a dialogue at our UC Santa Cruz Odyssey chapter regarding our take on some of these same changes, which, let me tell, there have been many of over the past 10+ months that I have been a contributor. Overall, many of us had similar complaints about the typical failings of bureaucracy (especially in online journalism) due to indirect communication with creators about these changes. For example, when Odyssey decided to stop having individual Facebook pages for each chapter in favor of one official Odyssey page, only those in charge of social media in each chapter were alerted. In the end, the logic behind shutting down all these extraneous pages--streamlining our online presence and increasing efficiency by reducing the need for oversight--was solid, but the way it was handled created an atmosphere of distrust. Some were left questioning if it was the best decision as a result of poor execution when those worries could have been put to rest with better communication and roll-out of the plan.
But despite concerns over the lack of transparency around big changes, we actually did not have too great of a problem with the changes themselves; overall, Odyssey, as a young company, must change constantly, often times bettering itself as it finds its increasingly solid footing. And with this realization, we all seemed to conclude (with the help of some clarification regarding Odyssey inner-workings from our fantastic Managing Editor) that such changes, while occasionally annoying, did not impact our ability to write or the freedom we have in regards to what we are writing. And this got me thinking about why I, nearly a year and a college degree later, am still writing every week for Odyssey.
For those of you that do not know, Odyssey writers and their articles are managed by editor-in-chiefs at the college campus level, through the use of campus chapters. Consequently, when you graduate from your college and leave your chapter, most people stop writing. But this very week I will be graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and just next week I will be publishing my first article with Odyssey outside of my previous chapter. That's right, I have decided that even once I have completed my obligation to Odyssey that I want to continue contributing to their content creation.
Well, for one, each week at Odyssey, I get complete creative control over what I want to write, how I want to write it, how I want to promote it online, etc. I get feedback from my editors and peers, but if I want to say "screw it!" almost no topics are off the table. While this has allowed me, personally, to focus on creating professional, journalistic content about politics, the arts, and culture, it has also given me the opportunity to experiment with a number of new writing styles and content. The freedom I am allowed with every second I invest in this brand is astounding; I own my own content, Odyssey does not, which is less than can be said for most universities, even. I have the opportunity to be paid, or get free publicity if my article is recommended in relation to another piece or is chosen to be shared on any official Odyssey social media accounts. Those systems aren't perfect (for example, I don't think I have ever had an article on an official account, and I've only been paid $20 a handful of times), but they show Odyssey's vested interested in its writers and the potential success of their work.
And as far as writing experience goes, this past year as been invaluable, giving me a better understanding of creating digital content with searchable keywords, metadata, images, and links. Now that I have graduated and am applying for journalistic positions in the infamous "real world," I feel ahead of the curve, with a year's worth of digital content creation under my belt. I'm well versed in topic creation and research; social media and online platform sharing and utilization; and digital writing, editing, and proofreading. And I have a single website that links to every published article I have written, which makes filling out job applications and selecting writing samples a breeze.
Odyssey isn't perfect--no new digital publishing platform would be--but their general model of providing a space for diverse millennial voices to be heard is admirable. In fact, any attempt to democratize content and where it comes from in our world of corporate media should be admirable. Where else could I, at 21 with little journalistic or writing experience, have been published over twenty times? Not at any other publication. Where else could I have achieved hundreds of hits on a single piece? Not if I was writing on my own blog. This is the give-and-take of doing what you love as a career, I may be giving more than I'd like occasionally, but from the mouth of a graduate, I have taken with me so much more.