Earlier today, the Internet Wrestling Community was thrown into disarray as it was announced that practically every key YouTube personality for WhatCulture Wrestling was parting ways with the company. To put this into perspective, this would be the equivalent of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Holland just walking out of Marvel all at once. Sure, the franchise could probably survive due to its strong brand identity, but it would be a shell of its former self. WhatCulture is somewhat of an anomaly in the realm of entertainment websites. Its network of YouTube channels provides high quality, entertaining content, helmed by truly talented people such as Adam Blampied, Adam Pacitti, Ross Tweddell, Sam Driver and Jack King (who are all leaving). But their website is a soulless tabloid magazine, clogged up with intrusive advertisements and clickbait top ten lists.
This dissonance has always angered me, due to the perception WhatCulture’s public presence has. On the surface, it’s all fun and games, with funny videos that present the hallowed halls of their offices as a dream environment to work in. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Flashback to 2013, as a 17 year-old me is accepted as a contributor for their website, which seemed like a major stepping stone in a potential writing career. At the time, I still had my heart set on being an actor, but I’d fallen in love with the written word after exploring the realm of screenwriting for my film studies class. I was excited to be producing articles for such a popular site, and it started out well enough. My first article, detailing unintentionally “hilarious” (hyperbole is the site’s bread and butter) moments in movies that were supposed to be emotional, garnered over 150,000 views. If you’re up for some amusement, you can even read it and gain some perspective on the kind of stuff I was expected to pump out for them (my author profile is still active, not that I’m particularly proud of what I wrote during my time there).
At this point, I didn’t quite realise that I was in for a nightmarish experience that miraculously didn’t put me off writing for good. The first red flag waved when an article I had written about Nelson Mandela’s passing possibly aiding Idris Elba’s award campaign for Long Walk to Freedom was rejected with a laughable explanation. I’d written the article within less than 24 hours of Mandela’s death, and didn’t hear back for weeks about it being published. When I’d almost forgotten about the article, one of the site’s editors contacted me, saying that it “wasn’t current enough” to publish. I assumed this was their polite way of saying they didn’t think it was all that good, until I published it on my old blog and a professional freelancer who had previously written for The Guardian shared it on his Facebook. Clearly, thought-provoking content wasn’t on the site’s MO, so I played ball.
What followed was a dreary experience, as every pitch and idea that was thrown at me was another top ten list. The main issue, however, was communication. There was no clear structure or hierarchy, and different articles would be sent to seemingly random editors, meaning there was no consistency in what was published. Feedback for rejected articles was minimal, and at no point was I told how to improve as a writer. One such article, which I shan’t link to, as it was so heavily edited that I refuse to call it my own, was fully taken over by an editor. Upon submission, rather than receive a rejection with instructions on what could better it, the article went up with entire paragraphs altered from what I’d written. There were references in there to TV shows I hadn’t even seen, jokes that weren’t mine and even entire ideas that I hadn’t implemented. My work had been completely bastardised, but my name was still attached to it as if it were my own.
This is where my main point of contention with WhatCulture lies, the man behind the curtain, as it were, Matt Holmes. Holmes is the editor-in-chief of WhatCulture, and his is a ghostly spectre that looms over the site like some kind of elusive alien overlord. Twitter user @Crowtagonist unleashed a spectacular rant on the big boss in response to today’s events, which you can find in the replies to WhatCulture’s announcement of the mass departure. I can’t do the rant justice, but every word of it rings true. The head honcho is impossible to get into contact with, unless he’s rejecting your articles without explanation. He runs his site like some kind of cartel, enticing would-be writers to churn out lowest common denominator work for a fraction of the industry standard wage. There are promises of a career path, but no such path exists as their system relies on writers at the bottom rung kicking up content with no actual chance of a salary or true employment. It’s a glorified pyramid scheme. Earlier this year, I met the former deputy editor of The Big Issue at my old college, who responded to my explanation of WhatCulture’s payment system with horror, appalled at the pennies they offer for the thousands of views generated.
I joined WhatCulture thinking that they could help me on my path to writing for a living, but in truth, unless you want to make your living writing utter drivel, that’s unlikely to happen. They’ve unceremoniously removed me as a contributor on two separate occasions for mistakes made on their end. My favourite example being me missing a deadline after a glitch on my writer’s profile not allowing me to open my projects. Despite multiple emails being sent to their support address and their editing staff, I never received a response and had my account frozen not long after. So, I implore any budding writers reading this: Don’t fall into WhatCulture’s web. They are scammers who take advantage of young, tenacious people and pimp out their words while taking the lion’s share of the revenue. Their YouTube channel may seem like they offer the greatest job in the world, but what lurks beneath is far more sinister.