I am not usually one to call out startups publicly for committing faux pas, but when a seasoned founder implements a strategy designed to exploit a group of individuals by making them work for free and creates a platform that steals the original works of journalists, claiming them as the publication’s own, it’s not cool, and quite frankly, considering the founder already has a media startup under his belt, he should know better.
Over the last 24 hours, you may have noticed heated discussions across social media about a new media platform called Bobby Thinks. The startup, founded by Australian tech-media entrepreneur Michael McCourt, has come under fire for an advertisement running across jobs platforms like Indeed for a Sydney-based “Content Writer Intern”. In the advert, the company appeals to potential candidates by likening coming to work at the ‘content driven publishing company’ to being part of the early teams at places like Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post.
The advert also makes casual mention of the startup having allegedly raised $5 million in Series A funding before concluding the job notice with “This is an unpaid internship program”.
Rookie mistake ‘Bobby’. Following up “I have a lazy 5 mill in the bank” with “Nup, not gonna pay you” is a sure way to get a scathing reaction and thrust yourself into the spotlight. Like clockwork, things began to unravel fast when Twitter user Anna Spargo-Ryan posted a screenshot of the job ad, which resulted in thousands of retweets and favourites across multiple accounts.
Those of you that have read this publication before will know that I am a strong opponent to the way some Australian startups use interns within their companies. Whether with good intention or not, many startups take advantage of young hopeful workers, dangling a potential job in front of them quite for months or even a year to grow the business off the back of their ‘free labour’.
Not to mention, under the Fair Work Act this is actually illegal. An internship is about providing an educational experience; interns cannot be seen as an alternative to paid employees. Therefore, any Australian company providing internships needs to be teaching not managing interns.
Frankly, the Bobby Thinks job description is asking someone to write 24 articles for free. The entity that gains the most out of the relationship is Bobby Thinks, whether or not the company plans on giving the individual a job after the 12-week internship. Even Startup Daily, which has never raised capital, pays its potential journalism candidates for their trial days.
To add insult to injury, the twittersphere decided to explore Bobby Thinks a little further and discovered that some of the content was in fact plagiarised. For example, yesterday’s front page story What the fuck is a Dad Bod and why is everyone talking about it? is the exact same article written by Alex Abad-Santos for Vox.com in May this year Dad bod: what is it, and why is everyone suddenly talking about it?. Compare the opening paragraphs below:
The cardinal sin of journalism right there folks. If you can’t be bothered paraphrasing or putting your own spin to the story, or if you’re just going to copy, at least add quotation marks and attribute the original.
So far, Bobby Thinks isn’t off to a very good start; the mistakes being made are messy, and quite frankly, surprising. The reason it surprises me is because McCourt spent the last six years building successful media platform AroundYou.com.au, which was recently acquired by Australian neighbourhood social network Nabo.com. He has operated in this industry for a number of years. Sure, the content may be slightly different, but the principles ‘pay your staff’ and ‘don’t claim other people’s shit as your own’ are pretty standard in the media vertical.
I propose that ‘Bobby Thinks’ about his strategy a little more prior to making his next move.
Featured image: Screenshot, Bobby Thinks.