The Creator’s Bane

In 2020, everyone on Medium started raving about a new platform: NewsBreak. Branding itself primarily as a local news app, the company was lush with new funding, and now, they offered $1,000 per month for three months for writers to consistently post on their platform.

Needless to say, Medium writers signed up on NewsBreak in droves. Hundreds of articles started popping up, and in my chat group, everyone asked questions around how to get accepted (you had to apply to the Creator Program), how to republish their Medium stories for more dollars, and how to grow on this new platform.

I took a big pass on the whole thing. “I’ve seen that movie before,” I said. “After three months, the easy money will run out, and you’ll be right back where you started,” I thought. Sure enough, two years later, I don’t hear anyone talking about NewsBreak. Not in my immediate circle, and not much outside of it either.

When NewsBreak announced its Creator Program, it boasted 45 million users. Two years later, that figure has only grown slightly. The leadership and team have a strong Chinese background despite the app operating mainly in the US, and in the current political environment, that adds tension. When I do see reports about NewsBreak now, they’re mainly stories of writers sharing at least clickbaity, if not outright false, articles in order to make $300 there instead of making $100 on Medium.

The red flags were there all along. First, if you’re a blogger, not a local journalist, what are you looking for on a local news platform? Second, writers complained about NewsBreak’s vile comment section from the start. Third, anyone having witnessed a wave of money coming and going on Medium should recognize a rodeo when they see one: If you get on a mechanical bull, you can’t be surprised when it throws you off after a short ride.

To everyone’s credit, I think a lot of writers knew what they were doing. “I’ll just take the $3,000 and run.” The question is, even if you venture to a new pasture without the expectation of grazing there for long, what does it cost you? When it comes to NewsBreak, most writers saw free money in an industry that’s notoriously hard to make a buck from. But what about time? What about energy?

“All of the energy that goes toward anything that is not the most important thing comes at the expense of the most important thing,” Shane Parrish wrote. Your little NewsBreak detour might have replenished your bank account, but if it temporarily bankrupted your dream account, was that really worth it?

This problem is much larger than writing and NewsBreak. It’s the bane of most creators. Like the digital nomads they often are in real life, their online identity, too, is a ghost haunting platform after platform. They leave behind a trail of sometimes great, sometimes not so great creative litter wherever they go, and by the end of it, they somehow survived the game but have no home.

Making money as a creator is always hard, no matter which platform you’re on. Why not build your own? I don’t have a perfect solution, but I do know that I don’t want my digital after-life to look like the room of a three-year-old: toys all over the floor, one half broken, the other half abandoned. I want my digital estate to look like a small library. A few carefully chosen works, arranged neatly for any passerby to browse. Not that the focus helps only after you’re dead. I’m pretty sure it’s the right choice for the living too.

A creative writer on a local news platform is like a penguin in the desert: You can try sand instead of water, but the odds of it working are low. Don’t chase the easy money, because the easy money never lasts. Remember that the shortcut is the hard way, and don’t give in to the creator’s tempting bane.