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Examine the expectations and inferences underlying selected job positions. Consider timely topics in career preparation and the struggle for fulfilling employment. Analyze what could be improved in either situation. If this blog reminds you too much of work, then peruse my namesake blog for lighter fare.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Off The Quad" Seeks Non-Autistic, Wanna-Be Hipster Writers

Found on 02-08-2012 at URL:

"Job Title: Digital Media Internship (Madison)
Date: 2012-01-16, 1:39PM CST

What is Off The Quad? Off The Quad is an emerging digital lifestyle publication that delivers unique localized content to students specifically about their campus. Simply put, OTQ provides exclusive access to the gotta-know info and best-of happenings going down in college towns.

Off The Quad is providing an opportunity for University of Wisconsin students to write about the lifestyle and entertainment subjects that they know and enjoy the most, for one of the coolest (at least we think so) digital publications around. This is also a chance to write for a fun, fast-growing company with future opportunities to advance -- and to get academic credit and payment for doing it.

The ideal candidate will have knowledge of student life in Madison and a wit when describing it. The ideal candidate will be in the know about popular local trends and will have an eye for all things cool, a gift of language, and a keen knowledge of service journalism. He or she will also be positive, detail-oriented, enthusiastic, and organized.

· Represent the Off The Quad brand at the University of Wisconsin
· Assume responsibility for providing University of Wisconsin oriented content -- from finding great topics to determining how best to present them to executing that vision
· Manage a network of contacts, business owners, and tipsters to source and develop new topics regularly
· Work regularly with Managing Editor to refine and develop voice, style, and content
· Other duties as assigned

· Firm understanding of the Off The Quad mindset and voice
· Witty sense of humor
· Excellent time-management and organizational skills, plus a high comfort level with deadlines
· Enthusiastic self-starter; impervious to writer's block
· Relentless eye for detail; perfectionist tendencies

Compensation: Academic credit + stipend

WHAT TO SUBMIT: A complete application for the position must include:
· An updated C.V.
· A cover letter
· Twitter name (if applicable)"

Pardon me in advance for a longer-than-usual commentary. The amount of hyperbole in the vacancy created much skepticism in my mind about the company itself, so I did an Internet search to find enough information to put this ad into context. (I had to use “off;the;quad” as a Boolean phrase to find the firm’s website because it is neither listed in the vacancy description nor in the first SERP for a natural language search, even when its headquarters city of Madison is included in the query.) I recount not only my reservations about the nature of the position but also concerns about the company’s design and intent. Here we go:

This “digital media internship” seems to a very demanding position with peanuts for compensation. (Stipends for academically credited internships are typically $100-$120 per week.) Not only will the intern write an unspecified number of articles per day (as the official Off the Quad website describes itself as “delivered daily”), but he/she will also liaise with informants throughout the community to gather “exclusive…info” on “happenings going down in college towns.”

In order to be truly exclusive, the information would need to be outside the public domain, thereby excluding most entertainment establishments via the fact that reputable venues tend to post upcoming performances online or at least on a poster inside the building.

This leaves private drinking parties hosted at apartments and rental homes. The local police might get wise to this and begin posing as Off the Quad (herein abbreviated as OQ because proper English dictates that definite articles such as “the” are never abbreviated) reporters to get the latest inside scoop on these parties.

I was going to say that they could just pick up a copy to read the listings under “drinking parties,” but OQ is entirely online and requires registration via Facebook invitation from a currently registered OQ member. I suppose this is the primary means by which OQ assesses the likelihood of a registrant being an undercover agent or snitch. OQ then calculates an influence score based on social media connections, posts, and the like.

I believe this is a poor “measure of influence on your campus culture,” as the OQ website puts it, because anyone who spends enough time online to have a high social media activity rating is obviously doing less talking in person or on the phone (unless he/she is communicating online with total strangers who would never warrant actual face-to-face conversation). Likability is not synonymous with influence.

The use of celebrities to promote consumer goods such as deodorant, antacid, and soft drinks is more to placate the egos of the brand owners than to convince an undecided consumer. When was the last time you heard anyone over the age of 12 say, “I eat this brand of snack chips because my (non-parental) role model / hero(ine) does?” When was the last time a toothpaste commercial featured a celebrity endorsement?

On a more local level, think about the people in your social networks who have more than 500 online connections. Do they generally relate more credibly to you than the portion of your friends who have 100 or fewer online connections or don’t use social media at all?

Just as there are many well-respected people / college students who are conservative in who they add as an online connection to ensure quality and mutual respect, there are many social media users who have many online connections because they added connections without regard for whether mutual respect is present. A connection without respect lacks credibility, and you need to be credible to persuade someone.

It’s tragically common to see someone “tweet” or post to someone’s “Facebook wall” in front of 500+ connections / subscribers about taking some action, and perhaps one or two comply with the offer. A helpful qualifier would be quality of social media connections, e.g. how well do you know each connection?

The percentage of connections actually seen in person or spoken to on the phone at least monthly would be a much better metric than sheer “feed presence” volume alone. Some people have many “FB friends” from offline organizations -- not because they’re taken seriously, but because their acquaintances enjoy watching for the next faux pas to exploit later in the office, as well as encouraging the person to further caricaturize himself/herself via increasingly drastic / pathetic ways of getting and retaining more attention.

Whether OQ members or not, I imagine most of the contacts tapped to be event informants are cold calls or whatever friends one has when hired. They better be “hip,” or else Off the Quad will come across as “Old-Fashioned Square!” Can you imagine the flak that Off the Quad would receive for posting information about the upcoming Unix wireless networking party? Hipsters forbid!

I visited the OQ website at to develop a semblance of understanding about its revenue model and organizational culture. The first thing that jumps out if a sparse splash page with Lilliputian links at the bottom of the screen halfway covering the main body text such that I had to scroll to read the first and only real paragraph of welcome text.

This is poor design for a website which markets itself as an expert in digital publication. The links menu has goofy placement because it hovers over everything as the visitor tries to scroll content upward.

This obstruction is the main reason why link menus have traditionally been placed at the top or left side of the screen; placement of an n-pixel-wide hovering menu on the side where you would initially scroll to obscures the final n width of pixels in the direction you want to scroll to, e.g. the right-most or bottom-most margin. The larger the hovering menu is, the more of the web page which will remain obscured until the visitor clicks and drags over the underlying page elements and pastes into a text editor to read what the menu is blocking.

After digesting the horrid site design, the next thing I noticed was a phallic logo consisting of an obelisk with two blocky buildings at its base. This reminded me of the Masonic code word “tubalcain,” or two balls and a cane. This hints that a Freemason fraternity is heavily involved in operations, or at least the OQ marketing team wants to resonate with that crowd. (I will not comment on the extent to which Freemasons do or not have substantial local power in their communities, except that what I’ve seen is that personal success varies greatly from Mason to Mason and that membership is only a mark of peer-assessed character / likability and not so much of actual influence, unless you count a Freemason selling insurance to fellow Lodge members as influence.)

I finally inferred OQ’s revenue model via a synthesis of its advertising, editorial, and privacy policies. Although OQ staff “cannot be bribed” into writing articles about entertainment events or marketing promotions, OQ accepts “inquiries for advertising opportunities…across multiple digital platforms.” It becomes clear that these “platforms” are the social media accounts of those joined OQ.

Irrespective of what portion of OQ articles are actually about event promotions, OQ uses its circulation to solicit entries into various contests held by its advertising partners. It is elementary logic that the firms financing the contests give OQ a cut of the revenue, as frequently such contests allow one free drawing entry per day but announce “more chances to win when you buy…” notwithstanding the fact that almost all contests contain fine print explaining that quantity of purchases has no bearing on chances of winning.

This makes the job vacancy for OQ “digital media intern” (really a content destination marketer) even more absurd because it entails writing articles for a bunch of glorified social media-fueled lotteries and convincing more businesses to contract OQ as a recruitment agent for their contests. That doesn’t sound too “cool” or “hip” to me, but that’s because I read the fine print.

I’ve seen plenty of college students give away their personal information to credit card companies in exchange for a free ice cream cone, so OQ will do fine until it loses its novelty. For the record, Off the Quad has no relationship with the Quad Group, which owns the Graphics, Medical, and Technical sub-brands of Quad.

Bonus: Here is a parody about Off the Quad that I call "Off the Quaid":
Off the Quaid

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