You might have heard of a controversy that’s circulating the internet right now going by the name #ChangetheChannel. In a nutshell, it involves a website called Channel Awesome which hosts video reviews, recaps, etc about pop culture. It was started by Doug Walker as a place to showcase his Nostalgia Critic character but went on to host dozens of other reviewers. For years it was an incredibly popular website and I’m one of the many who used to visit it religiously. I used to have a lot of fun watching videos with my boyfriend (now my husband) and fondly remember watching Kickassia together and holding each other’s hands as we chanted ‘We believe in Santa Christ!’
But like any big company, it had immoral things going on behind the scenes. Previous contributors to the site have revealed that they were let go for arbitrary reasons and that the management was incredibly poor and misogynistic. In March, a Twitter thread and later a compiled document from over a dozen past and present contributors to the site revealed that things were much worse than anybody suspected. The worst allegation is that the higher ups in the site were involved in sexual abuse which went unreported.
I may create written content rather than videos, but this controversy has told me a few things about making content online, and I hope that other creators can take something away from this too:
It’s not the You show starring You
Ok I’ll admit it, I like being praised for my work. It’s just a natural human instinct. But if you become big enough, it’s easy to become elitist and snobby, which definitely seems to have happened to Doug Walker and the other Channel Awesome higher ups. Many of the website’s problems seem to have come from them treating Doug as a star who could do no wrong and neglecting the other contributors because they weren’t as important in their eyes.
Youtubers usually need to use themselves to brand their work, just as authors need to sell themselves to sell their books. But all creators, no matter how popular they get, need to remember that it is the content that is drawing in their audience, not just themselves.
Respond to controversy correctly
To add further fuel to the fire, Channel Awesome responded to the allegations with a non-apology statement, posted on Twitter, by far the best place for public apologies, which actually included the phrase “we’re sorry you felt that way”. This was basically saying ‘it’s your own fault if you were offended by the horrible things we did’.
Channel Awesome aren’t the first media producers to be involved with a controversy, but some others who have did at least acknowledged their mistakes and apologised for them. Some even voluntarily stepped down from the websites they were associated with.
While sincere apologies don’t automatically excuse you from bad behaviour, they are at least the right way to respond to controversy, rather than trying to weasel your way out of them and avoiding blame.
Being a critic doesn’t make you a creator
It’s almost painfully ironic that Doug Walker famously reviewed The Room, which is regarded as one of the worst movies ever due to the incompetence of its director. The making of the film was so awful that it has had books and films made about it (which I highly recommend, btw). Based on the testimonies made by CA contributors, when Walker made his own movies, he did similar things (not providing food and water, ignoring continuity errors, spending hours filming scenes which never made it into the film, etc) and has a similarly over-inflated ego.
I occasionally get paid book review jobs, but that’s more of a side hustle for extra pocket money. Learning what works and what doesn’t work in books can help with my own writing, but I know that being a critic doesn’t automatically make me a great writer, because criticism and writing are two highly different skills.
Don’t settle for a shitty company
I’ve worked for shitty companies before, both as a writer and in my previous career in retail. Thankfully I’ve never been involved with a company which has committed sexual assault, but I did briefly work for one which was involved with attempted murder.
The signs of a shitty company are almost always the same; poor management, lack of communication, overworking staff, no respect for employees, and those who act like paying others is a favour rather than an obligation. I know that financial necessity often leads us to settle for shitty companies, but the golden rule of ‘never work for exposure’ always stands. Your time and talent are worth so much more and moving on from an awful company is the best feeling in the world.
The nature of the internet is ever changing and some of the forecasts are scary for those of us who make a living from creating online content. But this controversy shows all online creators, be they writers, Youtubers, streamers, bloggers, podcasters, artists, or whatever else that if we respect each other and our work, we can still keep on creating the content that we and our audiences love.
Update: Right after I published this post (and I do mean right after), I found out that Channel Awesome has posted a more detailed response to their website. But this too doesn’t contain an apology and once again comes across as their way to try and weasel out of the accusations.