July 30, 2008

Matthew's Story: From CenterNetworks' Future to Fired In A Month

Finding a writing position at a brand-name blog is hard to do, especially without having a significant resume, not to mention any references. So when Allen Stern of CenterNetworks offered my newborn son, Matthew, a position on his excellent blog, we of course struck at the deal. But in just a month, what at first seemed like a dream come true turned out to be a sordid tale of broken promises, unsafe working conditions and tears. A week after Stern publicly announced Matthew's firing, as a family, we've decided to tell our side of the story.

The fierce competition between East Coast and West Coast blogs these days is rivaling the old time feuds between East Coast and West Coast rappers. Based in New York, Stern has long been seeking the opportunity to open a Silicon Valley bureau, so this spring, when he learned we were expecting twins, he struck early, asking to sign up "whichever of the two kids was bigger". I naively accepted, not knowing that his request was due to the incredible stress that blogging and filing stories can be for a newborn.

Matthew Signed On to CenterNetworks In Days

Matthew and Sarah arrived on June 20th, he weighing a robust 5 pounds, and she, trailing at 4 pounds, 3 ounces. That made Matthew the candidate of record. The next four days were a whirlwind of deal-making, contracts being faxed from coast to coast, with little being given up on either side. Finally, the agreement completed, Matthew announced his signing, and was photographed with the world-famous CN sticker. The next day, Stern announced it to the world, and while he said "Of all the people I've hired over the years, this negotiation was the toughest," his listed demands were later proven to be a slap in the face.

Stern's Initial Set of Promises Included a New iPhone

But Stern Later Went Back On His Word

Over the next two weeks, Matthew made significant headway with CN, reaching out to Bay Area startups, reviewing alpha versions of Mac software and Web services, and even, somehow, transcribing quarterly conference calls. But while Stern publicly lauded his efforts in an update, the long hours, fatigue and strain were already becoming quite clear. As you can see from the follow-on post, Stern had openly reneged on the promised iPhone 3G, saying Matthew would get it "under no circumstances", despite it being promised in the initial agreement. Similarly, the promised crib with LCD panel and Wii Fit never materialized, which Stern attributed to "inventory shortages". Making matters worse, Stern would frequently call Matthew's home number at the start of East Coast business hours to talk strategy, despite it being only 5 a.m. Pacific.

The long hours and stress saw Matthew often falling asleep in front of his keyboard after filing a news story. He soon began to complain that he was unable to relax and casually visit his favorite sites, fearing an irate Stern would notice the gap in submissions and send yet another series of e-mails with even more assignments. And with every "like" or comment he placed on FriendFeed, Stern would just lose it - saying he was slacking off, or even worse, claiming he was manipulating activity on the site through creating hundreds of fake accounts. But it wasn't true, and try as Matthew would to explain he was just trying to catch up on the world outside of CenterNetworks, Stern wouldn't listen, ranting about how Mashable had scooped him on some new Facebook widget, or how ReadWriteWeb had gotten an exclusive look into a new AIR application that sent updates to Flickr and Twitter simultaneously, on Matthew's watch. The once promising job with significant career potential had spiraled into despair of inter-office politics and accusations that left Matthew depressed and unwilling to spend time with his sister or peers.

Matthew's Long Hours At CN Took Their Toll

It all came crashing down early last week, on July 21st. The first sign was when Matthew's CenterNetworks e-mail stopped working, and the daily shipment of Barnum and Bailey animal crackers didn't arrive. Then, two of the stories Matthew had filed were printed under Stern's byline, without his being mentioned as a contributing reporter. But Stern wouldn't take phone calls and Matthew was left to fend for himself. The next day, we realized what had happened. Stern, in a public missive, fired Matthew, without contacting him or myself, and continuing his rant about how Matthew was slacking off and creating FriendFeed accounts, accusations later proven untrue by FriendFeed interns Dan Hsaio and Ross Miller, who looked into the the service's logs following the allegations.

Stern's Hallucinations Fueled the Firing

Over the last eight days, as a family we've had to do a lot of soul-searching. Matthew, for one, swears he's had it with the blogging business, though it's not clear what line of profession he intends to take next. And if that weren't enough, on Monday, the long-promised Barney poster finally arrived, a stark reminder of one of the many unfulfilled promises by Stern and his crew. What should have been a case of spotting talent early, and helping to guide a young prodigy through the ranks instead was one that smacked of servitude, double-speaking and unhappiness. While we know we have a legal case against Stern and CenterNetworks proper over the unfulfilled iPhone, lack of proper advance notice of contract termination, and unfair child labor practices, we're going to swallow our pride and move on as a family. It's been hard, but we felt the right thing was to leave with our heads held high, without dragging this out through the morass that is the American judicial system.

So Pete "Peanut" Carreira, Stern may be whispering sweet nothings to you now and calling you a serious Seesmic star, but watch your back and protect yourself before what happened to Matthew happens to you as well.