Some companies even sent me stuff that money couldn’t buy. I’ve always been a pirate and file-sharing enthusiast, so I signed up for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show as news media, and found my way into movie and TV studio mailing lists. A Fox PR person sent me a screener for an upcoming movie as though I, random internet guy, were some critic of great influence. Did I enjoy watching this forgettable James Franco comedy? God no — I didn’t even last ten minutes through it. But I sure got off on seeing my name added as an official watermark, and you better believe my web developer friend and I dissected this private website.
This is the exact sort of ethical breach Bryan Cranston warned us about.
Don’t Worry, I Did Get My Comeuppance
I had to write blogs about the products I was receiving, and I had to promote it all on social media. I also had to use the products to write anything about them, so I was multitasking by walking around with a new phone, outfit, headphones, bike, etc. every other day. On top of this, if I wasn’t home in time for the deliveries, boxes would pile up out front very quickly.
Everyone who knew me personally was asking for free goodies — everyone knew I was self-employed and doing this on my own, and they wanted my stuff. And I did give plenty away, because really, what was I supposed to do with three different juicers? I gave away over $10,000 in merchandise like mesh networks, power tools, essential oils/colognes/perfumes, winter gear, speakers, headphones, and security cameras to friends, family, and general hangers-on.
I was subletting a room, and seeing a man go from living in a van to working from home and being showered in free stuff was too much for my roommates to handle, no matter how much I shared with them. Pretty soon, they started helping themselves to the lot and selling items on Craigslist and eBay themselves. My three roommates walked away with over $2,000 each in fitness trackers, Bluetooth accessories, VR gear, food, and liquor.
By March, I had lost a clear majority of the products that came in. I moved to get away from the house of thieves, but too many packages were coming in from too many senders using too many services, and I couldn’t contact everyone to reroute it, so a lot of it just disappeared. In the midst of everything, my van broke down and had to be towed to the junkyard, as I couldn’t afford the repairs. I may have been drinking $400 whiskey, but I’d still neglected to make any actual money out of all these shenanigans. I moved in with someone else, and less than two months later, he pulled the same stunt. I found myself sleeping on the streets for two days before finding a ride to Phoenix with a real friend to crash on his floor and figure things out.
I Might Just Do It All Again
HuffPost’s blog team finally noticed what I was using their site for and removed my access once again, even going so far as to delete my posts. But the blogs that predated their new system — even the ad ones, the ones I was originally banned for — are still live, because they don’t know what they’re doing.
I now don’t own a couch — couches are expensive — but I rotate between three $300 hammocks. Realizing that I don’t have the ethics to be a journalist, I looked for something new, and became the ultimate sellout: a spin doctor for a marketing agency. But it turned out neither media nor marketing aligns with my ethical boundaries, so I quit that as well.
Still, if I’m being honest with myself, I’d do it all again. In fact, I probably will. The tech editor at Time connected with me on Facebook during her search for a tech product reviewer. I also got an email inviting me into HuffPost’s Canada CMS system while writing this, so here we go again.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Countrywide and Bank of America turned whistleblower and freelance writer. Here’s his blog. Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.
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