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August 13 2012

14:02

July 27 2010

22:47

5Across: Beyond Content Farms

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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

What are content farms? If you've been reading our special series at MediaShift on the subject, you'd know that content farms or mills churn out massive amounts of content tailored to Google searches. But the approach to churning out that content varies from how-to articles (Demand Media), vertical topics (High Gear Media), hyper-local (Patch.com) and sports (Bleacher Report, SB Nation). And at some sites, writers get paid a small amount, while at others they toil for free.

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We convened a group of people to discuss the highs and lows of content farms, how they are changing journalism, bringing down pay rates for writers and possibly polluting Google searches with poor quality content. Is there harm in sites like eHow creating huge amounts of content at low pay? Some panel members believe Demand Media is simply fulfilling a need, while others believe there are possibly dangerous repercussions from the proliferation of these low-cost articles across the web. Check it out!

5Across: Beyond Content Farms

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>>> Subscribe to 5Across video podcast <<<

>>> Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes <<<

Guest Biographies

Andrew Brining is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and has been writing on the site for two years. During this time, he has been credentialed by Strikeforce, the UFC, the Oakland Athletics, and the Laureus World Sports Academy to cover its award ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Additionally, his work has appeared on SportsIllustrated.com, FOXSports.com, CBSSports.com, AskMen.com, and the San Francisco Chronicle's website. His homepage at B/R can be found here and you can follow him via Facebook or Twitter.

Shelley Frost writes about dogs for San Francisco Examiner.com and about animal issues for AnimalBeat.org. She is the author of two books, "Throw Like a Girl" (Beyond Words Publishing, 2000) and "Your Adopted Dog," co-authored with Katerina Lorenzatos Makris (The Lyons Press, 2007). Shelley has been a guest on Oprah, Dateline NBC, Evening Magazine, The Tammy Faye Show, Crook & Chase, Caryl & Marilyn (The Mommies), and The Gayle King Show. People Magazine did a feature story on Shelley and her best selling children's video, Babymugs.

Matt Heist is responsible for day-to-day operations as well as general
corporate strategy at High Gear Media. Prior to joining High Gear Media, Heist was senior vice president and general manager of Sidestep.com, where he was responsible for the company's core vertical search product. Sidestep was acquired by Kayak in December 2007. Prior to Sidestep, Heist was vice president of business operations at Yahoo, responsible for driving strategy and operations for Yahoo's vertical search and commerce listings properties, including Yahoo Autos, Shopping, Travel, Real Estate and Local.

Ari Soglin is Northern California regional editor for Patch.com and is responsible for a cluster of sites in the East Bay. Before joining Patch in December 2009, he was assistant managing editor for online content for the Bay Area News Group-East Bay. He is an award-winning journalist with 27 years of experience, much of it focused on community news and the last 10 on the online side of the business. He was the founding editor of GetLocalNews.com, one of the first online community news and citizen journalism networks. He also wrote the blog Citizen Paine on citizen journalism.

Andrew Susman co-founded Studio One Networks in 1998 with Bob Blackmore, and is the active CEO. He is in charge of the organization's quality, productivity, and competitive position. Previously, Susman was an executive at Time Warner and Young & Rubicam. Susman is the founding chairman of the Internet Content Syndication Council, which functions as the central resource for the industry on a variety of issues including quality standards in online content. Susman also serves on the board of the Advertising Educational Foundation and Business for Diplomatic Action.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

Pay Rates Sinking

An Issue of Quality

Push and Pull Content

Generating Story Ideas

The Local Angle

Credits

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Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Charlotte Buchen, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ

*****

What do you think? Are content farms a danger to the public trust? What do you think about sites like Bleacher Report and High Gear Media that depend on contributions from amateur writers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 15 2010

15:26

The Newsonomics of content arbitrage

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

We’re into a new age of digital news content. Every conceivable kind of company is starting to produce it and find homes for it. Smarter advertising strategies are matching up against the new content. Mix and match exploding content creation with ahead-of-the-curve ad targeting, and you’ve got a new math.

Presto: Content arbitrage. Forget “curators”; an accurate but museum-musty term for judgment. As news sites have branched out, bringing in community bloggers and sites, “hiring” top-end bloggers, we’ve come up with the genteel “curation,” a popular term at this week’s ASNE conference, a hot (well, warming) bed of such forward-reaching ideas.

So if want to move beyond “editors,” with its old-world connotations, to get at a reaching out, an aggregation of more content, what’s the proper word? Well, aggregator is technically correct, but it’s Terminator-like. News people don’t like to think of themselves copying the the first, big aggregators like Yahoo, Google, MSN and Huffington Post. (Each of which, not incidentally, sees great next-stage opportunity in content brokerage and are competitors to news companies in this area going forward.)

So let me suggest a title that fits what is going on, though it will make “editors” uneasy: “Content brokers.” I’m not suggested that anyone change a job title to “content broker,” but rather to recognize that’s a huge role going forward. (And even backwards, for us veteran features editors who understood that buying content from diverse syndicates, wires and freelancers was an essential part of the business.)

Let’s go to the newsonomics of content brokering.

Demand Media, fairly and not, has become the poster child of the content-and-ad arbitrage. It’s both been derided as an amoral, slave-wage content farm and marveled at for its absolute smarts about the value of content, and its creation. Just last week, Demand announced a deal to power a “Travel Tips” section for USAToday.com; earlier it had done a lower-profile deal with AJC.com, in Atlanta

It’s just one example of news companies starting to get it about content brokering. The principle is simple: Obtain the highest quality content you can (or at least sufficient to what the market of readers and advertisers demand) at the lowest possible cost. Then, make sure you can make a profit over each set of obtained content. We all understand the idea: Buy low, sell high.

Demand will pay, say, $35 for an article of new treatments for spring allergies, knowing how many pageviews its distribution networks can generate and what cost-per-thousand rates it can get. Maybe it makes $100 or $300 on that article. Maybe it makes a lot more. You can do lots more arithmetic here, with thousands of stories, higher-priced ones and even “free” user-gen ones. The principle, though, is the same.

Newspapers understand that principle. For decades, they employed large newsroom staffs, paid them what they had to, sold advertising, at expectable and rising rates, and took in margins of 20-percent-plus. That’s content-and-ad arbitrage, though it moved at glacial speed and seemed more like a constitutional principle than an evolving business, subject to change.

Now, the arbitrage business is moving at warp speed. Consider just a few of many brokerage initiatives:

  • The New York Times is “buying” content from the Chicago News Cooperative to power its local Chicago edition. It will soon do the same with the emerging Bay Citizen in California. The economics are key here: The Times can’t afford to add full-time staffers at $100k a pop; it can afford something less to get its standard of journalism from other sources.
  • Seattle is hosting the battle royale to aggregate local bloggers. The now-online-only Seattle P-I, led by Michelle Nicolosi, has been signing up bloggers for years, and hosts more than 200 of them, who use the P-I’s publishing system. Across town, Bob Payne, communities director of The Seattle Times, is working with 22 hyperlocal sites in the region. That’s a J-Lab-funded project, which the Miami Herald and Charlotte Observer are also trying. All the newspaper sites get more content, as blogs and bloggers get more notice and traffic.
  • Hearst recently signed up Bleacher Report to provide fan-generated sports content for its sites.
  • Demand’s growing list of competitors to provide brokered content to news companies (and others) includes Associated Content, Helium, Seed, and Examiner, although there are signal differences among them. Outside.In and FWIX both offer pointers to local content of interest and have done deals with news websites.
  • Poynter Institute is even putting a finer point of the business of getting cheaper content, hosting a “Stretching Your News Budget with User Content” seminar in May.

Some of this content brokering brings in community-oriented “user-gen.” Some of it brings in useful content in niche areas, like sports, travel, family, religion and much more. Some does both.

Is there a danger in content arbitrage? It’s value-neutral; it’s all in how you do it. Let’s remember that journalism is essentially a manufacturing process, with as much or as little value added as we want.

On a brand- and content-integrity level, it’s all in exercising good judgment — but against a much wider array of choices. On a business level, it’s making sure you are buying low and selling high. Ironically, many news companies are starting to bring in more content — mostly from local bloggers and sites — but few are seeing ad departments monetize it well. That’s buying cheaply, but if you don’t sell it, it’s not really much of a business advance. That should be temporary, if news publishers and editors take content brokering to heart.

Photo by Petra Sell used under a Creative Commons license.

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