No Monopoly on Lousy Content

Are content farms just convenient whipping boys for bloggers and mainstream media alike? When the likes of Demand Media and Associated Content aren’t being flayed for underpaying writers, they are criticized for producing lousy content. But bad writing and reporting are readily found both on and off the Internet, from personal blogs to city papers. Could it be that the content farms are just symptoms of a wider problem that’s endemic both on the Web and, increasingly, in mainstream journalism?

In a piece on Demand Media’s popularity with investors, Gavin Dunaway suggests that content farms have no monopoly on crap content:

“But I’ll argue again the problem isn’t just with content farms — content on the web is growing increasingly crappier because it’s just churned out. Increasingly the Internet is a gigantic content farm. There’s little editing, no quality control — it’d be understandable if this was user-generated content, but the junk is coming from major media companies, ones with paid content producers. They’re throwing any crap they can online to get those treasured pageviews.”

Dunaway’s assertion might not have stuck with me if I hadn’t come across the following passage an hour later. In a New Yorker article on Darryl Issa, author Ryan Lizza describes how Issa’s spokesman, Kurt Bardella, manages the congressman’s image. Bardella suggests that his job is much easier than it should be:

“‘Some people in the press, I think, are just lazy as hell. There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word. That’s just embarrassing. They’re adjusting to a time that demands less quality and more quantity. And it works to my advantage most of the time, because I think most reporters have liked me packaging things for them. Most people will opt for what’s easier, so they can move on to the next thing. Reporters are measured by how often their stuff gets on Drudge. It’s a bad way to be, but it’s reality.’”

Even allowing for political cynicism, there’s a discomfiting wad of truth in Bardella’s spitball. Manipulation of the press is nothing new, but it’s much easier in an era that “demands less quality and more quantity.” Low-grade writing, editing, and reporting are harder to avoid when you’re expected to publish a lot of copy quickly and at low cost.

So maybe it’s true, as I said yesterday, that Demand Media needs to fix its quality problem. But let’s not fool ourselves. It’s our problem too.