5Across: Beyond Content Farms

    by Mark Glaser
    July 27, 2010
    Matt Heist, Shelley Frost, and Andrew Susman (left to right) before the taping of the 5Across show. Photo by Julie Caine.

    i-59e41f7d887bee107a310677b0f93a1e-news21 small.jpg

    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.

    Does it even matter if quality exists in content if it ranks highly in a search engine? We think it does matter…content is a public trust." -Andrew Susman

    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.


    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


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

    >>> “Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes”:itpc://mediashift.org/video_podcast.xml <<<

    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


    Thanks to Vega Project for hosting 5Across

    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.

    i-59e41f7d887bee107a310677b0f93a1e-news21 small.jpg

    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.

    Tagged: beyond content farms bleacher report content farms examiner.com high gear media patch.com studio one networks
    • As long as content farms get revenue they will continue to exist until Google catches up.

    • Tiny Dancer

      Yup. This broken link says it all…


      Not Found

      The requested URL /mediashift/2010/06/why-journalists-should-learn-computer-programming153.htmle-waste022.html was not found on this server.


    • Where is that broken link? Happy to fix it if you point me to where you found that.

    • A good informative article. I watched the first video. WIll watch the others later. Video lenght is a little long, but the content is informative. Keep up the good work. Learned about MediaShift today and will start reading it.


    • Thanks for this, good communications piece. There is room for a broad spectrum of ‘paid’ journalism, from the activists and hobbyists who are rewarded from access and notoriety, to the professional journalist on assignment with editors and a team of multi-media producers. But there will never be an audience for computer generated garbage, the solution to the technology is programming: computer, media, and human programming.

      Michael Russell in San Diego http://SDSMJ.org

    • Neil McManus

      Hi Mark,

      Great work! MediaShift is always worth watching/reading.

      BTW, I see the broken link on the page this comment is on. It’s the link labeled, “Why Journalists Should Learn Computer Programming”.

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