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    Your Guide to Next Generation ‘Content Farms’

    by Davis Shaver
    July 19, 2010
    i-57228e13aca7d64f2d9089f0159882f8-content farms logo small.jpg

    Click image to read more in this series

    From time to time, we provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. We’ve previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week MediaShift editorial intern Davis Shaver looks at the “content farm” phenomenon.

    What we're looking for is nothing less than tomorrow's journalists." - Patch editor in chief Brian Farnham

    As traditional news outlets continue to lay off journalists, a new generation of companies is betting big on online content. Their approaches differ significantly, but are all built on the common premise that for online content to be profitable, it has to be produced at a truly massive scale. The proliferation of these so-called “content farms” — a name the companies predictably dislike — has raised the ire of journalists and pundits alike.

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    “If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media,” wrote Jason Fry, a former Wall Street Journal columnist who edits Reinventing the Newsroom.

    Of course Demand Media is far from being the first online content company built on search-driven data. Both About.com and Weblogs Inc. built content based on popular search terms, and employed large teams of content producers and bloggers to create stories to help answer common questions.

    It’s easy to see why Demand Media’s strategy has been replicated by start-ups and start-arounds alike. When Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt discovered that algorithmically-generated assignments could generate 4.9 times the revenue of traditional editor-generated ideas, the sheer profitability of this new content paradigm guaranteed that companies like Demand Media would be viewed as outliers in the context of a news industry facing significant fiscal troubles.

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    This is the first article in what will be a full week of PBS MediaShift special coverage dedicated to next generation content companies. We’re calling this series “Beyond Content Farms” and each day will see us examine different aspects of these companies and what they mean for the web and the media world. Below is an overview of the major companies that are taking a “content farm” strategy of pushing out massive amounts of content, a primer that sets out some of the key players, what they do, and what their goals are.

    AOL

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    Tim Armstrong

    Overview: When AOL severed ties with Time Warner last year, it took the opportunity to reinvent its failing business model, which had been predicated largely on it dial-up service. Under the leadership of CEO Tim Armstrong, AOL has embraced a mission of becoming the world’s largest producer of high-quality content. A corollary goal: to be the world’s largest net hirer of journalists next year.

    Brands: AOL’s portal, AOL.com, serves more than 59 million people in the U.S. monthly, a firehose of traffic that the company can direct at a large portfolio of editorial brands, which include major sites such as AOL News, Black Voices, and Engadget.

    Content platform: AOL operates two major platforms for freelance content production. Seed, which AOL built itself, deals largely with the production of text-based and photographic content. StudioNow, which AOL bought this past winter for $36.5 million, caters to video production. Between the two platforms, AOL has access to more than 40,000 content creators, a small army that the company hopes to increasingly utilize in the coming months.

    Algorithm: Since the inception of its new content-based strategy, AOL has said that identifying content opportunities through demand/search data would be a major focus of the corporation. But nearly eight months later, AOL’s David Mason, who runs its content platforms, said told me in an interview: “We are in our early days with demand technology. The floodgates have been somewhat shut and as months go by we’ll see them open.”

    Local: AOL has entered the local news space in a big way with Patch, which had 83 sites live in communities around the country as of early July and many more in the pipeline. Each site is run by a professional journalist who reports, edits, and curates. “What we’re looking for is nothing less than tomorrow’s journalists,” said Patch editor in chief Brian Farnham in an interview with MediaShift. Editors are able to hire freelancers through Seed to round out coverage, namely to populate the community’s business directory with rich content. “We’re sending teams to communities who will go door to door and collect data about those places, structure it in our templates, and have a really rich Yellow Pages,” said Farnham. “The concept of Patch was not just to find a reporter and editor, it was to create a modern online platform to digitize the town.”

    Demand Media

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    Richard Rosenblatt

    Overview: Demand Media seems to be headed towards a $1.5 billion IPO, proof positive enough for the many competitors who have since embraced its algorithmic approach to online content. This approach is necessary to achieve its daily production of 6,000 written and video-based pieces of content. CEO Richard Rosenblatt won’t call the 10,000 people who produce content for Demand Studios journalists, but he believes Demand Media helps journalism by generating content and revenue for outlets that can “take that money to fund other reporting.”

    Chief revenue officer Joanne Bradford (formerly at Yahoo) has said that the company’s immediate goal is to outgrow AOL and then Yahoo, but that might be just the beginning. Rosenblatt has said that the company’s true goal is to publish the world’s content. The similarities with Google, whose mission is to organize the world’s information, don’t end there: Google was the last technology company to break $1 billion in its IPO.

    Brands: Demand Media’s largest brand is eHow.com, home to 2 million “solutions” that reach more than 59 million people in the U.S. monthly. Other brands include Livestrong.com and Cracked.com. Demand Media is also the largest uploader to YouTube.

    Platform: Demand Studios is Demand Media’s content platform. After titles are generated by the Demand Media algorithm (described below) and reviewed by title proofers, they are submitted as potential assignments for Demand Media’s network of freelance content producers. For more information about how Demand Studios’ editorial workflow functions, check out this BuzzMachine post by Jeff Jarvis interviewing Steven Kydd, who oversees production of content on the Demand Studios platform.

    Algorithm: The Demand Media algorithm, the most famous of its kind, received the fullest treatment to date in a Wired article published last fall. Kydd, the executive VP in charge of Demand Studios, explained the algorithm’s purpose in a column published last December. “These algorithms help companies to predict this content will have an audience, an advertiser, and the ability to get traffic to an article or video before its creation,” wrote Kydd. To accomplish this goal, the algorithm is fed data about what users are searching for or talking about on social networks, which keywords are being bought by advertisers, and what content is already available. Based on that information, the Demand Media algorithm generates bundles of keywords that are translated into meaningful headlines by a second algorithm called the Knowledge Engine. At that point, an editor proofs the headline and submits it as a potential assignment on the Demand Studios content platform.

    Local: Demand Media has not entered the local content market.

    Examiner.com

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    Rick Blair

    Overview: With over 90,000 pieces of content published monthly, Examiner.com has filled out its 238 city sites and expanded its staff of “Examiners” to over 42,000. CEO Rick Blair told Forbes that he doesn’t think the site is getting the respect its traffic deserves, especially when compared to less mature offerings like AOL’s Patch initiative.

    Brands: Examiner.com attracts more than 13 million people in the U.S. monthly to its domain, which generates geo-targeted content depending on the location from which the user is accessing the site. Each of the Examiner.com city sites is populated with locally relevant content and filled out with nationally relevant or “evergreen” content. Much of the branding on the site derives from the writers themselves, who have titles like New York Celebrity Dog Examiner” and Commercial Real Estate Examiner”. The site refers to its writers as “Examiners” and they are compensated based on a formula that factors in things such as traffic and ad clicks. The company is frank about saying that being an Examiner is at best a part-time gig for the vast majority of people.

    Platform: Examiner will soon launch a completely redesigned version of its website and content management system. It is moving to Drupal 7, and is currently training its Examiners on what to expect, and how to use the system. (More details about its training program will be featured in a subsequent report this week.)

    Algorithm: Examiner does not use an algorithm to assign content. Each Examiner is expected to generate her own content within an assigned category.

    Local: Examiner.com’s main focus is local content, but Blair cautioned that, “We offer stories about the best bike trips in the city and where to go on the weekend. We’re really not covering news.”

    Yahoo

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    Carol Bartz

    Overview: Yahoo bought Associated Content for over $100 million this spring, some say as a step away from the high-cost content Yahoo was producing through a partnership with former NBC entertainment head Ben Silverman. The purchase greatly increased Yahoo’s ability to produce content for its network. Associated Content had also been courted by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, an original investor in the company who was a college roommate of Associated Content founder Luke Beatty.

    Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has had trouble identifying the company’s mission, but it is reported to be preparing a new product strategy that will be released later this month. Expect it to focus on four main areas of content: Premium, social, crowdsourced, and original.

    Brands: Yahoo’s portal, Yahoo.com, reaches over 122 million people in the U.S. monthly. It also has popular verticals in a number of categories, including news and sports. AssociatedContent.com itself attracts more than 16 million people in the U.S. monthly.

    Platform: The Associated Content platform is home to more than 380,000 contributors. In contrast to Demand Studios, contributors do not need to complete an application process to begin accepting assignments or submitting content. The Associated Content editorial staff, which unlike Demand Studios and Seed.com is not composed of freelancers, review more than 50,000 pieces of content each month.

    Algorithm: Associated Content uses an algorithm to determine potentially profitable assignments, but hasn’t said much about it publicly. However, with the influx of data from the Yahoo mothership, expect to see demand-driven content appear on an increasing number of Yahoo properties. Yahoo has already begun integrating demand data into the editorial practices of sites such as the Upshot, a new news blog run by Yahoo News.

    Local: CEO Carol Bartz has said that Yahoo users want to see more local content, adding credence to rumors that Yahoo is preparing for a major push into the local content market.

    More Reading

    In addition to the articles linked above, here are a few more stories about next generation content companies:

    Groups magnify chances of Google hits at Financial Times

    Content Farms Compete With Book Publishers, Not News Sites at Advertising Age

    Journalists Worried About Content Farms Are Missing The Point – The Web Has Always Been Filled With Crap at Techdirt

    Content ‘Farms’ – Killing Journalism — While Making a Killing at The Wrap

    Jay Rosen Interviews Demand Media – Are Content Farms Demonic? at ReadWriteWeb

    Google eyes Demand Media’s way with words at Financial Times

    The End Of Hand Crafted Content at TechCrunch

    Inside the Examiner.com Purchase of NowPublic – Hyper-Local Media at BNET

    To see all stories in the Beyond Content Farms series, go here”.

    Davis Shaver is MediaShift’s editorial intern. He is also the founder and publisher of Onward State, an online news organization at Penn State. He studies history and the intersection of science, technology, and society.

    Tagged: aol associated content beyond content farms demand media demand studios ehow examiner.com seed tim armstrong yahoo
    • RayT

      You’re missing the major point about the content sweatshops (might as well call ’em by their right name): They are killing journalism through starvation.

      Who is making the big bucks that make these sites “successful?” Not the writers who generate the content, that’s for sure.

      The result of no-pay/sub-minimal pay policies is a rash of poorly written, haphazardly researched “articles” that do little to inform. And even if realistic pay was involved, how do algorithms encourage digging for new material? They do not.

      Giving these sites attention (and, in most cases, approval they certainly do not deserve) does a disservice to the professional journalists who are being pushed out of the way by a horde of untrained amateur “writers” who will accept slavery in return for a byline.

      Were you paid $30 for this article, Davis? If not, you would be doing all professional journos a favor if you wrote facts about the true nature of content sweatshops, not puff-pieces showing how a few are getting wealthy at the expense of others.

      You would be doing readers a favor, too. When the content sweatshops’ crap becomes the norm, as it will since most people prize “free” stuff over anything else, honest facts and quality writing will be forever lost.

    • Scott Rose

      I defy you to prove through documentation that Examiner pays “based on a formula that factors in things such as traffic and ad clicks.”

      That is company propaganda that is not backed up by the standard writer’s agreement Examiner offers its “Examiners.”

      Actually, that agreement, or contract if you will, does not legally oblige Examiner to pay a contributor anything ever. If a contributor is ever left completely unpaid by Examiner, the contract doesn’t leave the contributor a legal leg to stand on. That right there is shabby beyond any normal concept of acceptability.

      Have you seen that standard writer’s agreement, in order to report on it truthfully?

      Examiner when new engaged in fraudulent help-wanted advertising for writers, purposely misleading applicants to believe they would be paid a professional rate for their contributions.

      I was so outraged over having been taken in by one of those fraudulent ads that I sought and received the assistance of Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly, who did a huge expose of Examiner, and of Craig Newmark of Craigslist. Ms. Hoy suggested that Examiner should reveal its income from advertising and then compare that income to what its writers are paid. The company of course did no such thing. Examiner, furthermore, was then limited in how it could post help-wanted ads on Craigslist, but it would sneak in deceptive ads nonetheless, i.e. not stating that the ad was for Examiner, but linking in the ad to an Examiner page.

      If you review several Examiner postings you will see that the company does not provide professional-level editorial intervention to its contributors.

    • Midwest

      So called “content farms” are nothing more than gas on the fire of the suicide spiral that publishers and content providers have put themselves in.

      Consumers are not demanding content by the truckload but some putz in a corner office somehow came to that conclusion causing a wholly unsustainable demand curve. There is simply no way to continue this content generation and the cracks are already showing.

      The quality of the content has dropped considerably, replete with mistakes, typos and pointless conclusions. Go ahead and keep it up and you’ll kill your business in no time at all.

      Pull out of this spiral by protecting your content, stop flooding the market with drek, and standing out from the competition with quality, quality, quality.

      It will hurt for a little while but once consumers figure out that your content is head and shoulders above the rest, you’ll come out a winner.

    • Hayley

      The claims of “algorithms” by Demand Studios is bunk. One look through title list for writers reveals the truth. “How to build a giant tree house from PVC pipe and wood glue” is not the result of an “algorithm”. There are misspelled titles galore in their title selections. Does the “algorithm” purposely misspell to increase traffic?
      They are looking through lists of searched terms and copying them into their title list. Nothing more.
      Their business model is flawed as are their ethics. They produce sub-par content for unsuspecting, uneducated readers. Sad.

    • Lois

      I’m writing from my “sweatshop” as another responder calls it. It’s a computer table in my den in front of a window where I watch my birdfeeders. I have about 2 months experience with Demand, and right now I can write two to three pieces in 3 hours. That’s $10 to $15 per hour. My efficiency is improving and I think that realistically, I’ll top out at $20 per hour. Some writers do much better, but given my talents and abilities, I don’t expect I’ll ever be a top earner. I won’t get rich, but I’ll have flexibility that allows me to do the things I’ve always wanted to do with my life, and I consider that a fair exchange for the money I could earn elsewhere.

      Every article I write is professionally edited and thoroughly fact-checked by an experienced editor. I was recently accepted into Demand’s Writer Enrichment Program where I’ll receive help in improving my writing based on a review of my portfolio and helpful advice tailored to my needs. I get constant feedback, advice and suggestions from my editors, so I see this as a chance to build skills while earning money.

      In response to the misspelled titles, these come from internet searches, and searchers don’t always spell correctly; however in my experience, the editor corrects the spelling before the article is publishes and the keywords are always spelled correctly. There are hundreds of thousands of titles and some of them are silly because they are produced by internet searches, but the overwhelming majority of titles that I see in the queue are meaningful and interesting. if you choose to focus on the silly you’ll have no trouble finding it, but I get a lot of satisfaction from the articles I write.

    • Curious E

      Dear Lois,
      You just described why content farms and its writers are eroding journalism further. While making $10, $15 or $20 an hour may work for you, you need to understand that that’s slave wage labor for journalists. As a result, only desperate journalists will wander into content farms, just like only disgraced farmers will work at WalMart. Meanwhile, “industrial content” will continue to churned out, mucking up internet searches and whittling away at genuine journalism.

    • Lynne

      Oh, good grief, newspapers (constantly being sued or blasted for factual errors, libel and plain old misquoting) are committing suicide right and left.
      Their reporters (who traditionally work for “rags” and “fish wrappers”) don’t do half the research we online “sweatshop” workers at Demand Studios do. A whole bunch of DS writers make more money per week than the average reporter. A whole bunch of us used to dress up every day, pay for childcare and commuting costs and take a load of grief and stress from the higher ups because we once worked for those fishwrapper rags.
      I’ve run headlong into the toughest copy editors I’ve met in 30 years of journalism (yes, at large and small, good and bad fish wrappers) who don’t let me get away with anything.
      We have hundreds of journalists, engineers, teachers, attorneys and other professionals writing, plus other experts.
      There isn’t a newspaper or electronic news organization in the world with that much expertise hunched over red hot keyboards.
      “How our profession ends,” Mr. Fry? Hogwash. Journalism is alive and well and I’ll bet we have a dozen writers who can tell you “HowTo” get over your jealousy.

    • Emily

      I’m sorry, but I’ve written for a content mill, too, and I have to say, it ain’t journalism.

    • Barbara

      I have been writing for Demand for over two years. Far from being a content “farm” or “sweatshop,” Demand gives writers the opportunity to write as much as they want, for as long as they want. We are the ones who determine how much (or how little) we make.
      My work is edited by professional copy/content editors. These editors don’t just look for typos, grammar, punctuation or spelling errors — they also fact check every article by using the references we are required to include. (like journalism, much?)
      I have been included in several special projects and have seen my per-article rate increase — I was invited to write for the LiveSTRONG New Year’s Resolution promotion. I was assigned articles on quitting smoking. After this assignment ended, I was given the opportunity to continue writing for this publisher, which I still do, and plan to continue doing, for as long as possible. From $15/article to $25/article — not bad! Of course, I also grab a few lower-priced titles from time to time, in order to write simpler articles.
      Sure, some of the titles are very nonsensical and simplistic — but these terms are what real people enter into the search engines. “How to Crochet a Sweater Coat.” Real title, and I turned this into a 1,700 word article. The CE returned it to me for one small correction. Approved and giving crocheters all over a chance to crochet a fairly complex piece of fiber art. I also wrote an article about raising difficult teens. I wrote, not only from research, but personal experience. Approved and published.
      Journalism, by virtue of poor decisions, started its slow suicide spiral years ago. I don’t say this lightly — I am a journalism graduate and I love this field. The fact of the matter is, my professors were not shy in pointing out where journalism went wrong in explaining the slow deterioration of subscriptions and circulation. (I graduated at the end of 2006, so my degree is recent.)
      Demand — and for that matter, Associated Content, Suite 101, Examiner and others — won’t ever “replace” newspapers or broadcast journalism. What they do is provide travel articles to papers like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and USA Today. I would not be at all surprised to see some How To articles end up in the paper — such as “How To Get My Baby to Sleep All Night Long” — which I also wrote.
      In short, we are not crap, content “farm” or content “sweatshop.” I am sitting in my comfy living room with the a/c on and my television on a game show for sound. I have a bottle of water nearby and my refrigerator and pantry not 20 steps away. As far from a sweatshop as it could get!

    • Oldfart

      egad!

      This intern,David shaver, has apparently NEVER HEARD OF READABILITY.

      GAG! Who wants to read copy that’s with half of the words in blue? What a kid this guy is…he certainly doesn’t have his reader in mind to create that mess of a report.

    • Page1News

      Funny how none of the farms want to call its farm hands “journalists.” Rightly so. LOL … where’s the shovel?

    • Page1News

      Funny how none of the farms are willing to call their farm hands “journalists.” Mr. Green Jeans, where’s the shovel?

    • Lynne

      Not all of the farm hands are journalists, but a lot of them are. When I want to look at newspapers anymore, I tune in to Jay Leno on Monday nights.

    • Blair

      Some of you are doofuses.

      Point #1 – since when have journalists ever published works like ‘How to Identify an HDMI Cable”? Never. Yet, there are thousands of people out there who hop on the Internet to search for these types of articles, and someone has to write them. Content writers aren’t killing journalists work off because journalists never wrote these kinds of things to start with.

      It’s like saying that a kid flipping burgers at McDonalds is responsible for a chef in a restaurant losing his job.

      Point #2 – journalism isn’t dying because of these websites. Journalism is dying because, wait for it….NO ONE WANTS TO BUY NEWSPAPERS OR MAGAZINES ANYMORE. That’s right – why should I get a newspaper when I found out all that news 2 days ago online? Why should I subscribe to a magazine when I can find these same articles online for free?

      Journalism is dying because capitalism is in charge, and capitalism is, at its base, simply what the people want to buy. People don’t want to buy your crap anymore.

      Point # 3 – I never work more than 40 a week and I never make less than $5k a month from Demand Studios. It is stress-free bliss and I am free to work wherever I want whenever I want however long I want. If that is slavery work, then Imma start looking for slave jobs, cuz they rule.

      Point # 4 – A whole lot of these content writers are professionals, myself included. The difference is, I realize my stink is the same as everyone else’s, while so many writers have their noses in the air thinking their words are gold and worth astronomical prices.

      Newsflash – you didn’t get paid $2 a word because you’re worth it. You got paid $2 a word because you were lucky enough to get an article in a magazine. When that single magazine is purchased by thousands of people, you get paid accordingly. In this new publishing world, the info is free, and you get paid according to the ad earnings.

      Welcome to your new worth; adjust with the market or become fodder of the past.

      Now if you’re excuse me, I’m going back to my ‘slave’ job where I make a mere $300 a day while sitting in front of the TV in my birthday suit.

    • Cara

      Why are these companies being compared to journalism? They are two separate entities. Would a person look to the WSJ to find out “How to Make a Facial Scrub from Plum Pits”? I think not. Just as a thinking person would not expect to go to eHow to read about the lastest political scandal or the latest updates from Iraq.

      These “content farms” are for the purpose of providing information on subjects that mainstream publishers do not. However, some of the journalists out there need to check out their employers as well because some major media outlets have obtained “Work for Hire” content from these “content farms”. So if you feel these “content farms” are to blame, maybe you should tell your bosses to stop seeking content/partnerships with them. I doubt they would listen, but at least you stood your ground for your cause, right?

    • Lisa

      I’ll never understand this journalism debate. Any moron can see that what Demand is doing is NOT journalism. Are journalists really so enraged at the thought of ‘content mills’ that they really, really need to argue that the content produced is or is not journalistic? No? Then why the hell does this keep coming up over and over?

      Writing for the web and journalism are two completely different things. Most notably, it seems, are the many journalists at Demand who write “slop” content and make much, much more than their newspaper and mag journalist friends. Oh my! The horror!

      Journalism is dead because, and this is a shocker, no one is buying printed periodicals and papers anymore. Everything is online. Is that a concept that anyone with a journalism degree can comprehend?

      Listen, if you’re all upset that I can work at home and make $30 to $60 an hour with Demand Studios, as a health content writer (NOT journalist), and produce enviable articles that are fact checked, edited and even….wait for it…used by a local ambulance service as training articles for their staff…then all I can say is I’m sorry your so pitiful and bitter.

      Ultimately, Demand pays on time, upfront and I’m making more now than I did in my professional job. I’m now home for my special needs son and am loving it. Sure am glad I never pursued that journalism degree, though.

    • RayT

      “Lisa, Lynne and Lois?” Are “Abigail, Alice and Annette” responding to criticism of content sweatshops at some other site?

      I’m sorry to sound cynical, but to me the combination of unstinting praise for Demand Studios and your own accomplishments just doesn’t ring true.

      Coming up with “two to three articles per hour” isn’t journalism; it’s typing.

      I’m happy for you if your stories are true, and I’m not looking to start a “he said-she said” argument here.

      But I’m not buying your claims. I know too many experienced, conscientious and very readable writers who have come up against the content sweatshops and found they couldn’t do work of even minimal quality for the pittances paid.

    • Sandra

      I make 25 dollars per article and average 31.25 dollars per hour writing for DS.

      My content is factually correct and grammatically sound. My DS content is not poetry. It is not worthy of any special praise or accolades. But people do not visit Livestrong.com or eHow or (most) other Internet sites looking for award-winning writing. They visit those sites for information. Specific information. Factually correct, PRACTICAL information.

      That is what Demand Studios provides.
      DS provides Internet users with what they want and need.

      I’d much rather write on my own schedule, from my own home, on topics of my choosing, and keep my daughter out of daycare than go out and be a “real journalist” again and make less money while spending more time away from my family.

    • Lisa

      “Lisa, Lynne and Lois?” Are “Abigail, Alice and Annette” responding to criticism of content sweatshops at some other site?

      While I’m not sure about this, and I applaud your suspicion and sarcasm, I’m am indeed only myself and have no idea who Lynne and Lois are. Its not impossible to believe the claims-well maybe it is for you-but really, the claims are very plausible and true.

      I am a health professional by education, degree and 15 years experience. I was chosen to write for Demand for LiveStrong Health. LSHealth pays $30 per article. There are thousands of topics to chose from, and since I have the very good fortune of being well educated in the medical and health genres, I can easily write two $30 articles per hour. In case the math escapes you, that is $60 per hour.

      I’m not always able to write two in an hour. It just depends on the topics I find and how knowledgeable I am about them. I always find credible sources to back up my information and if an editor finds a problem with my info, he/she will promptly let me know.

      I take pride in each article. I am writing informative pieces, not journalistic ones. I’m a fast writer, a fast typist and amazingly, I can craft a pretty good article in, yes, 30 minutes. When I was writing for print as a freelancer (gasp! I bet freelancers are also the cause of the death of journalism! Damn!) it would take me, of course, much, much longer to write a suitable article.

      There is a difference. Believe what you want. Now I’m off to finish up a very nice paycheck for the week writing my droll and drivel.

    • Lynne

      Oh, horse hockey, RayT. My last – and I mean my LAST – magazine article was published a couple of months ago. The magazine has dropped its rate of pay for freelance articles and I simply will not spend two days in the broiling sun, wrangling people into the proper position for photos and wringing out deathless proclamations from interviewees for what that magazine is now paying “on publication.” I cut my teeth on cold type. Reporters don’t just report the news as in days of yore, now they are forced to blog it and update their webpages. Are they getting paid more? Nope. Talk about your sweatshops.
      No, I haven’t posted on any other sites. I’m fairly new to Demand and to four other sites. I enjoy picking my subjects and I enjoy never having to shake a smarmy politician’s hand again.
      We at DS are journalists, engineers, etc. No one said what we publish is news. That’s for newspapers and the hacks at the tv networks. We do publish stuff people are looking for. How to get a copy of a divorce decree in another state. Where are the campgrounds near San Antonio and will they let me bring my dog? How do I keep a roomful of six-year-olds busy at a birthday party?
      The closest it comes to threatening a newspaper is threatening the “home and family” pages, or whatever the women’s pages are called these days.
      I enjoy what I do. I learn a lot doing research, and if I want to research further or find some tidbit that I, personally, want to know more about, I don’t have a bipolar city editor freaking out over it. I have RA now in my old age and can’t do a “real” reporter’s job. So I do this.
      It’s a great gig.

    • Nan

      < < Coming up with "two to three articles per hour" isn't journalism; it's typing.">>

      @RayT What writers do who have Demand Studios as a client is feature writing.

      < >

      Thank you, many of us are quite happy, too. For so many of the writers at Demand Studios these rates are not only possible, but achieved regularly.

      < >

      Yeah, that’s fine. No one is trying to sell you any claim — too busy earning money writing.

      As for these people you know, could they do the work required by Demand Studios editors? You see, a professional freelance writer makes her living by providing her client with what’s needed.

      Working for Demand Studios is not like trying to please the editor of the NYT, your MFA creative writing professor or even the editor who shepherds your novel to publication. But I’m sure you know this since you are a professional writer, yes?

      If you don’t know that, please get the story straight.

      Pax.

    • Erin

      Content farms aren’t replacing journalists, because content farms aren’t pumping out anything that even remotely resembles news or investigative journalism. People are comparing apples and lawn mowers.

      I work for Demand Studios as a part time gig to make extra money. I’m not some uneducated shut-in who works from home and never leaves the couch; I have a science degree, a real job during the day, and I am certainly not an amateur writer. I resent all of these exposes on DS claiming that the freelance pool is a bunch of monkeys who have delusions of being journalists. It’s a filler writing gig. We know exactly what it is. No one who works at DS ever claimed that what we do is journalism.

      Sure, DS employs a lot of unemployed journalists, but they’re not competing with real journalism. So what is the big fuss over???

    • Page1News

      Lynne said: “When I want to look at newspapers anymore, I tune in to Jay Leno on Monday nights.”

      That’s why the U.S. is the dumbest industrialized nation in the world.

    • Lynne

      Indeed, Page1News, the newspaper clippings shown on Leno do, in fact, prove why the U.S. is the dumbest industrialized nation in the world.

    • I’ve done significant research on three of the top “content farms” and a short series on them for Poynter–and Erin’s right. They’re not doing investigative or newspaper-style journalism. They’re doing evergreen content. Lots of people who are journalists like to write for them. And lots of journalists are lousy writers who can’t spell and whose work might never be published if there wasn’t someone there to edit it. Even with editors, have you ever looked at some of the stuff that gets published in local papers???? My god, some of it is like college essays! So, let’s just admit that not all journalists are fantastic writers.

      Kind of strange, too, the way Associated Content is lumped under Yahoo, which still hasn’t said how they’re going to use AC content. Not to mention what’s going to happen to the content that’s already on AC–esp. the local content. There’s a lot of local content on AC, most of it written by local journalists who are no longer employed by the papers they worked for, often for years and years. We have yet to see or to know what’s going to happen with AC, it’s content, and Yahoo.

    • Page1News

      Lynn: While I agree hed bloopers and ad mistakes are funny, getting your news from the Colbert Report is selling yourself short. And the mere fact Lindsay Lohan was “breaking news” on every cable news channel this morning make me sick to my stomach. But spending hours upon hours weeding through content farm hog shit is getting old. NO ONE who seeks intellectual domestic and international information is going to got to eHow.com or About.com to find it. Those farms are bypassed within milliseconds. Internet uses have to shovel shit to obtain the least bit of credible information.
      It’s truly sad.

    • Lynne

      You are absolutely right, Page1News, no one is going to seek intellectual and international information on About.com. Someone who is curious to know what a Notary Public does, someone who wants to know how to write a letter of complaint to their state attorney general, someone who wants to know how to apply Kool Seal to their roof or what the difference is between a microwave and a convection oven – those are the people who visit About land. Thousands find the information useful for answering their questions or pointing them in the right direction for deeper answers.
      Why does that upset you so?

    • John

      I’ve observed a common thread about the attitude of “establishment journalists” towards internet content work. They mostly consider it rubbish and rubbish created for low pay. Despite that, plenty of them do it on the side. Some go so far as to denigrate their own work. And of course, all this trash talk is done anonymously, so they can continue to do that work without fear of retaliation from their online content clients.

      There is are some words for that sort of behavior. Charlatan comes to mind. Hypocrite is another. Anyone from a profession with that produces hacks like Judith Miller and liars like Jayson Blair, nevermind the management that covers for them, has no business grandstanding behind a cowardly wall of anonymity.

    • MSE

      What? Already no journalism majors available to put to work on an article like this?

    • Page1News

      Lynn: It doesn’t upset me at all. I’m glad I don’t ever have a use for those dumbed-down sites. But for journalists like me who use computer-assisted researching and reporting skills, the stinky farms are getting in my way. It’s like waiting behind some lady with 100 items and 2,000 coupons in the 10-items-or-less grocery line. Content farms are just a plain nuisance for those who seek real information and documentation.

    • John

      Did these decision makers ever take a basic economics course? The more there is of something the less it is worth.

    • Lee

      Page1News…you assume that most people who go on the internet are looking for news…this is simply not the case! Most people who go on the internet are looking for information on topics important to them that Newspapers and News Shows don’t provide. This is why one of the first steps to building a web site is to research the topic you want to cover on your site for relevance and traffic potential. Broadcast News is the threat to print media…its faster and its visual. Internet content writers are more of a threat to bookstores than newspapers.

    • Page1News

      Lee: I don’t care who is using the Internet for whatever purposes. All I care about is the lady with 100 items and 2,000 coupons in the 10-items-or-less line.

      If I really want to know how to hammer a nail into a piece of wood, I don’t need to go to eHow.com; I’ll just ask my 10-year-old. Even the Demand Studioville farm hands know that the farmers require them to explain where the handle on a hammer is located, for goodness sake.

      I just want to find a reliable Internet application that will filter out all the farm-hand work, so I actually can write some news for either print, broadcast, podcast, blog, YouTube or, heck, even skywriting.

    • Lee

      And there is the problem with print media…they no longer care what the reader wants. I think it might be a really good idea to understand that the user on the internet is the reader/customer/subscriber. The problem isn’t in how Demand or A/C or Seed operates on the internet, the problem is that print media wants to decide for the user what they should read about. From a writer stand point, I have a list of the reliable sources I use, and go to them first…I think that keeping your own list of sites you use is the way around your problem of standing behind the lady who has to many items and to many coupons. If you are doing a general search on a certain topic, you will get the results that are relevant to most users first. If you expect the internet to suddenly become just a research tool for Print Media you are probably in for a long wait.

    • Page1News

      Lee: Why are you focusing on print news? Whoever said anything about that? I just want to do my job without needing hip waders and a shovel to get around the Web.

      Do you have any credible, documented information on Internet content filters? Hmmm … maybe that should be a “Writer Created Assignment” for eHow. That’s all I’m needing; a way to filter you out.

      If you can’t provide the information I need, I have no use for you.

    • The clash between traditional print journalists and the new content writers is the result of a worldwide transitioning from print-based media to online media. From a baby-boomer ruled economy to a Gen-X and Gen-Y ruled economy. From a car-based economy to an Internet-based economy. All of this constitutes a real shift and it’s only going to get more extreme.

      A lot of old-timers believe that online content is a weak version of true journalism. It’s not. It’s a new animal. It’s all the content of the world, moving online, as part of a new economic system.

      We’re in a time comparable to the early 20th century’s Golden Age of fiction, only online content is the new pulp. These are not corrupting times; they’re exciting times, and a burst of creativity will follow in the years to come in which corporations, print news giants and publishing houses fall and individuals and new kinds of collaboratives prevail. It’s not going to be pretty, but the depression will continue until it’s all unfolded.

      (Deep breath and Cassandra-mode off.)

      Many online “content farm” writers are experienced pros who’ve seen this new world coming. But a lot of the people entering the field of content writing are young people. They’re not widely experienced, and they’re willing to write for peanuts. But none of these people are “bringing down the industry.” They’re building a new industry over the ruins of an industry that has been dying longer than many older people have realized.

      Don’t assume the pay for writers is low because it looks low.

      1) Writing content online is a new profession. Entirely new. It’s part marketer, part copywriter, part journalist, part researcher, part contractor, part entrepreneur…it goes on. Nobody knows yet the value of this work. That’s changing rapidly over time. Writers now may be “overpaid” or “underpaid” according to union pay standards, but the pay level is following a very organic and sustainable model in a world where an entire economic system is failing. In other words, it’s no coincidence that there are tons of jobs in writing online content at a time when jobs are scarce almost everywhere else.

      Remember the New Deal? These writers are helping build the infrastructure of an online road system – the road signs, perhaps, guiding people from the roads to their destinations.

      2) The pay for online content is far better than the current pay for print journalism when you add up what writers are investing. Content writers don’t need cars, fuel, and car insurance or bus fare to commute to the job. They don’t need expensive suits. They don’t need to attend expensive networking events to meet contacts. They don’t need interviews. They don’t need to be born with good-old-boy connections. They don’t need daycare for their kids. They don’t have to pitch stories. They don’t have to wait nine months for a paycheck. They don’t have to settle for kill fees. They don’t have to get higher degrees and take ten years to pay off the loans. They’re not locked up in the Company’s interests – they can simultaneously develop their own websites. They can work all they want when they’re well and take off when they’re sick. Demand Media offers health insurance.

      Their low pay but flexible work structure constitutes a new, real opportunity for young people who have no other opportunities now – not for lack of education, skill or trying, but because the there are simply no jobs. If it’s exploitation, it’s exploitation far nicer than that of the latter part of the 20th century, when baby boomers dominated the job market and left few well-paid entryways for Generation X or the Millenials.

      So don’t knock it. If you compare it to the way things used to be in “boom time,” yes, it’s not as wealth-making. But right now it’s not boom time – it’s a sinking ship, and it’s time to jump ship and get on board the new liner.

    • Page1News

      WTFC? I don’t care who is doing what for however much they get paid. Farm content is not for the consumer; it’s for the farm! It’s all about ad clicks.

      What I want and need is for someone somewhere to invent a farm filter, so I can get into the fast lane and bypass “How to Macrame Cat Furniture” and “How to Make Safe Bling Pacifiers.”

      Come on, people!

    • Page1News

      P.S. Demand Media DOES NOT offer health insurance. What the company offers is a discount card that anyone can get from anywhere. My local drug store offers one just like it.

    • Jake

      What I want and need is for someone somewhere to invent a farm filter, so I can get into the fast lane and bypass “How to Macrame Cat Furniture” and “How to Make Safe Bling Pacifiers.”

      Lady, if you’re using a search engine to search for a specific thing, you’re not going to get those farm articles. And if you’re searching for news, all you have to do is go to the website of what ever newspapers or online news outlets you like to read. You’re acting kind of crazy, like you think this crap content is going to break into your house and force itself on you. Don’t you know how to use a search engine? What are you raving about?

      Let’s say you are looking for instructions on how to build your own can opener. 1 or 2 eHow articles might be on the first page of the search engine results, but then you just click to the next page to find better articles.

      It’s really not that hard to avoid the content farm articles. And the content farms don’t even touch heavy technical or philosophical subjects, so if you are looking for something meaty, they won’t even be an issue. Only if you are specifically searching for macrame cat furniture will get an ehow article on macrame cat furniture.

      geez louise in a cheese tree…

    • Page1News

      LOL! I like you, Jake!

      “geez louise in a cheese tree…” :-)

      I just get so fed up with all the endless crap on the Internet.

      Sorry, Jake. I didn’t mean to sound like a crazy lady. But I know I’m not the only one on the Internet who thinks content like “How to Play an Electric Guitar Manually” is idiotic. Even the farmhands think that stuff is idiotic.

      OK, I’m finished. At least I feel better now. LOL

    • John

      This “the internet is full of crap” issue is a mixed one. Yes, it is full of crap, but is everything crap? Most of these comments remind me of what people say about Wikipedia, and how it must all be suspect because anyone can contribute. Yet most Wikipedia pages boast dozens of citations from authoritative sources. A lot of those entries are as thoroughly researched as any print encyclopedia, and more extensive to boot. The best content farm articles require sourcing as well. Where’s the beef? It’s right there at the bottom, along with where it came from.

    • Page1

      So skip the drivel, and click on the citations. Simple as pie.

    • John

      Some folks clearly have an over-inflated sense of their own self-importance.

      One of the hard truths about journalism is that news reporting NEVER makes money. As for crap, how much “reporting” is just repackaged spam from a corporate press release or spoon-fed propaganda from an official press conference? Why pay for that when you can just “click on the citations?”

      Another thing this reminds me of is how travel writers for “august” publications like the NYT or Conde Nast used to feel about R-Ws working for travel guides… yet I cannot even begin to county how many travel articles written for those publications and others I have read that were so riddled with errors that it was obvious the author never went to said location, even in her dreams!

      It’s a farce. It’s a racket. Just like the journalism BA itself is essentially BS.

    • All you writers who are pumping out evergreen content for Demand could be/should be putting that same effort into publishing content on your own domain, building value for your own brand.

    • Barbara

      Thing is, Geomark, that doesn’t pay the rent that’s due in a week and a half. If we work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week on our sites, market them intensely without spamming, maybe, just maybe, we’ll be fortunate enough to see a $100 check — in a year or year and a half. Meanwhile, I write the How Tos, Abouts, Lists, Strategies and Short Answers to pay the bills that are due now.

      Page1, all you need to do is click to page two or three to get past the “Farmville crap.” Or create your own customized search engine on Google. You’re complaining to get people to your whine and cheese party.

    • Hello —

      I am an Economics researcher and am really fascinated by how writing is becoming such an important task in online labor markets.

      I am beginning to conduct some experiments in how to crowdsource writing tasks. If anyone would like to share their experience with online writing or ideas for what would be interesting experiments, I would be glad to hear from you.

      I am especially interested in what are the best ways to setup and structure tasks so that people can write most easily and whether collaboratively written writing is better than individually written writing.

      Thanks,
      Dana Chandler

    • Question.

      Would ANYONE consider what Perez Hilton does journalism? Yet, his blog gets more views per month quite a few brick and mortar newspapers.

      Again, the argument stems from what the readers and audience want to know. Think about this, when the WSJ, NYT, etc… report government statistics in a news article, knowing FULL WELL they are made up numbers, and make no mention of what the TRUE statistics are (unemployment for example), how can we say that journalists are credible to begin with?

      Most articles in a ‘newspaper’ are centralized stories shipped out by AP and a few other agencies which a newspaper uses to fill their pages with content. Is it original? No, and if its NOT correct and factual, than most of the public receives false information since everyone prints the same thing.

      No, most of the negative spin on ‘citizen’ journalists comes from the old powers that need to keep a old tired business model going.

      Yes, there are indigent writers who skew the pot when it comes to these alternative writing sources, but I would counter that the number is no more than those who are considered journalists in the main stream, yet don’t seem to be required to answer for their mistakes and bias when a 5th grader can find fallacy in most of their articles.

      Phoenix Billiards Examiner
      http://www.examiner.com/x-45944-Phoenix-Billiards-Examiner

      National Billiards Examiner
      http://www.examiner.com/x-58699-Billiards-Examiner

    • Hyper-local News Hound

      A lot of interesting points have been made throughout this comment section. I take a lot of pride in being a community journalist. I investigate and report on things that truly impact my immediate community, such as a decrease in local mill levies and state budget problems that have lead to academic program cuts within the local school district.

      None of what I do is hampered by Farm Content. I have plenty of “real life” sources, and the supplemental research I do is confined to governmental and other institutional online resources.

      Most reporters are taught to do computer-assisted research, and many of us have access to large databases and an in-dept knowledge of FOIA and Sunshine laws.

      My advice for Content Farmers: Take a journalism ethics class and bone up on libel law. Depending on your content, you could be violating numerous laws. The last thing you need is for a large corporation with deep pockets to come after you.

      Best of luck to all the farmers!

    • EJE

      Interesting discussion. As a user of the “content farms,”I want to just chime in and say, I read the newspaper to see what is going on around me and in the world at large. When I need to find out something like “How to make pesto from collards” I’d type it in to a search engine and see what comes up. And I’m usually happy with the results. If I don’t like what I see, I check another site. No biggie. As a published author (hardback) and professional, I have to tell you, that all this debate has made me decide one thing… I’m going to check out writing for Demand. Wow. this topic certainly does generate a lot of energy!!!

    • As Usual, A Major Point Is Missed

      If you track the history of “content farms,” what you see is that a handful of companies got started in 2006 and 2007. Of those companies, only Demand Media had a business model that actually worked. The others have more or less floundered.

      The next question a savvy person should ask is why hasn’t DM’s model inspired copycats? Success always inspires imitation and then imitation and innovation. The answer is on the news every day: who can raise the capital needed to compete with DM on the necessary scale? Using their own numbers, it costs DM $30 million per year to churn out all those 400-word pieces. They make a ton more, of course, but that doesn’t change that to out-do DM, you need a slightly better business model and a lot of cold, hard cash. The cash is sorely lacking right now, so instead you see a lot of efforts to compete on the cheap (with mostly poor results).

      When someone enters the market determined to grab some of DM’s revenue and is armed with the cash to make a proper stab at it, pay rates will go up. Another thing these anti-content articles usually overlook is this: DM’s freelancers are seething with discontent. The company is heavily reliant on just a few hundred people, really, to produce most of its better-quality stuff – the stuff it uses to lure in contracts like the Atlanta Journal and USA Today. Offer those people better money or better working conditions, and they would desert in droves.

    • Lynne

      @Hyper-Local News Hound

      DS has an ethics code. I can’t imagine libel entering into the equation anywhere.

    • Hyper-local News Hound

      Lynn: Most, if not all, companies have an ethics policy. But print and online publishing carry very specific laws and regulations that authors, writers, columnists and reporters should be aware of. Legal ignorance is no defense in most cases.

      Does Demand Media offer media and business law courses for its freelancers? If so, are they offered by a reputable organization? These might be helpful to writers who would like to get information through non-Web, non-regurgitated resources. For example, how does Demand Media deal with anonymous sources? What happens to a writer who uses direct quotes from a libelous source? Does the writer or the company get sued? Or both?

      As you can see, I have a lot of questions about how content information is verified and what protections Demand Media gives its writers, if any. Are Demand Media writers given credentials similar to reporters’ credentials as members of the working press, and if so, through what organization? For medically related articles, are writers solely responsible for any and all outcomes that may arise from inaccurate information? Who handles subpoenas and litigation in these cases?

      Who is held liable for inaccurate, dangerous or illegal material? Does Demand Media issue corrections or retractions for these issues?

      I may be wrong, but it’s my understanding that Demand Media may have some problems with copyright issues regarding simple everyday words as well as non-accepted, writer-created articles. Does Demand Media own and keep in their possession anything and everything that a writer creates, regardless of whether something is accepted and/or published?

      Will Demand Media sue the writer if he or she uses anything for profit that the company claims is copyrighted?

      As a reporter who belongs to a press organization and the Writer’s Guild, you surely can see how someone like me would be wary of personal liabilities. Without the backing of my organizations, a single lawsuit could personally destroy me.

      I’m curious about all this, but I think I’ll stick with what I know.

    • Lynne

      Hyper-local News – the empire doesn’t work the way you seem to think. I don’t know what a “non-accepted, writer-created article” is, but no, if Demand doesn’t buy an article, the writer still owns it and can do as they like with it. A writer can’t use anything for profit or otherwise that Demand has bought, because the writer no longer owns it.

      Sources are never anonymous and all are checked by the editors. I can’t imagine how libel could crop up in any of the articles, unless some celebrity decides to sue because a writer answered the question “Where was So and So born?” and the celebrity can prove the writer made up the answer.

      Simple everyday words are usually not copyrighted.

      What would a Demand writer need with credentials? They do not go out and cover stories or conduct interviews, as a rule. If information on medical issues, side effects, etc., comes from the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, the AMA, etc., do you really think a Demand writer or Demand itself would be held liable for the inaccuracy of information those organizations put out? The writers do not turn to Mrs. Mariah’s Palm Reading and Natural Health Emporium for information on current treatments for breast cancer. They get it from organizations like those above. So does a health reporter at the Podunk Times when she wants to write a feature letting the citizens of Podunk know a new breast cancer treatment has been developed. I’d guess the liability is the same. Does your newspaper offer you classes in law? Mine never did. None of them.

      I don’t know what the protections may be for LiveStrong writers, most of whom are vetted for experience in their field. The rest of the farm workers tend to pick articles that require knowledge they have or know how to find, and are backed up by sources that have some respect in the field (.gov, .org, .edu sites, for example). They usually don’t write about how to build an IED, grow fields of pot undetected, or what mints can make their alcohol-laden breath smell fresh to the traffic cop who stops them.
      Write what you know applies in spades, because you can write faster and with fewer mistakes that way. More production = more money.

    • Hyper-local News Hound

      Lynne: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. But now I have even more questions.

      1. Does Demand Media only hire writers and editors who have a bachelor’s degree or higher in journalism or communications? That would account for not offering some type of media law course or seminar, especially the new digital media laws for the ever-changing technology.

      2. It sounds like writers are required to use only Internet-based sources. Is that correct? So if I wanted to write a story about how diamonds are imported into the U.S., I could not interview a real person and use direct quotes from that interview? This could not be verified by a Demand Media editor, so it would not be allowed, right?

      3. I ask about writers’ credentials because it gives reporters access to many large Internet databases, some of which are free with unlimited use for members of the working press. I would think Demand Media would prefer to have the writers have access to these kinds of verifiable resources. Press credentials also allow writers access to many events all over the world, but since a writer’s own experience can’t be verified by an editor, I guess a press badge holds no special advantage to a Demand Media writer.

      4A. Copyright questions. A friend of a friend of friend told me that Demand Media claims to hold copyrights for every single word that is generated by the company for writers to use. Example: A Demand Media article title of “Importing Diamonds.” Does Demand Media claim to hold a copyright on the phrase “Importing Diamonds?” If so, how does Demand Media enforce its copyrights on seemingly innocuous words and phrases that appear throughout the Internet?

      4B. If a Demand Media writer submits a story that is rejected or is abandoned for whatever reasons, does Demand Media continue to maintain copyrights on that material? Does Demand Media continue to physically hold that material in its database so that the writer would be accused of plagiarism if the story was published elsewhere? This is important because that practice severely would limit a Demand Media writer’s ability to earn money elsewhere from unreleased, unpublished material that Demand Media would continue to hold for however long.

      5. Libel/Defamation of Character: How would Demand Media handle a writer’s use of Internet-verifiable direct quotes that are libelous in nature and unbeknown to the writer? Example: According to Dr. Whoever of some hospital, the drug Chantix “contains toxic ingredients that cause patients to commit suicide or cause harm to others.” Dr. Whoever cites John Doe, of Anytown, USA, who, after taking Chantix, said he “felt like killing everyone.” Let’s assume every quote is Internet-verifiable on the hospital website. When John Doe sees the Demand Media story and wants a retraction, correction or clarification, who is responsible for addressing his concerns? And is Dr. Whoever directly liable for his Chantix statements or Demand Media or the Demand Media writer?

      The bottomline: Are Demand Media writers legally held accountable for merely passing on Internet-verifiable quotes and information that were libelous in nature from the beginning? Technically, this situation is called the “conduit” fallacy. This is why I think some kind of media law seminar would be beneficial to Demand Media writers.

      So sorry this is so long, but I want to do my own due diligence before attempting to jump on the content farm hay wagon. I’m all for making more money, but I don’t want to compromise my integrity and reputation as a reporter for the sake of making an extra buck.

      Thanks in advance … should you again take the extra time and patience to answer my questions.

    • Lynne

      1. No. Teachers, attorneys, doctors, physicists (well, maybe), single moms, college students and others write for DS. A degree is not required. BUT. LiveStrong has more stringent requirements for experience, training, etc. I do not know what those are.
      2. You’d have to ask an editor. I don’t know. Many books are not verifiable by the editor since they are not online, and those are allowed as references. Really, though, why would a writer want to spend money for long-distance phone calls, or gasoline for in-person interviews? Tax-deductible, sure, but that benefit doesn’t happen until next April.
      3. Right. A press credential isn’t necessary unless a writer wants to attend some event and possibly learn something or make contacts for resources (who can be queried via e-mail). Many freelance writers, especially those who write for trades, have no credentials and can’t be members of some press associations.
      4a. I always thought you could trademark but not copyright a phrase. You can’t copyright a title. DS is not above copyright law. You need to ask DS the question, as I don’t speak for the company.
      4b. Rejected – no. DS never owned the copyright in the first place. Abandoned – if the title goes back in the pool, the writer’s work evaporates, so there is nothing to copyright.

      5. No clue. Again, you’d have to ask DS. If the site is the CDC, I guess we’re all in trouble if they’re wrong. The company published the story, so I’d guess they’re as liable as whatever newspaper you work for is if you write a story with this type of information in it. I don’t think there is a way to retract anything from the Internet. Unlike a printed story, however, the story on the Internet can be changed.

      Most of the people writing for DS aren’t going to quote someone unless they are sure the quote is safe, i.e. a doctor talking about possible side effects of a drug. You know how it’s done, I’m sure. “Doctor XYZ claims” “Possible side effects” and my all-time favorite, “alleged.”

      That’s how newspapers do it, too. Either you are careful to keep the onus off yourself or you don’t write it.

      This is an interesting conversation!

    • Hyper-local News Hound

      Lynne: I can’t thank you enough for taking the extra time and patience to explain how things work at Demand Media. I wasn’t sure if you would be willing to respond to my “inquisition,” so I did e-mail my questions and concerns to Demand Media. If I play my cards right, maybe I could turn my inquiry into an interview with the owner(s) of Demand Media.

      As I’m sure you and many at Demand Media have heard that old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” As a reporter with an inquiring and cynical mind, I can’t help but think there is something fishy going on behind the scenes.

      Do you or any other Demand Media writers who you know ever feel like you’re waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop? It’s been a decade since the big “dot.com” bust … how long do you think this tech boom will last?

      Geez … I’m at it again! Sorry, Lynne. I’ll direct my questions to the proper source. But this whole content farm thing is very intriguing.

      I think, for now, I’ll just sit back and observe for awhile before jumping into this decade’s bubble.

      Thanks again, Lynne! You have been super-nice and informative. And you have the patience of a saint for responding to me.

      Take care and best wishes!

    • Lynne

      Heck, I’m nosy as heck, too, Hyper.

      No, I don’t feel like the other shoe is going to drop. I feel like I need to work more and get bigger paychecks. :)

      I’m sure the content farm thing will change, but I don’t think it will go away. Despite what some people think, the articles have value to readers who just need some quick guidance on getting copies of divorce papers in another state or who are merely curious about where that celebrity was born or who are hosting a party for kids and desperately need ideas to keep them busy. Who has time to look up all the resources for those things? And who thinks their local newspaper can or even wants to provide these answers?

      If I live in Minnesota and want to go to the Daytona 500 but can’t afford a hotel, I want to know where I can camp close to the racetrack and what there is to do when the race isn’t underway.

      This information isn’t valuable to your city editor, unless you’re in Daytona. The information is only valuable to a percentage of racing fans going to Daytona for the first time. None of them read your paper, so how else can they find out, and find out quickly? And are they going to research individual campgrounds, or get a “digest” to help them plan which campgrounds might best fit their budget?

      It’s just different. I don’t think every subject will ever be covered. Like the cartoon of the guy sitting at the computer staring in disbelief at the message, “You have reached the end of the Internet. What would you like to do next?”

      Will you post what you find out about DS? Or are you saving it for an article (to which I hope you’ll post a link)?

    • Hyper-Local News Hound,

      Great questions and great points, very much reflective of my thoughts when I got into this business two years ago. But I’ve learned a few things since then. (I write about it on my blog.)

      Too good to be true? You’ve articulated what most people wonder when they start writing for the “content farms.” But it’s not – well, certainly not more than being hired in conventional media is “too good to be true” (which it usually is, once you find out your editor isn’t supportive, work politics take up too much of your energy, your supposedly spiffy work health plan can’t get you a doctor’s visit without a three month waiting period, you don’t get the respect you were promised, and all the other assorted disillusionments of the working world ).

      Content farms are pulp magazines. Those weren’t too good to be true. They were incredibly lucrative transitional media, and they enabled creative individuals to pursue innovative endeavors, resulting in an explosion of wildly popular genre fiction and film and print magazines, not to mention social, biological, and physical science research and inventions.

      The opportunity appears too good to be true because we haven’t seen the like in about a century. What we’ve been seeing for several decades, hegemonically, is slow economic decline, in which wealthy entities have gotten wealthier and competition amongst individuals has become fiercer.

      The inability to get ahead has become so prevalent that Generations X and Y are seen as valueless, because they can’t compete in the working world with the entrenched older generations (and recognize the fact, and say “to hell with that.”).

      In the last few decades, society’s gone bonkers offering multiple degrees in a thousand fields, along with certifications, test-taking aids, and other career assissts. That is not about specialization or making people eminently qualified; it’s about competition.

      When the competition decreases because more work is available and more hands are needed, then entrepreuneurs draw from the pool. And this means a lot of raw talent that hasn’t been seen in decades gets a chance to develop.

      Opportunities for individuals with no requirements for official certifications, just plenty of talent and willingness and time to work, are exploding for the first time since the 1920s and 1930s. Your average twenty-something and housewife and the new breed of househusband now has a chance to write for content farms OR themselves online.

      Demand Media and its assorted content producers are making money not off a flash-in-the-pan opportunity, but because Richard Rosenblatt spotted a worldwide economic shift. That same shift is responsible for the economic depression, believe it or not.

      Lynne was very right when she said the content farm model will change. It will go through major changes, as will online advertising models. Gradually, we’re all moving online. Every one of us. The world.

      And what we’re experiencing now is nothing to what we’ll see when digital language translation software becomes good. Imagine billions of Chinese, Russian, Indian, etc. people speaking to the English people of the world for the first time. Imagine what that will do to commerce.

      It’s an economic necessity. The world’s resources can’t support the kind of consumption that underpinned the 20th century growth model. (No, I’m not saying we’re becoming communist. Old economic models, all of them, are going away, and new ones are appearing, with strange new faces.)

      As we all get online, everything will change, in an almost bizarre futuristic sci-fi manner.

      You can see this from history. Each time a new mode of transportation supplants the old, people change where they are and where they can go, will go, and want to go. This changes the face of commerce. It was true with the wheel, the horse, the boat, etc.

      In the modern world, the railroad changed where your everyday, non-pioneer person could live and move on a day-to-day basis. It brought Sears homes to America (Research the history of the Sears homes and think about the mortgage bubble when you do. They had a huge impact. It’s very revealing.) The recessions of the late 19th century followed.

      The automobile caused a similar, but far more revolutionary, upheaval decades later. It brought suburbs. A new kind of production. A new kind of distribution.

      In the early 20th century, we saw an explosion of new opportunity for the “little guy,” followed by a depression that marked the end of the horse-and-carriage-to-railroad model of commerce, and the beginning of an economic system where people could move in different ways – and did.

      How does this relate to the Internet? The Internet is not a new mode of communication – or not only. It’s a new mode of transportation. People are putting themselves in different places. This seemingly innocuous change is huge. Because of it, the airline, construction, banking, automotive, and other industries are toppling.

      People are moving away from cities. They’re relying less on the car. They’re moving online seeking information, jobs, and (since 1996) products.

      Demand Media might very well fall, if and when its writers learn they can write for themselves for more profit. (I haven’t written for Demand Studios in over a year, because I am publishing on my own now.) But not online writing. That won’t go away for a long time.

      It’s not too good to be true. There will be crashes. But it’s not going the way of the hula hoop.

    • Perhaps we want to stop and discuss what we are all describing as “journalism”?

      Perhaps we need new words to cover the difference in what’s being “reported”?

      Whatever happen to the words “copywriter” or “content writer”?

      On the issue of being paid what your worth mentioned more then a few times here: Can we suppose that Watergate reporter Daniel Schorr might have covered the story differently if he had being paid by the word?

      Can people afford to spend a lot of time in the search of truth anymore? (What about the sometimes required tongue loosening money, buying your informant a drink, tolls, and travel costs?)

      And as far as getting your news from Jay Leno – while that may be the truth for many, I don’t know that I would brag that it’s my only source. Dave Letterman does a pretty good job don’t you think?

      Do you think more journalism schools should require a minor in comedy just to insure higher employability?

      Maybe journalism schools should have a “minimum word per minute typing test” requirement before graduation to insure a better living standard for those they call graduates?

      What do journalism schools actually think about these subjects discussed above anyway?

      Lastly, isn’t this what journalistic photographers have to kvetch about with every Tom, Dick, and Jane with a cell phone on Youtube?

      Could they be called “copy-photographers”? Or maybe “filler-photographers”? Is that only true if they took that cell phone pic while in their jammies? (I’ll start looking for folks in their jammies at the next political convention.)

      I have a point here – maybe some of you will be able to read between my lines.

      Oh and we didn’t even get to talk about the word schlock… (Yiddish has been a lovely lender to the English language hasn’t it?)

      MadelineHere
      http://www.180DegreesStudio.com

    • Lynne

      Nope, didn’t get it, Madeline. Many magazines (and newspapers, if you’re a stringer) pay by the word. Does a writer do more or less for that paycheck than he would if he’s on salary at a magazine or newspaper? Was Daniel Schorr highly paid BEFORE Watergate?

      Who bragged that they get their news from Jay Leno?

      What is a “journalistic photographer”? And why do you think “we are all” describing content as journalism? Content articles are not journalism and I don’t remember anyone saying they were. Journalists cover news and content is not news. I don’t get the confusion and I still don’t understand the snobbery dripping from some of the comments here.

      MadelineHere said, “What about the sometimes required tongue loosening money, buying your informant a drink, tolls, and travel costs?)”

      In the old days, newspaper ethics prohibited paying for information. If that has changed, shame on them. In any event, you’re still talking as if you think the kind of articles produced at DS are news. I cannot imagine anyone in any segment of DS needing to have an informant.

      NerdWriterMom’s comment is better than the original article in so many ways.

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