Wednesday, July 07, 2010

USAT smacked for 'assembly-line' travel content

In a new story about the rise of low-cost content producers known derisively as "content farms," The Wrap's Dylan Stableford writes: "If you ask most working journalists what they think about Associated Content, Demand Media or AOL’s Seed, you may hear a scoffing sound."

Former reporter Jason Fry, for one, pointed to USA Today’s Travel Tips, produced by Demand Studios, as evidence of “farmed” content that’s haphazardly produced.

“The stories read like first drafts, poorly organized and indifferently written,” Fry told Stableford. “Which gets at my problem with Demand and AC: These stories essentially ARE first drafts, because the economics of Demand's business model dictate that's what they must be. The business model doesn't allow time for another round of reporting or a wholesale rewrite that reorganizes this material more effectively. It's assembly-line content, and USA Today is letting this stuff carry its name.”

USAT's travel tips are shelf-stable; they need only be rotated according to season. While some are useful, many also include mind-numbingly obvious advice. For example, in a tip I found moments ago on six steps for planning a family cruise, here's Step 2:

"Determine the best time and length of your cruise. Cruises are contingent upon available vacation time and/or your family members' various commitments to work and school. In addition to the length of the cruise itself, you need to plan travel time to and from your embarkation point."

How about adding my suggestion for Step 7? "When you leave for the cruise, don't forget to lock your front door."


  1. Anyone who reads USA Today carefully will find many examples of outsourced junk finding its way in -- freelance stories that are poorly done and haphazardly edited, cringe-inducing "correspondent" files, wire stories that are notable only for how incompletely reported and badly written they are. And all the suits can do is throw money at "verticals," hoping that something will hit the jackpot.

  2. I wonder if Demand Media, etc., vets its freelancers for conflicts of interest?

  3. Pluck, the company hired by Hattiesburg, is part of Demand Media. Indeed, Pluck is the marketing side of Demand, and offers services similar to those offered by Ripple6. "In fact, consumers expect an open dialogue with the brands and products they purchase. We help transform traditional marketing and retail sites into two-way conversations, places where consumers can engage directly with brands and their offerings. With our wide array of social media tools and customizable content solutions, we help brands and retailers build engaging online destinations that inform consumers and empower them to evangelize their experiences to others."
    I think Demand Media is going to have a very bright future with corporate. Indeed, I read they are looking for $1.5 billion for an initial public offering so the investors among us might have something else to dabble with. Read their Web site. Interesting.

  4. Interesting: Demand Media's Editorial Advisory Board includes Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

  5. USAT's ad department loves Demand Media's product. The copy is informative in its way, yet not so controversial it pisses off some advertiser. A few weeks ago, Jim wrote something that stuck with me about how GCI was transitioning from a newspaper company to a marketing company. I think we see the future before us, and it is named Demand Media.

  6. 12:30 -- Sadly, I think you may be right. The trouble is content like that produced by Demand Media will generate a lot of online clicks because the stories will show up when you search for them on Google. The advertising folks shouldn't "like" the content though because they're customers will get no response.

    I might click through to a story that promises me good advice on booking a cruise, but the minute the writer tells me that I need to time it to my vacation time I'm off to another better site. I'm certainly not going to click any advertising links. I just won't be there long enough.

    Even more likely, I'll find sites that I trust and return to them repeatedly. There is not doubt that content farm providers can generate hits. If you write a story and do a good job with the SEO, people can find it. But hits aren't enough. The content has to have value to readers if it's going to have value to advertisers. Advertising folks who don't get this are just as shortsighted as GCI executives.

  7. We pay Demand Media over $650,000 a month (that is NOT a typo, btw) and this is the junk we receive. We also have a Content One team that produces stuff that is worse than Demand Media and that costs us over a million a month to operate!!!

    I think Gannett and USAToday have their priorities screwed up! Tara Connell (Gracia's girl) and Jack Williams (Gracia's boy) and the two people responsible for our content efforts!

  8. Unfortunately, this is what passes for journalism these days. I realize that I'm caught in a generational bubble, but just reading that content makes me sad.

  9. 9:49, are you talking about this site?


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