Robots versus journalists - Monocolumn | Monocle


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24 September 2012

Content provider is one of the uglier terms to have slipped into everyday vocabulary. It stems from the internet referring to a person or organisation that delivers the content to fill the software; the meat to go on the bones. But thanks to the surge of online media, content provision has alarmingly become synonymous with journalism. The internet is like a beast that needs to be fed, more and faster. The systems, software and functionality that are continually being developed, streamlined and set in motion need content to make any sense. A lot of content, constantly.

The problem with this rampant hunger for words and pictures to fill up websites hardly needs explaining. There is a giant amount of nonsense and a lot of the nonsense can be found on numerous websites that might look or work a little differently but the nonsense is identical. Researching a tiny news story recently on the internet, I found the same 200-word piece on countless websites and blogs. The typos were intact on the few that I checked. Nowhere was there any analysis or attempt to look further, ask questions, contact sources, add to the story in any way. Or even correct misspellings. It was enough for each of these sites that the piece be shared – copy and pasted on a few more plots of the internet for a few more people to see. Not really news at all, just content.

It’s easy to be annoyed by the internet for its sprawling, unreliable and often failing function as a research tool. But the real danger is that the language and practise of content provision has broken out beyond the bounds of the web and made home in traditional forms of media too. The process of filling pages with print sounds passive when considered as content providing rather than journalism. It’s not so much about what the words say as the fact that they are there, filling white space, tucked neatly into grids.

“Who does your content?” is one of the stranger questions I’ve been asked of late. He was referring to the magazine. It conjured up images of people at desks, copy-and-pasting articles that mildly piqued their interest from various subscription websites, with which to fill the magazine. I asked if he meant who writes our articles and was met with a blank-faced “yes”, as if to say, “same difference”. I told him that we write all our own articles just as we commission all our own photography and went on to explain that we don’t consider the magazine’s contents as content per se. “You don’t buy pictures or articles at all?” he said with a surprise that verged on disdain. He came from the world of the web and further talk revealed he had little grasp or appreciation of how “old media” works, survives and thrives. That he was so shocked to hear we travel and interview face-to-face, not on Skype, was fairly alarming. “How can we expect people to pay for our magazine,” I asked, “if we haven’t invested in producing articles and pictures that aren’t available anywhere else?” Journalism is not content and journalists are not content providers. It’s time we tightened up their respective definitions again.


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