AOL's Hundreds of New Content-Generators: Journalism or Content Spam?

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Abandon hope, all ye traditional journalists who enter here: AOL has plans to be the "world's largest producer of high-quality content" and is hiring "hundreds" more content-generators to fill up its 17 new "super networks" of content.

AdAge is reporting that the new staff will be journalists, editors, and videographers, and they'll join the payroll throughout the next year, possibly doubling it from the current 500 editors. The big push comes directly from the president of AOL's media and studios division, David Eun, and it's due to be revealed at a company meeting today. Part of the new strategy will see all AOL's content squeezed into 17 "super networks" so that similar content is available in one place, partly for consumer purposes, partly for more efficient selling to advertisers. The 17 channels will be split into the usual categories you're already familiar with: Family will have parent's and kid's stuff, Finance will cover global financial stories, Sports is self-evident, as are Movies and Music. There'll also be "Communities" which will include networks like AOL Latino.

But the biggest change is the swell in AOL staff numbers. Eun has stated the aim is to make AOL the "world's largest producer of high-quality content" and he'll be augmenting those extra "hundreds" of permanent staff with potentially thousands more freelancers, augmenting the 40,000-odd freelancers already on their books. To tailor the content these folk produce, AOL will be putting an assessment system in place, to measure the "value" of any piece of content by seeing how many readers click-through to it, how long they dwell there, and how much ad revenue spins from the piece.

To many media people this news will send a cold chill down their spines--reminiscent as it is of Nick Denton's controversial and game-challenging "pay-per-click" system applied throughout his Gawker network of blogs. And to the casual man in the street who's appreciative of the existing norms of publishing, it'll sound very worrisome. Where are the guarantees of quality? Where is the promise to stand by, or at least bear in mind journalistic norms and best-practices? Will this content be truly valuable, or will the pay-per-content system result in a spiral into reams of AOL-branded trashy chaff, produced to titillate rather than illuminate? Given AOL's checkered history in terms of providing quality products, and accusations that it's already heavily littered the world with millions of CDs to promote its old ISP service, these worries may be well-founded. Words like these, from AOL's president of global advertising Jeff Levick don't help: "We have insights into our audience, and can produce content they want, which leads to engagement, which leads to what advertisers want." Content that ultimately snares the consumer, by hook or by crook, for the benefit of the advertisers? Doesn't sound like journalism to us.

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