Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's easier to hate "anonymous"

Like lots of internet writer idealists who work on small news websites, I've long been annoyed (on my good days) at so-named content farms, like ehow.com. They're defined on Wikipedia as:

... a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views.[1] 

The big criticism is that these sites value page views, which attract dollars, over providing the best relevant information. Google has recently announced that it had changed its search algorithm to push these results further down.

The reason I've been down on them is that the small, independent teen newspaper I work for struggles to get page views, particularly our new adult-editor-written blog. Granted, we're not writing nearly often enough, nor maximizing our social media outreach to truly accumulate page views. Buuuuuuuuut at the same time, I hate that we'll never have the resources to simply publish post after post of keyword-jammed, semi-relevant-at-best articles just to increase our Google page rank as content farms are criticized for doing.

The result has been that like most of Internet users, I've found an anonymous villain to hate. Well, until Monday night. It turns out I know someone who writes for content farms. I've never had an in-person meeting with Christine Margiotta-Geraci, but we've known each other for years. She was a student at Newhouse who wanted to ask me some questions about the Albany Times Union. I answered and we struck up an e-mail "friendship" over the years. I've admired her drive as she went from interning at the TU to various other papers across the Capital Region and now to a public relations job for a school district.

I recently discovered her blog, which is linked to above and definitely worth reading if you're into social media, and in her most recent post she outed herself as a content farmer, someone whom I once considered "my enemy." And in fact the enemy of a truly democratic digital domain.

Well, like virtually everyone in 2011, who hasn't been the beneficiary of a Barack delivered extension of the GW Bush deficit-causing tax cuts, Christine has been trying to get creative earning some extra cash. I'll quick excerpt and let her explain:

I accept the fact that some of the stuff I’ve written for content farms is total crap. ... But when I put it into perspective, I’m still writing. ... There are so many worse things I could be doing for less pay that would require me to spend time away from my family. ... I’m not looking for sympathy. I felt the need to share my perspective plainly and honestly, because I’m tired of people bashing content farms and their writers when they don’t know the stories behind the stories.

Allow me be the first of the content farm haters to apologize, Christine. I feel like a Republican who has just learned that a longtime friend is the recipient of a government "handout" that he wants to cut in the name of inefficient bureaucracy.

So I'm done begrudging anonymous writers for trying to make a living. The economy sucks and the poor are getting ignored while the middle class is getting turned into the poor, because Barack and the Dems are wilting in the radioactive glow of John Boehner's orange-glo. What we really need is a content farm union!

1 comment:

christinegeraci said...

No need to apologize Mike. Thanks for the great post.