Are newspapers content farms?

I disagreed with a recent blog post by Alan Patrick which described the Huffington Post as a content farm. I do not think that the alleged lack of original content at the Huffpo is any worse than at many newspapers: so I concluded that it is not a content farm. It could be interpreted the other way: newspapers are content farms too.

How much original content is there in newspapers. Lets look at the last ten stories in the Guardian RSS feed. This is a random sample from one of the best newspapers in Britain:

  1. North and South Korea military talks collapse: this refers to Reuters and South Korean media, and mostly appears to be a rewrite of the Reuters article.
  2. Next comes UK trade deficit hits record £9.2bn. It is simply data from the ONS summary together with quotes from two economists. There is some original content, in that someone has phoned two economists and got quotes from them.
  3. A video interview of artist Sean Scully finally gives us some entirely original material. Not news, not something I liked, but it is original content.
  4. Skipping a half hour tech podcast because its really several items in itself, and also because it was too boring for me to sit through, we have Woman dies after buttock injection. It is bylined “agencies”, so is presumably copied straight off a wire service.
  5. Kenneth Clarke rejects claim of threat to supreme court independence. This is just a report of a BBC radio interview of a politician, together with extracts from an already widely reported speech by the president of the supreme court.
  6. A review of the latest transformers film is original, but not exactly earth-shatteringly noteworthy. Not news again.
  7. William Hague reveals fears for Middle East peace process. This is taken from an interview in The Times, and combined with quotes from the Israeli prime minister (already reported), from the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, and an “analyst”. I think I begin to see a pattern.
  8. Our surrogacy laws put children at risk: this is actually pretty good, and original. This may be because it is by Afua Hirsch, a former barrister, rather than a typical journalist.
  9. LSE to merge with Canada’s TMX is mostly taken from the press release with a few extra low added value snippets (early price reaction, global ranking of combined exchange, four lines of background) thrown in.
  10. North and South Korea to hold reunion talks. I cannot prove it, but the style, and the fact that it is by the same correspondent (based in Tokyo), I would be very surprised if this is not another re-write of stuff from news wires.

The Guardian contains both good and original content, but the articles that are good are not original, and those that are original are not good, with the possible exception of Aufa Hirsch’s article.

What value comes from a newspaper? There are only three pieces of really original content out of the ten I looked at, and two of those are related to the arts and are not really what I would call news (nothing wrong with that, of course).

Journalists are more skilled reporters and better writers than those who churn out stuff for the likes of Demand Media. They add some original content by chasing up quote, but that is really all they add. If the Guardian is not a content farm, most of it is not very different from one.

4 thoughts on “Are newspapers content farms?

  1. I thought it was the Grauniad I had put in their place, not you :-).

    I am a but sceptical about bot curated news (thanks for mentioning it) going to that extent, but Google news does a reasonable job or aggregating and classifying stories from many sources.

    Without bot curated, the editorial function could be carried out a lot more cheaply than the newspaper way: no re-writes, just link to news wires and other primary sources and to comments on blogs.

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