Fast Food Journalism

Once upon a time…

people used to read the “New York Times”, “Wall Street Journal” or “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. Symbols for an independent and investigative press.

But every fairy tale needs a wolf:

Richard Rosenblatt, founder and CEO of the internet company “Demand Media”, is 40 years old and usually described as a hyperactive, charismatic, taint and quiet easygoing guy. His office is located inSanta Monica, the sun shines 10 hours a day. He smiles: His company made a profit of 200 Million Dollar last year.

Demand Media is the answer to our question. The company focuses on “Long-tail”- searches, such as “How to use a tooth brush correctly” or “How to became a rock star”. If you type one of those questions into google you will find immediately on the first page a bunch of answers, maybe some from websites as e.how.com, Howcast,com or answers.com. Short, uncomplicated content. Direct answer. Little professional knowledge.

Demand mediauploads up to 4000 articles every day. An algorithm tells the managers which phrases or words will be the most popular in the coming year and how successful they can be connected to advertisers. The free lancers (you can apply easily via their homepage) can choose their topic and create the fitting answer as text or video. The material is then spread on youtube and on their other about 45 websites. The system works. Every month more than 50 million people surf on Demand media’s websites and are satisfied with their fast and efficient search. What they get are high- speed-written short answers, neither profound nor professional. Fast-Food so to speak. As Rosenblatt explains himself:

“We would never report about the war in Afghanistan or a political reform. The content of a story like this is expensive and won’t have long interest”

 Demand Media specializes more on “evergreens”. Timeless questions regarding life, family, career or every-day- problems. They promise a life time of 5 to 10 years for the article until it has to be renewed.

Demand Media is stabilized up by circa 500 employees. Some software engineers, some marketing or search engine experts, a few journalists. But most of the workers – the authors- were delegated trough the “Crowdsourcing-Model” and work free-lanced, paid per article ($15) or video ($20). Also tasks as editing ($2,50) or “fact-check” ($1) are possible. Not only jobless journalists improve their salary here, also underemployed vats, psychologists or financial advisers.

And where does the money come from?

The more the 3 billion search requests are analyzed and their current advertisement- value calculated. Then the advisers offer and bid money on the website space. Demand media is one of the biggest suppliers of youtube videos and connected to them also get a share of their ad – revenues. Other content is also spread on specialized social-networks for golf, outdoor, health or science fiction fans. Always connected with good chosen and placed advertisement.

Demand media is the horror vision of every studied and research-loving journalist. Rosenblatt the favourite enemy of the world of press.

Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at theNew YorkUniversity, calls him “devilish” and critics call his work “ digital content-farm” and “answer-factory”. Michael Arrington (Silicon-Valley-Blog) is afraid of a so to speak “competition downwards the line”. Who is faster, cheaper, shorter? Media containing time, value and content are pushed out of the business.

Rosenblatt can’t understand the trouble and keeps on repeating the same answer:

“We are no new journalism, not even a form of it. I would never call it like that.”

Fact is: The internet starts looking like one of those city centres full of “55-Cent-Shops” and what we call “Resterampen”. Or even better: Fast-Food resturants. Fast, cheap but at the end you feel still hungry for more. If you want to find serious analyzes, nice written stories or detailed information – click on google page 2 or 3 and start searching. The rest might be “bought” anyway. I guees us internet users still have to learn how to surf – so nobody would buy a BILD instead of e.g. SPIEGEL to get informed. We just have to figure out how that system works on the net…. Good luck and be aware of the wolf and his big mouth.

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About angiethiem

Berlin-city-girl. 20 years old. Student of the HWR Berlin, International Business Management. Passion: overkills, dancing, nerds. View all posts by angiethiem

One response to “Fast Food Journalism

  • domwoj

    Hey angie.
    Serious topic you wrote about this time, but quite important.
    Demand Media seems to be, for me, nothing more than a money making machine.
    Maybe there are a couple of useful things they offer, but as our time is limited nowadays we should engage ourselves with the high quality journalism-content.
    I think you clearly pointed out the difference between Demand Media and a profound press like The New York Times. Moreover you summarized, above all with the comparison to fast food, the sense of your concern very effective.
    The only thing missing for me was at least one link to the page of Demand Media.
    Beside that, Well done!

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