Huffington Post Attracts New Round of Criticism

Calacanis Attacks Content Farms

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Earlier this week, I asked how much content is too much? The premise is that the web and search engine results are being saturated with content in all areas, and most of it is coming from a handful of companies – companies like Demand Media and AOL/Huffington Post. 

Demand Media has come under plenty of fire, and even more so in recent weeks on the heels of its IPO and Google’s indications that it is looking to improve search quality by going after content farms. The timing of the AOL acquisition of The Huffington Post plays right into this storyline.

Criticism is not a new thing for the Huffington Post, but given the company’s new acquisition and these other events, the spotlight is really on the HuffPost’s model now. 

Particularly harsh words come from LA Times columnist Tim Rutten, who says, "To grasp the Huffington Post’s business model, picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates."

"The media-saturated environment in which we live has been called ‘the information age’ when, in fact, it’s the data age," he writes. "Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use. Though AOL and the Huffington Post claim to have staked their future on giving visitors to their sites online journalism, what they actually provide is ‘content,’ which is what journalism becomes when it’s adulterated into a mere commodity."

Jason Calacanis on Content Farms and Huffington PostJason Calacanis, who runs Mahalo, spoke at Federated Media’s Signal event this week, where he reportedly said that 80% of the Huffington Post is simply rehashing of other people’s content, and that "It’s mind blowing to me when I see the Huffington Post beating the people who are doing the original reporting" in Google (via Danny Sullivan). 

Calacanis also reportedly asked advertisers not to support poor content after showing a Mahalo article deemed higher in quality, compared to eHow articles on the same subject. "You shouldn’t put your ads next to sub-par content. We will not make content unless we have an expert. Demand Media will make content if someone will take $10," he is quoted as saying, adding, "Google is figuring it out. eHow makes Google look stupid."

Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt has gone out of his way in the past to separate his company’s content from journalism. "Only the journalists call it journalism," he said about a year ago at SXSW. He had a point. How to articles are quite different from current events. Current events, however, are the HuffPost’s specialty. And comments from Rosenblatt in an IPO roadshow document from Demand Media seem to suggest that current events aren’t out of the question for DM. "We don’t, today, do news," (emphasis added). 

As we’ve said all along, it’s really up to Google and the other search engines to solve the problem of lackluster quality in search results, though as Sullivan points out in another piece covering a Demand Media session at the Signal event, sometimes there just aren’t any quality results for a query. The content farms preach the importance of quality, and the quality is indeed there sometimes, but it’s clearly not across the board, and many suggest that the wages (if any) earned by contributors simply aren’t enough to foster quality content.

Huffington Post Attracts New Round of Criticism
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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Journalists are feeling threatened by the Internet these days so we can expect to see them venting, but what will continue to set real journalism apart from simple content generation will be the standards that journalists (and their publishers and editors) choose to adhere to.

    Is the National Enquirer a legitimate journalistic source? Maybe when they break important stories they are, but what about when they publish flippy pseudo-news?

    The line isn’t drawn by some stodgy external authority — it’s drawn by the publishers and the journalists, not by ranting but by setting and upholding standards.

  • David Sarokin

    All these thought pieces — about whether it’s fair for HuffPo to show at the top of search results, or whether writers can really produce quality how-tos at ten dollars a pop — are really besides the point.

    A search engine’s job is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Google results are (or at least, should be) driven by the quality and utility of the results for the searcher. A real journalist doesn’t just whine about content farms, but shows the search results that prove their point that the chaff is outranking the wheat.

    I use Google a hundred times a day. It’s results are still top-notch, as far as I’m concerned. The presence of content farms and data-vs-information-vs-journalism is neither here nor there. Quality is still showing up on top.

    Let’s see some fact-driven journalism here, folks, not just anguished hand-wringing about the fact that world is changing around you.

    • Chris Crum

      Like this?

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com MrAndrewJ

    I’m really glad to learn that so many other people also disapprove strongly of the Huffington Post’s business practices.

    Considering how much money the people at the top have made from the unpaid and stolen work of others, I would feel great happiness in the HuffPo forever more being referred to as a “Content Plantation.”

    Left wing or capitalist, it’s pretty disgusting to see someone make that much money off of the unpaid labor of others.

    The Huffington Post is a Content Plantation.

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