Yesterday, I wrote a column contrasting the attitude towards ‘content’ displayed by old and new media. My conclusion was that, in the Internet world, quality, originality and exclusivity are fast becoming irrelevant. Instead, online publications increasingly treat content as low-paid, illiterate swill, commissioned by the ton to provide SEO ad inventory.
To show that the phenomenon wasn’t limited to online-only brands, I gave the example of Forbes.com – with its mish-mash of celebrity slideshows and tacky lists of ‘Americas best paying blue-collar jobs’ and ‘hottest summer convertibles’. Since the column was posted, I’ve spoken to a number of former and current Forbes employees who (off the record, naturally) have expressed agreement with my criticisms. Forbes’ obsession with page views at all costs (or, rather, no cost) is just plain embarrassing.
But clearly the company have taken my criticism to heart: earlier today Paul Maidment, chief editor of Forbes.com, tendered his resignation, while new ‘chief product officer’ Lewis Dvorkin called an on-the-record meeting to announce a bold new online strategy for the company. Prior to joining Forbes, Dvorkin was founder and CEO of crowdsourced news site, True/Slant, which was acquired by Forbes back in May. And, what’s his bold plan to improve the journalistic standards of one of the world’s most respected business publications?
That Forbes.com will soon be opening its doors to 1000s of unpaid contributors and that [rather than commissioning quality in-house journalism] “Forbes editors will increasingly become curators of talent”.
There are almost not enough words to describe how wrong-headed this move is: Forbes’ online editorial standards are already in the toilet and Dvorkin has just yanked on the flush. Not only will this new breed of hacks add thousands of pages of self-promotional, unedited (Forbes simply doesn’t have the resources to monitor thousands of contributors) drivel to Forbes.com but, by lowering the barrier to entry to anyone with a keyboard, the publication will also scare away those top tier contributors – captains of industry, statesmen and the like – who are prepared to pen a free article for Forbes just for the kudos that comes from being asked.
I vented my frustrations on Twitter to Forbes editor David M. Ewalt, who live-tweeted the meeting (and gave the “curators of talent” quote above). Loyal company man to the last, Ewalt defended his boss’ lunacy and pointed out that he “never said [the contributors] would be unpaid.”
Sure. Forbes, which is already so desperate for ad revenue that it has to run slideshows of supermodels who have started their own businesses, are going to pay the “thousands” of news contributors that Dvorkin announced, and Ewalt retweeted? No – they’ll do what the Huffington Post does: pay a meager stipend to a tiny percentage top traffic drivers to save face, and then expect the rest to work “for the exposure”. As the old saying goes, people die from exposure – but in this case, it might just be the whole publication that’s not long for this world.
Ewalt’s response: “In theory, the idea of a large body of writers rewarded for good work is a great thing. I’m not against decentralizing journalism… but I think we can both agree the execution of that theory is a very tricky business.”
Tricky, like turning horseshit into gold is tricky.