It seems like we hear the word “content” all the time—more so in the past five years or so. Perhaps this is because, with the rise of the internet and devices, anyone can create content and share it. And a lot of people do.
The result is that a lot more content exists. Further, since we all have computers in our pockets, we consume that content at an astounding rate. We spend hours of every day absorbing what others share online.
While we might first think of content as text, the definition is actually much broader than that. Content is basically any substantial material on a website, such as text, images, music or video. Many sites produce all of these media types, and so need a crew of content creators and managers to ensure quality presentation.
The thing is, some people take issue with the way we use the word “content,” and how its connotations impact traditional journalism.
Does “Content” Degrade Journalism?
People are talking about a problem that the proliferation of content creates in the realm of journalism. Jon Christian of Slate bemoans the demand for “content” from publications such as Politico and Fortune, both of which mentioned the word in job postings for reporters and editors.
The problem seems not so much about the existence or definition of content—indeed, journalism is a type of content—but the lumping in of journalism with its numerous other categories.
Christian discusses the content spectrum, which ranges from hard journalism and quality satire all the way down to ridiculous quizzes about which cartoon character one identifies with. His opinion is that referring to journalism as content waters it down, and reduces it from an entity of sources and facts to one of interchangeable units and page views.
He goes on to suggest that the journalism-as-content approach leads to sloppy research, and thinly sourced pieces that lack context and originality. Pressured by management, journalists scramble to cover the trending stories, thinking about traffic more than serious investigation.
Ultimately, Christian says, established journalism is taking the hit, with veterans being laid off at rapid rates and coverage scaling back as a result.
Not only is the idea of journalism changing while we see a rise in mid- to low-quality content—many pillars of true journalism are forced to play along, and pander to the masses of listicle clickers and meme sharers.
A Darker Side of True Journalism
There’s more to the difference than quality, however.
Back in 2014, Danny Crichton of TechCrunch reminded us of a significant distinction between journalism and other content:
This distinction between content and journalism matters, because journalism often comes with serious side effects. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the reporters at the heart of the Snowden leaks, have faced one confrontation after another in transiting across borders from their work. Such treatment doesn’t exist for Hollywood movie producers, BuzzFeed cat picture caption writers, or bloggers writing about how journalism is not content production. We shouldn’t necessarily consider journalism a more honorable profession given this fierce opposition, but neither should we equate it with simply placing words or pictures online.
Sobering, especially when we remember that more than 100 journalists were killed around the world in 2015.
While most content creators can sit safely at desks, and approach their work from a marketing standpoint more than an investigative one, true journalists aren’t afraid to spark controversy. Crichton talks about how journalists need the freedom to investigate and get to the truth of matters, even if that means taking a hard look at a news organization’s own advertisers or sponsors.
Unfortunately, the influence of corporations on the news media makes it harder and harder for journalists to maintain that freedom. But that’s a story for another day.
Google Favors Quality and Relevance
If Google has anything to say about it (and it does, of course), quality content and serious journalism are probably going to win out in the end anyway. The Google Algorithms get frequent updates, including some aimed at surfacing the highest quality and most relevant content in the search results.
Google also maintains something called the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.” We emphasized the relevance of this internal Google documentation back in 2014, and the company has since updated the manual.
An item of note in the newest version of the quality rater manual is the Overall Page Quality Rating Scale. This is a five-point scale for overall page quality including lowest, low, medium, high and highest.
Here’s a breakdown of what it takes to get top ratings, mid-level ratings and low ratings:
- Highest Quality Pages: the highest level of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) in the main content and the publishers/individual authors behind them, as well as a very high customer service reputation.
- High Quality Pages: a high level of E-A-T in the main content, as well as satisfying information on the website, who’s behind it and how it serves customers.
- Medium Quality Pages: achieve their purpose with a relatively neutral level of E-A-T, often exhibiting both high and low quality characteristics.
- Low Quality Pages: unsatisfying and do not achieve their purpose, and show no true level of E-A-T in the main content.
- Lowest Quality Pages: created to harm, mislead or misinform users or make money without meaning to be of any service, as well as pages that promote hate or violence toward certain groups of people.
Promoting quality and relevance is also supported by things like the Panda algorithm, which was a change to Google’s search results ranking algorithm that was implemented in 2011. The point of Panda is to lower the ranking of low-quality sites, returning solid news other content to the top spots.
Today, Panda is part of Google’s core ranking signals, and continues to promote quality search results.
Create Better Content, Support Serious Journalism
Serious content writers appreciate quality, not to mention the blood, sweat and tears that go into creating it.
One of the best ways to support excellent content across the board is to make it better yourself. If you have the opportunity to share something on the internet, take the time to make it worth the time of those consuming it.
The Content Marketing Institute has a few tips on how to do that, and they come from—you guessed it—traditional journalism.
- Write attention-grabbing, informative, genuine headlines.
- Know your audience and what they’re looking for.
- Check your facts and go directly to original sources when possible.
- Avoid distractions, such as flashy ads, poorly placed forms and too many images or links.
- Be honest and transparent about potential bias.
- Look for the bigger picture about industries and issues.
Our content creators at bizbuzzcontent Inc. take certain, specific steps to ensure the quality of the pieces we write:
- We work with a lot of reports, and while plenty of sites refer to them in reliable ways, we always try to find the original report itself to verify data during our research.
- We avoid filler words like “that” and excessive passive voice. Ultimately, these fillers counter concise writing.
- We don’t simply rephrase other writers’ words (to avoid plagiarism), but pull out the details we need and cite the source. Creating a truly fresh article requires using multiple sources to support an original idea.
- In general, we strive to answer the “5Ws” and the “H” (who, what, why, when, where and how) to cover all the details and questions readers might have.
- When we encounter buzzwords or jargon, we explain them to keep the writing basic and accessible to all readers.
- We implement multiple levels of editing, where multiple people read a piece of content (sometimes multiple times!) before it goes to the client.
As content creators, we have an opportunity to take responsibility for web content for the businesses and brands we write for. Unlike journalism, online content has no real guidelines or “policing” (except from Google, of course).
Content creators can be part of the white noise, or we can create something that deserves to be singled out. Whether you’re making videos about cute kittens or writing about conflicts in the Middle East, you have the chance to vote for quality.