Why “The Content Graph” Is Not The Next Generation of News

A cou­ple weeks ago Scott Karp, founder of Publish2, began a blog post titled “The Content Graph and the Future of Brands” with:

Yesterday, two sto­ries from Aol’s DailyFinance appeared in the Sunday print edi­tion of the Daily Telegram, a news­pa­per in south­ern Michigan…Now I’m going to tell you why what you see on this page of the Daily Telegram could play a deci­sive role in the race between Aol, Demand Media, and Yahoo to win the prize of big brand adver­tis­ing on the web, and why it is also piv­otal to the future of news.

He goes on to detail the con­text for mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial inter­ac­tions between large-scale con­tent pro­duc­ers and tra­di­tional media insti­tu­tions. The idea that this is the future of news is distressing.

The empha­sis through­out the arti­cle is on large-scale con­tent pro­duc­tion. It focuses on the roles brand-names play in the con­struc­tion of news. This is mis­placed and, in my mind, ignores the lessons of the past decade.

How “The Content Graph” Sets Up Another Failed System

What Karp describes dif­fers lit­tle from the type of one-size-fits-all news pro­duc­tion that cre­ated orga­ni­za­tions run­ning large amounts of syn­di­cated con­tent. This tra­di­tional model of syn­di­ca­tion has no close con­nec­tion to the indi­vid­ual con­text and real­ity of read­ers. This is unchanged in Karp’s descrip­tion. A news­pa­per in south­ern Michigan run­ning sto­ries that appeared on Aol’s finance page is no dif­fer­ent than that same paper run­ning a story off the Associated Press wire about finance. What rel­e­vance does con­tent pro­duced for Aol have to do with south­ern Michigan? Those are sep­a­rate audi­ences and they deserve sep­a­rate content.

Furthermore, what’s the pitch for news orga­ni­za­tions here? There is not value in a news orga­ni­za­tion say­ing, “We take news sto­ries you already ignore online and put them in print.” That does not sound like a win­ning propo­si­tion or a way to build a healthy foun­da­tion for journalism.

If the best hope for news orga­ni­za­tions is to take con­tent from a strug­gling inter­net com­pany like Aol and repub­lish it in print we are in worse shape then pre­vi­ously imag­ined. Reinventing jour­nal­ism should be about new ideas and new mod­els for con­tent. It should not be about tired, failed meth­ods of con­tent syndication.

Losing Sight of the Individual

Lost among this col­lec­tion of high-profile brands is the indi­vid­ual. Throughout “The Content Graph,” Karp never once men­tions the role of a strong indi­vid­ual writer in this. All the focus is placed on imper­sonal brands.

Aol, Demand Media, and Yahoo are not even close to the top of my list of inspir­ing con­tent pro­duc­ers. Instead, I think of John Gruber, Dan Benjamin, Gina Trapani, and Jason Kottke. These are indi­vid­u­als who have lever­aged the power of today’s tools to cre­ate strong per­sonal pub­lish­ing powerhouses.

The tools we have at our dis­posal these days allow for an indi­vid­ual level of empow­er­ment that pro­vides a strong foun­da­tion for any news orga­ni­za­tion. From a news per­spec­tive this should be invig­o­rat­ing. It should drive us to think of inno­v­a­tive solu­tions to con­tent that do not revolve around cor­po­rate brand names.

Dan Benjamin, for exam­ple, pro­duces a series of pod­casts that indi­vid­u­ally pro­vide more value to me than any tra­di­tional news orga­ni­za­tion. What if news orga­ni­za­tions syn­di­cated this qual­ity con­tent that dealt with spe­cific con­texts instead of rely­ing upon vague, bland sto­ries? That would cer­tainly give the news orga­ni­za­tion more value to pitch to readers.

To power the future of news, I would put my money behind a col­lec­tion of these linch­pins. Individuals who under­stand their audi­ence and speak directly to expe­ri­ences are far more wor­thy of my atten­tion then a news orga­ni­za­tion repub­lish­ing worth­less con­tent that nobody reads on Aol anyway.