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.