Yesterday, Gawker picked up an internal memo from an editor at AOL’s Rentedspaces.com to new editors that outlines the company’s editorial guidelines, as it attempts to transition to a media company. The approach is broken down into seven steps emphasizing aggregation, generating 300- to 500-word stories riffing off other outlet’s stories (sort of, uh, like I’m doing here) and above all, making content search-friendly.
Gawker also noted that AOL recently told the Wall Street Journal it is developing an algorithm to assign stories to freelancers based on Web searches and AOL ISP subscribers.
That follows the path of Demand Media, which uses an algorithm that mines search data, traffic patterns and keyword rates to commission stories/videos based on what online users want to know and how much advertisers will pay for it, largely eliminating editors from the process except for a few who decipher the algorithm results. (Demand also uses its algorithm as way to cut content costs and pay contributors as little as $15 per article, as FOLIO: senior online editor Jason Fell noted recently.)
The AOL memo offers good advice including, "Show, don’t tell. Take a statistic and tell us a real human story attached to it. Or why current technical analyses miss the point. Don’t just define MBS (mortgage backed securities); find someone who sold them, tell his story, how the instrument evolved, what you think of it, and why we should or shouldn’t allow them in their current state-and do it crisply. Appeal to, and link to, relevant facts. You have 300-500 words to make your argument, although going long is not a problem if the copy rocks."
However, the memo also offers four different pitches editors can pick up-however, each option is simply riffing off an existing article from outlets such as The Washington Post and New York Times.
I understand link journalism but a major media outlet that bases its approach almost entirely on riffing off other outlets’ stories doesn’t seem to be the way to create a loyal and engaged audience. Whether you’re an online startup or a traditional publisher, ultimately it’s still the quality (and originality) of your content that’s going to succeed, not your algorithm.
A full transcript of the AOL memo can be found here.