Do you prefer journalism or “content”?

By Caitlin Kelly


Ooooooh, content! Aka books.


Good old English.

Content, with the emphasis on the second syllable, is what I used to be to work in journalism.

See also: happy, pleased, satisfied.

Today it’s about content — i.e. kawhn-tent — with the emphasis on the first syllable.

This is where I thump my cane and start shouting “Kids, get off my lawn!”

Or some similar shriek of frustration.

Truth is, of course I’m a “content provider”, in that I write words on demand to specific lengths that I sell to others for their use.

I guess it’s a nice little catch-all. Sadly, though, there’s nothing in that phrase to connote, oh you know, history, ethics, values, quality.

It’s like calling the sun a “light provider” or the ocean a “fish (and many other creatures) provider,” reducing what journalists once offered to a pile ‘o words, delivered as fast and cheaply as humanly possible.

My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)

I can, after decades in this field, legitimately call myself a journalist, author, writer – having worked as a staff reporter and feature writer for three major daily newspapers and on staff for several national magazines as an editor.

That, plus hundreds of freelance pieces.

But the irony of an industry in disruption is that there are now many more people working in public relations — trying to sell stuff — than there are journalists. I get pitches every single day for things I couldn’t care less about from people who clearly couldn’t care less that they’re wasting my time deleting them.

Here’s a post about the rise of “content marketing”:

Content marketing is currently “in,” and brands are finding it’s surprisingly difficult to create compelling content that actually draws in readers. So they’re opening their pocketbooks and are willing to pay for content creation, and if you’re well-positioned with some decent writing credits, you’ll find that there’s plenty of work to go around. There are several freelancer job sites popping up where brands can advertise for these positions.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely noticed the news industry has struggled in recent years. Newspapers and magazines have endured thousands of layoffs and freelancers have found, in addition to facing shrinking budgets, news organizations are paying significantly less for digital stories compared to what they paid for print.

And a cheerful piece about why journalism students don’t even want to consider a job doing what the job used to mean — actual reporting.

I have several friends who teach journalism, both undergrad and graduate level, and find a scary trend — students who sit at their desks, Google and think that’s journalism. My friends have to shove them out of the building to actually look at stuff and talk to strangers, some of whom are intimidating as hell and two to three times their age.

Yes, really!

It could be funny, perhaps, if all those PR people weren’t being paid to make everything look and sound shiny.

It could be funny if the people being hired to pump this stuff out weren’t really young and utterly inexperienced, like the editor who sent me an email I literally could not understand.

This is the person being paid to edit me, two years after leaving college.


Did you read my coverage of the Paris Unity March? I blogged it here. That’s journalism

Which is why places like ProPublica, (where another friend is still doing dangerous and complex international reporting work), and The Washington Post are needed more than ever — if you haven’t been reading David Farenthold’s reporting on Donald Trump’s many misuses of his charity, you need to do so before the Presidential election.

Journalists get paid, (less and less and less), to tell real stories about real people — about crime and poverty and graft and corruption and politics and the environment. The stories are often dark and depressing and often crazy-complicated and have multiple furious gatekeepers insisting: “There’s no story here!”

Which always means there’s a hell of a story to be told — if there’s a place to publish it and someone to pay us to do that.


Are you content being offered a steady diet of content?





14 thoughts on “Do you prefer journalism or “content”?

  1. Pingback: Do you prefer journalism or “content”? — Broadside | Le Bien-Etre au bout des Doigts

  2. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

  3. i love real journalism, with all of its messy and unpredictable outcomes. i want to know more than just the cleaned up shiny version of a story. i want it to make me think and learn and make me uncomfortable at times.

  4. I actually miss the days of people writing their own stories and articles. So much of today’s mainstream media is regurgitated, slightly re-worded (or sometimes not even re-worded) content that someone ELSE wrote. Or it’s “content” in the form of listicles (can those even really be considered writing?), photo slideshows (most, if not all, of the images borrowed from someone else — possibly without credit or permission.)

    It’s like everything that goes into the craft of writing (or in this case, journalism) has gone out the window for the sake of expediency. Fact-checking and accuracy are meaningless, because the media-saturated public will consume it anyway. It’s a sad trend that I feel is building a more ignorant populace, but maybe that’s just me.

    I’ll sit here in my corner and be an old curmudgeon, looking for the bright sparks of genuine writing that provokes thought and admirable discussion.

    1. Thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment!

      There is still some great journalism out there, but only from a few places at this point. That diminishes how many voices you’ll hear from because there is so little place to tell great stories and a line-up a mile long to get an assignment freelance — or a staff job.

  5. The truth is, I write far more often now under someone else’s name (ghost writing for executives, etc.) than I do under my own byline. I’ll join you in that cane thumping–but I try to take pleasure in getting ideas across that might otherwise be lost due to the inept:).

  6. Don’t get me started! I’m afraid we’re creating a culture of sound-byte, don’t-confuse-me-with-details, easily distracted “fast information” junkies. It’s like the same thing we’ve done to food. We’ve gone from real, whole, recognizable food to ????? food.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s