Ever since Free Trade became something that we’ve engaged in, corporations have been shipping highly paid work to some sweat shop in Central America for pennies on the dollar. How any politician ever thought allowing Americans companies to do this kind of obviously self-serving and profiteering garbage was a good idea in the first place is lost on me, but here we are. Now the publishing industry, stinging greatly from massive revenue losses, is about to get on board in a big way. I, personally, can’t wait to see the first American newspaper totally produced by outsourced journalists, editors and graphic designers in India. I’m sure that will be a delight. This is extremely telling about the way the industry, at least some of the larger players in it, see and value their content. They don’t. Otherwise, how can you explain decision making this completely absurd. It’s nothing more than a strict money-saving play that doesn’t even consider the value of the content, only its volume.
But it gets worse. Increasingly, media companies relying on advertising for revenue (which is virtually all media companies) are shifting their areas of coverage based not upon human reporters and editors, but based on computer algorithms that profess to tell us what people want to read. Right now, those algorithms are dictating to real, live writers what their articles should be about in increasingly disturbing ways. This stems largely from advertisers’ growing reliance on such algorithms to dictate how they place their ad dollars. Now, I’ve been vocally against relying on targeted online ad efficiency claims, and judging the value of an advertising program based on click rates, etc. It simply ignores one of the great strengths of advertising, the ability to remain in someone’s consciousness far past the immediate point where they see an actual ad. If I’m reading a magazine today, and I see an ad for a brake shop, it might mean nothing to me because I have no real need for it. But two weeks from now, when my brakes start squealing, I’ll remember that ad. And to find that company, I’ll likely do a Google search that takes me right to their website, completely skipping over any quantifiable, direct response from the ad itself. This is, by far, the most common results from display advertising, and if you’re counting hits and click-throughs, you are totally ignoring this type of behavior. In other words, the algorithm has no clothes.
And for readers, how does it feel to know that the media companies you rely on for information think so little of your intelligence and diversity that they believe a computer program based on little more than web-surfing habits can and will tell you what you want to read? Personally, I’m a bit offended by that, and it takes a whole lot to offend me. Yet, it gets still worse. Have you ever heard of article writing software? Do an internet search for it. It’ll turn up literally hundreds of applications promising to generate unique and original content in minutes without typing a single word. And all of it will be researched, specially phrased for search engine optimization, and complete with titles, guaranteeing you much online traffic. The one I linked to above actually says, and I quote, “Why spend precious time planning and writing articles everyday when Article Writer Pro can do it for you?”
At the moment, these things are pretty benign, although their use is increasing, but it’s not going to be long before technology advances to the point that these things will be in wide-spread use, even among professional media companies. Just imagine, the newsroom of tomorrow is an empty office in Bangladesh populated by a bank of computers that crawl the internet using an array of algorithms to determine what we want to read, research and write the actual articles, edit them, post them to your local news website and all-the-while, the corporate overlords sit in their cushy office in New York watching the money roll in.
You think I’m exaggerating? If the publisher of your local paper is willing to ship reporter and editor work half-way around the world to save a buck, don’t you think that an automated computer system that will generate exactly the kind of simplistic, inoffensive, internet optimized content they desire will gain any popularity amongst them? Especially considering there’s no salaries, no benefits and no pesky arguments about integrity? The day is most definitely coming. Besides, computer chips haven’t figured out how to unionize. Yet.