It's not content that matters, it's the stories

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When I checked on a major search engine the other day there were 247,000,000 results for the term “content is king”. Many people have said it to me over the past few years, and I admit to having said it myself on occasion. It seems that Bill Gates was saying it way back in 1996 (thanks to Craig Bailey for tracking it down)

But I’ve been thinking about this saying a bit lately. In particular I’ve been pondering what really matters online. This question arose because I’ve been doing research in recent times and the sheer amount of dross on the internet is truly remarkable.

It is clear that people on the internet are so busy creating, stealing, replicating and sharing content that many of us are too busy to tell stories. This includes those upon whom we have relied to tell our stories as a society, that is, the professional writers who are employed by newspapers and magazines.

Compelling narratives help to bring ideas to life and call us to action. And it is these that we are willing to invest our time and money to hear.

Many of our traditional newspapers are losing the art of sharing those compelling narratives, instead opting for cutting and pasting AP, AAP or Reuters news feeds. Thus they are losing their ability to tell stories in the rush to create content rather than stories.

It means that we end up with sites like Huffington Post that are finely calibrated search engine optimised content repositories. And, while there is a need and place for these kind of online publishers, it also means that we are at risk of losing the stories that do not fit into the immediacy of the search engine optimised advertising revenue generating model.

Once stories in newspapers (in the days when we had newspapers of record) and magazines were subsidised by the so-called ‘rivers of gold’ from advertising. Nothing has appeared to replace those rivers of gold to enable the continued production of stories on the previous scale (as opposed to the growing practice of regurgitating paid news feeds).

If the *business model (and cross-subsidization) that made it possible to create stories is broken then it is up to the amateurs to tell our stories. Bloggers have already begun to fill this gap, and have incurred the wrath of the establishment writers from the mainstream media organisations as a result.

Rearguard sniping and condescension from the ‘professional’ writers towards the ‘amateurs’ is amusing given the likelihood that most writers of stories will be unpaid by organisations in the not to distant future. Instead the few remaining paid jobs will be for analysts to populate the search engine optimised advertising driven sites. And that is only likely until they can find a machine to undertake that somewhat mechanical task.

It’s going to be interesting to see where our stories go in this brave new world.

* The only exception I can see to this is organisations that are either government funded or which have independent funding like The Guardian. The big risk for government funded organisations is that increasing economic constraints are likely to constrain their operations in turn.

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