Cooks Source Under Siege, a Content Farmer Tells All and the Rise of the Undesigned Web

The Best Media Writing of the Week

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You might call an article on The Awl about a summer spent toiling for Demand Media, one of those content farm businesses built on weapons-grade SEO and horrendously paid freelancers, low-hanging fruit. I regard it as a juicy peach. Or at least a not-mealy apple. In any event, magazine editor Jessanne Collins relates her interactions with both the automated and human sides of Demand's management of its legions of freelancers.

There was a weekly deluge of informational emails from Robert, my human point person, which provided extra extra detail ("How to Hide an Erection" and "How to Be an Escort in Second Life" were deemed examples of inappropriate article titles that should be flagged for review; "At-Home Treatments for Anal Warts" might be okay), occasional heartfelt thanks and sporadic missives that totally contradicted established paperwork instructions. In something approaching a tizzy toward the end of the summer, for instance, Robert insisted that people stop emailing to let him know they'd be out of town and thus not meeting their weekly quota; earlier we'd been instructed to do exactly that or risk losing editing privileges forever.

Meet the latest buzzphrase: "the Undesigned Web." Explained in an Atlantic article by Dylan Tweney, this sure-to-be very useful term means this:

It's that separability of design and text that has led to the third wave of the web, in which readers (or what some would call end-users) are in control of how the content they are reading looks. And, as it turns out, many of those readers like their designs to be as minimal as possible.

Think of what minimalizing, ad-stripping apps like Instapaper, Read It Later and Flipbook do to content and then think about what that means for design, and you'll know this is a bit of jargon that matters.

'Cooks Source'
'Cooks Source'
From the dusty corridors of Live Journal comes a reminder of one of the minor evils of the internet: content scraping. In discovering that a 2-year-old article about tarts had been lifted by a magazine called Cooks Source, Monica Gaudio took to her LiveJournal page, dubbed "Illadore's House O Crack," to recount her experience as a victim of copyright infringement. She includes the response she says she received from Cooks Source Editor Judith Griggs, who argues she should actually be paid for prettying up the copy rather than have to compensate Ms. Gaudio. In other words, copyright schmopyright.

The dust-up has resulted in the little-known Cooks Source having its Facebook slammed and even becoming a trending topic on Twitter for a while. While not the best writing of the week, Ms. Griggs' apparent response is certainly among the craziest:

"Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic [sic] Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!"

In his New York Times column, David Carr evaluated Jon Stewart's telegenic bit of resistance to the inevitable Republican tsunami this week as a piece of press criticism and found it lacking:

... Here's the problem: Most Americans don't watch or pay attention to cable television. In even a good news night, about five million people take a seat on the cable wars, which is less than 2 percent of all Americans. People are scared of what they see in their pay envelopes and neighborhoods, not because of what Keith Olbermann said last night or how Bill O' Reilly came back at him.

The Washington Post is of the mind to show off its ramped-up video operation that will be bringing all kinds of hard-hitting, original programming your way. Example: the video of dancing bears lifted from YouTube and slapped on the site... Oh wait. Turns out that's NOT what the Post has in mind for its video content, as senior Posties are forced to explain to the paper's ombudsman.

On the evening when it first appeared on The Post's site, a colleague drew it to the attention of Sandy Sugawara, a veteran editor who heads the Universal Desk that processes content for print and online. When she viewed it, Sugawara told me, she found it funny and started laughing. "It seemed harmless enough," she recalled. In retrospect, she said, "I should have said, 'Let's just take it down and put it on somebody's blog'" rather than including it among the site's featured videos.

Whatever. Here are the bears. Watch them dance -- on journalism's grave!!!

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