AOL's New Content Strategy: The End of Media Professionals?

by SixFigureStart | December 02, 2009

Thought the news about AOL and Time Warner splitting couldn't get much worse than the 2,500 AOLers losing their jobs as part of it? Think again. The soon-to-be-rebranded firm—it will be known as Aol.—is attempting to pioneer a new content model that, should it succeed, will remove at least a portion of the human involvement in news production.

According to Fast Company, AOL plans to use "an algorithmic system that trawls the Internet and examines the stories its Net visitors will most prefer. It'll then advise the humans in the loop which stories are likely to do well, and when to run them--particularly pieces like seasonal or sporting-interest ones. AOL will also be using Seed.com to share out article assignments among the large freelance staff. " The piece goes on to say that payments, grammar checking and even copyright infringements will all be handled automatically—a state of affairs that certainly drives down the cost of maintaining an editorial department.

Now, obviously there are limits to how much automation of the news is going to be feasible. With the best will in the world, a computer can't create a piece of content without having something to base its creation on—the work of a human, ideally a professional human who makes a real living wage and everything.

More than anything, what the AOL plan demonstrates is the continued evolution of the industry before our very eyes. Whether or not you happen to think it'll be a success (and I definitely fall into the "not" camp: I'm in full agreement with the commenter below the Fast Company article who thinks AOL are devaluing their brand), you have to applaud media companies for trying something new in an era where so many of them are struggling to get by.

Even if the plan does fail, there are bound to be elements of it that do well enough to spur other media outlets into cutting human involvement with their news production (read: jobs) to cut costs. Indeed, Fast Company posits that AOL's strategy could just be the next step on the road to "fully-automated news writing"—an eventuality that seems like a desirable (if ridiculously implausible) endpoint for those in charge of cutting costs at organizations within the industry. What they might be losing into the bargain is of course another question, but one that the collective future for media professionals seems to hang on. For that reason, the perceived success of AOL's next moves will definitely be worth watching for anyone interested in the fate of the media industry—regardless of whether you rely on it for employment or just for news.


AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

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