In the opinion of most people, being a reporter, a journalist – writing for print or for the web – or even being a web content writer, are similar. I do not feel concerned by this issue because I am currently studying creative writings. I feel concerned and worried because ignoring the differences between those activities can be harmful to a society. I am going to focus on the difference between journalists and web content writers since the real danger comes from the internet.
What is the first difference between them? Journalists usually work on very few fields at the same time. They are kind of experts on some subject such as economy, politic, culture or environment. It means that they are only writing in one column of a newspaper. What makes a journalist an expert is the huge amount of hours he spent searching for information on a very precise issue, looking for documents and clues that help him to make up his mind on a subject. Through years, a journalist is also able to build a network of reliable sources.
On the other hand, web content writers are allowed to write in a large scale of subjects. Most of the time, they are recruited by specialized websites dealing with insurance, as an example. Nevertheless, in some cases, they are hired by media and asked to produce articles for different sections such as education, health etc. Indeed, the problem is that you cannot be an expert and provide quality information while working on so many and different fields. Then the question is: why are so many media hiring web content writers rather than journalists even though they know it may reduce the trustworthiness of their online newspaper?
In order to understand why web content writers are so interesting for online media, you have to understand how a website earns money. To be brief: the more readers are going to visit your website – and the more time they will spend on it – the more you will be able to sell very expensive advertising space to brands or organizations. People who buy advertising space are going to pay you more if they are sure to be seen by a lot of readers. You might have already noticed that the internet changes its face very fast and that it is hard to stay in the top three answers – which are the only ones to catch the interest of readers – for a request on Google. In fact, Google has a very specific way to choose in which order it is going to give you a list of answers for your request. Here is the main point: web content writers are writing to please Google while journalists are writing to please real readers. What web content writers are doing is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO): this means that they are following Google’s rules even if it leads to write a low-quality article.
What is a good article according to Google? In order to see your article appearing in the top three answers for a request, it has to contain over 350 words, to be full of key words and to be made of as few as possible copy and paste. According Google, the less copy and paste its algorithm will find in your article, the luckier it is to be a high-quality article made of exclusive information. However, web content writers know how to make a low-quality article look like a good one. In fact, they will simply use synonymous and rephrase articles written by rivals. They will also use the content of press releases and make it look like an interview, even if it is not. This is why you will often find very long articles giving you very few new information: web content writers respect the SEO system more than they respect readers. Indeed, web content writers are often stilling journalist’s work: this is plagiarism.
Web content writers are more interesting for employers because they need less time to write an article than a journalist: they are a cheaper workforce. Moreover, web content writers are mostly paid according to rate per article set by the employers while journalists are paid with a monthly fixed amount, even if commissions are also paid to them in addition to fixed pay for breaking news. Nowadays, the demand for web content writers is increasing because they generate higher revenues for online business.
As a consequence, even if a web content writer tries his best not to copy anyone’s work and to find information on his own without cheating, he will see his income melt because he won’t be able to write as many articles as needed in a day. In the worst case, he can simply be fired for not being productive enough, and replaced by an intern. This is how this system pushes very moral people to step on the border of legality. I don’t think I am going too far saying this is close to manipulation and exploitation, and that it brings job insecurity. I thought it was important to mention this point because our society is now struggling with an increasing number of professional illnesses, such as burn out. This is about the security of our people’s mental health.
This is also about the difference between information and communication. Since web content writers can be sponsored and are also allowed to realize false interviews, they are more into communication – or marketing/advertising – rather than information. The problem is that it is actually quite complicated for the readers to know if the article they are reading was written by a journalist or by a web content writer because both are using the same tools in appearance and work for the same media. This looks like one of the many new challenges of the internet. The time has come to think of what you really want as a reader, and to remember that freedom of the press comes at a price. The equation is simple: you cannot have access to high-quality articles if you don’t pay the people who write them. If you only read the press online without subscribing to it, then newspapers will have to adapt themselves and to find another way to earn money: sponsoring, advertising, and web content writers. Do you really want to give any company the power to control information?