Talk about burying the lede: AdAge just posted an article by Edmund Lee about Examiner.com, the web news traffic-gulag that sources out news stories to hundreds of inexperienced, amateur reporters (or “Examiners”), who then quickly write up Google-happy headlines and accompanying fluff that steals traffic from legitimately sourced and fact-checked reporting. Not small traffic, mind you, but 7.4 million people a month. It’s in the very last paragraph of the piece, though, that former longtime New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan was called upon to comment on the value of this reporting. And does he.
The article shows Examiner ostensibly dancing around the idea of it as “news” site, but really, makes a case for them as a place for hacks to get hackier pretty exceptionally. It also notes how other operations like Examiner exist, and one of the examples he uses is AOL’s Patch, for which blogger, author, tech pundit, Google fanatic, and CUNY professor Jeff Jarvis is a consultant on. Kaplan, who was quoted saying “Reporting is expensive. Sensibility is cheap,” is asked to comment on the quote for the AdAge piece, which turns out this beautiful kicker:
“That sounds like me alright,” he said recently. Mr. Kaplan is consulting on the iPad application for Condé Nast Traveler in case anyone wondered if he was a digital curmudgeon. “One of the things that the Jeff Jarvises of the world undermine is the importance of the editorial structure. The relationship between the reporter and the editor is the one safeguard when it comes to the business of truth telling.” In assessing the recent rise of so many content farms, Mr. Kaplan referenced Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” and perhaps minted a new quote for future observers: “What these sites are producing,” he started before a long pause: “You know what it is? It’s like sending unchecked meats out to the public.”
Emphasis mine. Kaplan’s too correct: as it’s been said here before, these news machines produce more motion than they do anything of actual substance. Yet, because of the money behind them that’s been invested in the most profitable news bottom-line possible, they show up quite high in Google results, and disseminate third or fourth-rate information to people. Of course, it’s their choice whether or not to “consume” those “unchecked meats,” but if someone’s hungry, and an Examiner story there first, a lot of people aren’t going to read/eat it without knowing just how bad the quality of the product they’re getting actually is. And that’s bad for any number of reasons, the most obvious one being that this stuff only serves to further obfuscate the correct information.
This isn’t the first time Kaplan’s had some pretty interesting things to say about where journalism and reporting are going, and he’s never backed down on his hard line about newspapers and reporting delivering a better story than most other options can. Jarvis has always been willing to on a good war of words; who knows if he’ll bite, here. But if this has made anything evident, it’s that there are still two Cranky Kaplans in town available for quote, and both will not hesitate to deliver the goods.