June 21, 2010

As more news organizations begin to consider integrating user-generated content into their daily offerings, several traditional news publishers (Hearst) have started using various forms of user-generated content from content production sites like Helium.com and Associated Content. Demand Media is the newest and perhaps most closely watched of the content production sites.

Concern over Demand comes not just from its 2008 merger with blog syndicator and aggregation software developer Pluck, but also due to its proprietary algorithm that is said to help content producers generate keyword-rich content that increases reach into the first pages of Google and other search results.

In the deal between Demand Media and USA Today, Demand provides 4,000-plus keyword-rich “Travel Tips” articles and other types of content that will be cached in USA Today’s Travel Section. Demand Media will also provide keyword-rich advertising to accompany the content. While the article content will be free to USA Today, the revenue generated from the ads will be split between the news organization and Demand.

Recently, I had the opportunity to correspond with Victoria Borton, General Manager of the Travel section at USA Today, on the decision to partner with Demand Media and the benefits.

Tish Grier: Were other content outlets considered before Demand Media was chosen?

Victoria Borton: USA TODAY had a long-standing relationship with Pluck through our integration of their social media tools on USATODAY.com, enabling community as part of our Network Journalism launch in 2007. Pluck introduced us to Demand Studios about extending our relationship around their search optimized content model, we agreed travel was a category where creating a co-branded section using their approach made sense.

… We’ve had a positive relationship with Pluck since the launch of Network Journalism on USATODAY.com in 2007.

How important was Demand’s ad production and placement plan to the deal?

Borton: Demand Media’s system to create content based on search trends and the corresponding advertising model provided a strong business case for entering into this relationship.

Why was the Travel section chosen over other USAT sections that feature evergreen content? Is there an expectation that Demand’s content will help the USAT Travel section become a “destination site” known for its travel info?

Borton: Travel is an area where consumers are always looking for functional, actionable tips and information around a wide variety of topics. It’s an ideal area to offer travel tips. USA TODAY Travel is already a popular destination site for original, trusted travel information, and the addition of Travel Tips is one way to broaden our overall content offering.

What might be expected earnings from the travel section now that this deal is in place?

Borton: We are most excited about the demand-driven, search friendliness of this content, and its ability to bring new users to our site. As traffic increases over time, advertising revenues will follow those traffic increases.

Are there any plans to extend Demand content to other sections in USA Today, or to use them for any news or investigative reporting?

Borton: We will watch the performance of the section over time and make further decisions on whether to extend to other areas if it makes sense for both our audience and our business. While Demand Media’s co-branded content expands our overall offering to our audience, there has been no thought that it would replace our existing content coverage, news and investigative reporting in any way.

Much has been made of the possibility of Demand’s content not meeting with prevailing journalistic standards. Could you comment on Demand’s standards and how those standards relate to the journalistic standards maintained by USA Today?

Borton: We worked with Demand Media to share our overall editorial guidelines, and they selected their top writers with existing travel experience for our project. USA TODAY reserves the right to remove content we don’t feel is up to our standards. For this type of consumer service content, we are happy with the quality to date.

How might you describe the relationship between “content” and “journalism”?

Spacer SpacerBorton: Journalism is core to the USA TODAY brand — it’s our unique investigation and reporting around timely events and items of interest. Content can be anything consumed by a user: data, information, listings, photos, videos, maps and so on.

Note: On June 14, USA Today announced a partnership with location-based social network Gowalla. I asked Borton if any of the Demand Media content would be served on the three Gowalla applications. She responded: “All three of the USA TODAY content features appearing on the Gowalla application are written by USA TODAY staffers and freelance columnists.”

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Tish Grier began her freelance writing career in 2005 with a huge leap of faith and a couple of blogs. Since then, she became the…
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