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Churning out Content, or Ways to Make a Buck

Churning out Content, or Ways to Make a Buck

Picture of Angilee Shah

One of the central ironies for beleaguered journalism job hunters today is that the demand for content is huge. If you are among those who regularly scour journalism job sites, you might have noticed that some of the most common listings are calls for writers to produce short articles at low piecemeal rates.

Churning out text for "content mills" has been a subject of discussion here at Center for Health Journalism Digital before. Barbara Feder Ostrov talked with a writer for, a product of Demand Media, about why and how he writes for them: "Adam isn't a journalist or writer, and he doesn't want to be one," she wrote.

This week at Career GPS, we are looking at the ins-and-outs of content mills. It's been talked about a lot across the web; here you'll find some of the choicest writing on the topic. Would you ever work for them? Have you ever worked for them? Should I include their listings with the job opportunities that I link to at the end of each of these posts? Let us know what you think in comments.

If you have ideas for future posts or listings you'd like to see here, you can log in and let me know. Keep up with Career GPS by signing up for weekly newsletters or via RSS.

Andy Bechtel at The Editor's Desk posted a Q&A with freelance writer/editor Kristen Douglas, who transitioned from a career in education and mental health. She gets a lot of work from Demand Media; in one question, Bechtel asked her to describe her workday. Of particular interest are the economics of her work as a content mill editor. She says:

Once editing for content, sending back for re-writes, and copy editing is done, I will either approve or reject an article. I've only had to reject a few outright, because I tend to become "the teacher" when sending an article back for a re-write, and I want to help the writer learn to write well for Demand Media content. I probably spend way too much time with this, because it cuts in on my bottom line pay (I'm paid per article by Demand).

Corbin Hiar's discussion of writers who work for Demand Studios, Seed, and other content mills at MediaShift has been linked and relinked across the web this week. He interviewed writers, sometimes anonymously or by first name only, about how and why they write for these kinds of organizations. It boils down to the money, most often:

Although Demand pays only a meager $15 or so per piece, by choosing easy prompts and writing them up very quickly, Christopher managed to collect a tidy sum for his time and effort. Christopher forces himself to pump out a minimum of three per hour for three hours a day.

A recent journalism school graduate told Hiar not to trust the quality of the content she produced for Demand Media:

"I was completely aware that I was writing crap," she said. "I was like, 'I hope to God people don't read my advice on how to make gin at home because they'll probably poison themselves.'

"Never trust anything you read on," she said, referring to one of Demand Media's high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.

Barbara Kelley at j.linx responded to the MediaShift post with a call to stop lumping content mills in with journalism:

When the industry appears to be crumbling around us, you do what you gotta do. I'm sure that there are a good number of folks who swallow their pride just because they want to write. But please, let's don't call it journalism. Or kid ourselves that digital outfits like Demand are going to fill the void.

As promised, here are some opportunities you might be interested in, not including content mills:

Jobs, Awards and Fellowships

B2B Healthcare Journalist, FierceHealthPayer (from Craigslist)
Location: Telecommute
Status: Contract/Part Time
Medium: Online

Bio Tech Editor, AHC Editor (via
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Status: Full Time
Medium: Weekly Trade Publication

Blog and Community Editor, Scientific American
Location: New York, New York
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online

Communication Specialists and Campaign Communications, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West
Location: Many positions available
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Editor, Quality Health (free registration required at
Location: Jersey City, New Jersey
Status: Full Time
Medium: Marketing/Online

Health Sciences & Medical Writer, Penn State Research Communications (via
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications/Public Relations

Reporters (including health beat), Yakima Herald-Republic (via
Location: Yakima, Washington
Status: Full Time
Medium: Newspaper

Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund, J-Lab
Eligibility: Proposed projects must be about Philadelphia or the surrounding areas and must come with a distribution plan.
Award: $5,000 awards to 10 projects
Deadline: September 16, 2010
From the Website: "The Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund is a pilot project designed to develop opportunities for amplifying public affairs journalism in the region. The purpose of this fund is to help in-depth reporting projects get off the ground and to explore collaboration opportunities among news providers in the city and surrounding counties."

REMINDER: American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Awards
Eligibility: Awards are for individuals whose work has been published between July 1, 2009 through the end of June, 2010. With the exception of an award for children's science news, entries must be published by a U.S. news organization.
Award: $3,000 is awarded in each of eight categories.
Deadline: August 1, 2010
From the Website: "Since their inception in 1945, the awards have gone to more than 300 individuals for their achievements in science journalism. The winning journalists have helped to foster the public's understanding and appreciation of science. Independent screening and judging committees select the winning journalists and their entries based on scientific accuracy, initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation and value in fostering a better understanding of science by the public."

Eligibility: The fellowships are reserved for college (or graduate school) graduates who may have worked for up to two years at a professional news organization
Duration: One year, beginning Oct. 1, 2010
Benefits: A stipend of at least $35,000 (commensurate with experience) with benefits and two weeks' paid vacation
Deadline: Aug. 15, 2010
From the website: "Priority will be given to applicants with interest in covering national politics, Congress or domestic policy issues such as energy, environment, defense, finance/economy and health care."

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