5 May 2009 9:50 pm   //   Filed under: Labeling, Media, Technology

“Content” is a dirty word

This Tom Tomorrow cartoon (a portion of which appears above) articulates how insulting the phrase “content provider” sounds to creative people. A stooge in the cartoon asks, “Who do these storytellers think they are, expecting to be paid for their so-called work?”

It’s not a small point. Today, Web sites refer to all the information they publish as “content.” Yet it’s a degrading word and it’s has caused a serious branding problem. “Content” is a commodity shoveled out of a grain silo. It evokes packaged cereals, where the only variance is the difference between Fruit Loops and Grape Nuts. No wonder consumers think anything published online is cheap and interchangeable!

This label has proven impossible to shake. Tribune newspapers are handing out new titles like “content editor” and “director of content.” WNBC recently changed the name of the newsroom to the “content center” (then, to their credit, changed it back). Once you start listening for content, you’ll hear it everywhere, like nails on a chalkboard. I don’t mean to over-inflate what I do for a living, but I don’t generate content. I write stories or articles, I edit videos, I create presentations. I acknowledge the word “content” when I’m in a meeting or dealing with internal communication, but only because I don’t want to sound out of step.

By the way, the “This Modern World” cartoon I linked to above? It was published in March 1997. The more things change…