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Who's Writing Health Articles for Demand Media, Anyway?

Who's Writing Health Articles for Demand Media, Anyway?

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

If you've ever wondered who, exactly, is writing health stories for the controversial Web content provider Demand Media and its brands like, meet Adam Cloe. I encountered Adam last week at the AHCJ conference in Chicago, where he was staffing Livestrong's exhibitor booth and politely taking guff from journalists appalled at the idea of getting paid 10 cents a word.

Adam isn't a journalist or writer, and he doesn't want to be one. He's pursuing M.D./Ph.D. degrees at the University of Chicago, where he works in a protein folding lab on Alzheimer's research. He's clearly an intelligent guy, and we had a thoughtful conversation about why he writes for Demand Media - and why many professional journalists are so antagonistic towards these so-called content mills.

Adam has written about gallstones, gastric banding for obesity, exercises for back and shoulder pain and even "hotels near the Minneapolis airport." The articles are readable but not exactly in-depth, and they're certainly not journalism.

The low pay doesn't bother Adam, who says he can write a 300-word article in a half-hour, making his $30 payment worthwhile. And he can do it while he's watching proteins fold at the lab.

"I wouldn't want to do this full-time," he told me, noting that he's banking the money not for rent but for his upcoming wedding. "I'd feel bad about putting someone out of a job."

Veteran journalist Laurie Udesky, a full-time freelancer and former California Endowment Health Journalism Fellow, recently blogged on ReportingonHealth about her frustration with health website owners who want to pay what she terms "slave wages."

I don't want to begrudge Adam his wedding dough – he really is a nice guy and can write competently – but I'm with Laurie on this one. It's a little like raging at the wind, though. These content farms aren't going anywhere. For every experienced and award-winning reporter like Laurie who refuses to work for 10 cents a word, there are hundreds of Adams, although I'm guessing few of them have his scientific chops. In a recent New York Times article about Demand Media, an executive said the company had signed up more than 7,000 writers and copy editors.

Where do you stand? I hope you'll share your thoughts - and any experiences writing for Demand Media and similar ventures - in the comments below.


Picture of Eve Harris

I know it's shallow but I'm particularly vulnerable to the idea of aligning with LiveStrong! After sneering at Demand Studios for > 1 year in a weak moment I "applied" and was "accepted" by them (whoop de doo). Not surprisingly I came to my senses and walked away when they asked for my social security #.  The larger issue of quality control rages on...

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I'm seriously starting to hate I see them popping up for just about any health-related query. They usually rank at top 5 for queries.

And the content is just appalling. You can see that someone has spent 30 minutes getting ideas from authority websites and then rewriting it. It's mostly shallow and lacks any real information. For example recently I was searching for probiotic bacteria counts in yogurts. At top 3 was an article from The article was very basic. Like probiotics are helpful, they can treat such and such conditions. Yogurt has probiotics. Eat yogurt. At the sidebar they had links to 7 other articles all with yogurt and probiotic in the title. And all had more or less the same content, just written in different words.

Unfortunately Google seems to love these content junkyards at the moment. Hope they return to their senses soon.

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