kontent is king

3/4/03 Columbia County, NY

Hey kids! Get ready for another rant!

I’m sorry, but I am going to find the Chief Operating Officer of some long-dead dot-com who invented the term “generating content” and kick his ass. Yeah, yeah: I know that there had to be a word for “all the stuff you read on a website” but surely they could have done better than “content” and SURELY they could have done better than “generating.”

Back at my dot-coms – both of them, in fact – we would be sat down in conference rooms and told to “generate content quicker” or “make your content really zip.” We were English Majors, Journalism Grads and Thesis Writers listening to this crap, by the way, folks that had spent years trying to find the beauty in the written word. Now, I’m not trying to be all precious about the Art of Writing, and I’m supposed to be thankful we had jobs at all, given our sleep and drinking habits – but the way we were marginalized was almost criminal.

At one dot-com that will remain nameless – suffice to say it is still around and limping along – the editorial team was shoved into one corner of the building, given shitty desktop computers that ran like they had hamsters in them, and paid almost nothing for creating the vibrant words and gorgeous pictures that brought people back to the site. The business folks, however, had zippy wireless laptops, were always jetting off to Australia and Copenhagen to seal deals, and got bonuses that would have allowed many of us to retire in a vat of bourbon.

They were the same age as us, too, which turned the whole business into a John Hughes movie: a subset of Molly Ringwalds and Jon Cryers having to take a bunch of shit from a gaggle of James Spaders in suits. Oh, the management occasionally threw us a bone – “content is KING, folks! we couldn’t do it without you!” – but their truest tongue was monetary, and we saw none of the profits. I suppose if you were able to withstand second-class citizenship for six years and finagled some stock, you could have made out nicely – but who could have held that job for that long? We had a world of screenplays, comedy festivals, TV specs, novels and shit to DO, yo!

But “content.” It conjures images of us writers “backing up the content truck” and dumping a pile of words onto a site. I used to think that senior officers were intimidated by the creative process, and sought a term that would demystify it to the point of keeping us in line. Now I know they just never really gave a shit, and wanted just enough words on their website to separate users from their wallets. After the Content is King era was over (1997-1999), we were all told that nobody will ever pay to read words on the internet. “Oh and by the way,” they went on, “don’t you dare write something long enough that requires scrolling. Users hate to scroll.”

Well, they were right about paying for words on the web; you’d never do it. But that you got this far means that you scrolled, and this particular content generator lived long enough to prove them wrong about something.

my masthead picture at one such dot-com

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