AOL is building a "newsroom of the future," reported BusinessWeek. What this means in practice is that AOL is using software to determine which articles readers might be interested in and then giving journalists detailed data on how much traffic and advertising revenue these articles generate, BusinessWeek said.
More than 500 full-time journalists now work for AOL, which has traditionally been a distributor rather than a creator of content. 150 were hired last year, and according to BusinessWeek, "As demand dwindles for the dial-up Internet service that made AOL (AOL) a tech powerhouse in the 1990s, Chief Executive Tim Armstrong wants to jump-start growth by creating original online content and selling ads to appear with it."
Encouraging journalists to write what sells has a definite logic to it, but it is also likely to attract severe criticism from those who would argue that this could lead to more stories about celebrity gossip and fewer investigative, public-interest pieces. AOL editors are tracking activity on sites such as Google and Facebook to identify current hot topics to write about, said BusinessWeek: might this not lead to a lack of original reporting?
The idea of telling reporters exactly how popular their stories are and how much income they are generating brings up similar concerns. If reporters are competing to grab readers, might they be tempted to neglect stories that matter but might not get the most hits? One of the common arguments against micropayments is that a paid-by-the-article system would put direct value on individual stories and give an undue amount of credit to articles that attract many readers but are not necessarily good journalism.
AOL is in the process of expanding its network of hyperlocal blogs, Patch, planning to have hundreds of sites in place by the end of the year. The company also has a service called Seed, which hires freelancers for specific assignments.