“Content” is contentious

Via Adam Tinworth (who seems to agree that I should be shorter), a note on content:

Content is crap. Nobody walks out of a great movie and says, “Wow! What great content.” Nobody who produces meaningful artistic expression thinks of themselves as content producers either. So the first step to becoming a successful publisher is to start treating creative work with the respect it deserves.

Generally, people don’t react well to the word content, especially people who are doing the work that makes that “content” valuable. Editors, journalists, reporters, writers, video producers and interactive developers don’t want to hear their work levelled in the way that “content” somehow manages to do. No one asks if it’s good content; they care if it’s a good story, a good video, good journalism. Content puts people’s backs up, because it devalues their creative efforts and reduces an article, a photo, a piece of hard work, to merely the fact of its existence. It’s about as insulting as calling it “URLs”.

Every day, at work, I write emails that require a collective term for text articles, image galleries, videos, interactives and perhaps a few other things too. I call them journalism, or pieces, or work, or news, or in extreme cases when I’ve exhausted every other synonym I list them as articles, images, videos and interactives. Every day, I deliberately avoid using the word “content”, because, as Greg Satell points out, it’s crap.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm an operations specialist, analytics nerd, recovering journalist, consultant, writer, game designer, company founder, and highly efficient pedant.

2 thoughts on ““Content” is contentious”

  1. So. I agree with this, but I think there’s an exception.

    I’ve been reading loads of the UK GDS (Government Digital Service) content design notes, and I think there is a place where ‘writing’ is ‘content’ and that’s okay. It’s the pieces designed purely to be helpful, useful and explanatory. Like most government sites.

    I think the way they get around the problem is by remembering to describe it as ‘design’ rather than art. Content should be designed with a very express purpose in mind, and created with design principles as their grounding, rather than artistic ones.

    There’s a place for both, but the attempt of one attitude to drift into the other place is a terrible terrible thing worth resisting. Differentiate between the two, refine your practice for both, and keep them the hella separate.

  2. Content is a modern distortion of Internet fanaticism. I also hate the word content, and whenever I write, I write story or even article. Seriously, this content word irks me

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