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By Thomas Baekdal - April 2011

Advertising Turns Respectable Newspapers Into Spammers

I feel as I am being bombarded with crappy low quality articles, over and over again. Just look at all the articles about the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant crisis. Yes, the disaster is newsworthy, but only if you have actual news about it.

Most people believe that newspapers are wasting their time, but they don't know why. They just know that they are not getting the value that they want. The real problem is that almost all newspapers have turned into content farms. And stories about the Fukushima nuclear disaster make for a perfect case study.

I decided to find out just how many articles the second largest newspaper in Denmark, Politiken, had published since March 11, 2011 (the day of the Earthquake). Not in total, but only about the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.

The result is staggering. In the 23 days since the Earthquake, they have published 168 articles just about the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. ....168!!! It peaked on March 15, 2011 with 17 articles on a single day.

Even today, they are still publishing between 4-6 articles per day.

In order to put this into perspective, I also decided to count the words. The total is roughly 63,000 words. That is the size of a book!

A few examples: Isaac Asimov's "Caves of Steel" is 71,000 words long. The winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," is 58,845 words long. Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is only 29,000 words long. HG Wells' "The War of the Worlds" is about 61,500 words long. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is 76,944 words long.

The articles are not filled with valuable content either. Most of them are crap. Most of them are just repeating what we already know, or talking with "experts" who doesn't have a clue. Some are just completely out there, like an article titled "US Navy fleeing from radiation."

This is not reporting or journalistic work. The traditional newspapers have lost it. They are no longer in the business of providing news. They have become spammers. There is no value left.

It is like when you go to a seminar, and the speaker spends 5 hours, and 168 Powerpoint slides, explaining something that could be said in 10 minutes.

But, maybe this is a bad example. Maybe this is only a problem for this specific newspaper. So I went to the biggest newspaper in Denmark and found 178 articles (10 more). The Guardian has published 266 articles. Der Spiegel has published 48 articles. LA Times has published 392 articles. And, the New York Times has published a lot more (I gave up counting when I reached 500)264 articles.

If you go to Google News and search for "Fukushima nuclear", in the past month, it comes up with 59,213 results.

Even my *local* newspaper (reaching only 30,000 people) has published 162 articles - about a nuclear plant on the other side of the planet. How is that local news?


A lot of newspapers are wondering why people do not want to buy a subscription. This is your answer. People don't want to pay because newspapers are wasting their most valuable asset, which is time.

Everywhere you look, time is the most fundamental element to a successful product. You are not competing with other newspapers. You are competing with what people want to spend their time on.

Newspapers who publish 168 articles about a single topic (in order to boost their ad impressions) are not providing news, they have become spammers.

And, spammers waste people's time.

Most newspapers do not like Demand Media's content strategy, because it is based on finding the most popular keywords and publishing as many articles as they can. But I cannot tell the difference between Demand Media's strategy, and traditional newspaper's content strategies.

The key to success, in a world of abundance, is to create a product that value people's time. Newspapers are creating the wrong product.

Like the GPS says, "You are heading in the wrong direction. Please turn around when possible!"

How should newspapers tackle the news stream? Well, here is one good solution.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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