What I’m reading and writing, April 30

• Via Andrew Nusca, aka @editorialiste on Twitter, comes this piece in The Economist about the rise of “writers mills” and the challenging prospects of freelancers making a sufficient living. Demand Media is making a killing off low-paid contributors (and selling stories to a growing list of news media outlets that have been shedding hundreds of journalists who used to do this work in-house). But there’s an even more troubling impact than a freelancer’s dwindling bottom line:

“The problem with content farms is that they swamp the internet with mediocre content. To earn a decent living, freelancers have to work at a breakneck pace, which has an obvious impact on quality. Moreover, content that is designed to appear high up in the results produced by search engines could lose its audience if the search engines change their rules.”

• Forget writers mills. How about having stories written by computers — all by themselves? A Chicago-area startup called Narrative Science cranks out what it calls “machine-generated content” and calls them sports stories, mainly by taking statistical information from games and turning them into basic prose. One of the clients for this service is the Big Ten Network, which makes tens of millions of dollars in cable TV fees for its member schools and remains one of the most lucrative college athletics entities in the nation:

“Frankel and the Big Ten Network won’t say how much Narrative Science charges. The company says it is continually trying to make the system ‘a less bad writer,’ as Kristian Hammond, a Northwestern computer scientist and his partner in Narrative Science, puts it. Adds Frankel: ‘The 1,000th story of a subject is materially better than the first.’ “

• And the folks over at the Nieman Lab have begun compiling this unbelievably awesome weekly roundup of new media and online journalism links called This Week In Review. This veritable potpourri is available every Friday morning and just might take the rest of the weekend to read through and absorb.

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