“Content — don’t you hate it? It’s the new c-word. Once upon a time, content would have been shorthand for editorial. Now it’s just filler,” Tyler Brûlé
The London Evening Standard ran an interview with larger-than-life media entrepreneur Tyler Brûlé a couple of weeks back. As ever, the globe-trotting, agency-owning, magazine-publishing Canadian was pulling no punches on the power of print versus the pointlessness of iPads apps and social media. As you can see, he also had a pop at the marketing industry’s current fixation with content.
I’ve had the word content in my job title on and off for almost 20 years and on one level I hate it ever bit as much as Mr Brûlé: What the hell is content?
People use the word like a Hogwartian spell, especially in job titles – if you transmogrify your editors into content directors and content managers and content specialists you’re magically a digital media business. To paraphrase Private Frazer writing on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the “Doomed Magazines” blog, “calling your editors content managers is not a digital strategy.”
Writing on the Media Briefing Experts’ Blog journalist Louise Chunn said, “The term does a disservice to the creative process behind it.” This is true when we don’t take the time to define exactly what we mean by content and what exactly people need to do to create content. But content is a useful shorthand when it’s used as a frame for the creative process.
How else do we talk about the huge variety of formats available to publishers and marketers today: Words, pictures, spoken words, moving pictures, long-form, short-form, opinion, analysis, UGC, curated, aggregated, desktop, mobile… Editorial doesn’t cover it. Journalism doesn’t cover it. Nothing really covers it, not even content.
Maybe in 10 years, when all the disruption has settled down, we’ll have a better word for what we do. Right now, it’s probably the best we’ve got. And I’m reminded of a conversation I just had with the inimitable Jasper Jackson about his time in Edinburgh. He sagely made the point that in certain parts of Scotland’s capital, the c-word is not always a bad word… not always.