Unreliable sources

James Evelegh's editorial from today's edition of InPubWeekly.

By James Evelegh

Unreliable sources

As editorial budgets shrivel, editors look for efficiencies: headcounts are cut, contributor fees slashed, and cheaper ways of filling up pages sought.

One of the cheapest sources is the online comments section below celebrity articles and posts; an endless supply of completely free content, never mind the fact that most comments fall into two camps: the gushings of the uberfans or the eye-popping, does-your-mother-know-you-write-this-kind-of-stuff offerings of the seriously warped.

Find a premise (eg a celeb is endlessly talking about herself and fans are sick of it), trawl through the online comments and, hey presto, you have a DPS feature for virtually nothing. What’s more, you can give the job to the intern.

In the short term, you’ve succeeded in getting an issue out on a shoestring, but at what cost to your brand?

If magazines simply regurgitate online comments, what extra value do they bring? Why buy the mag, when you can read the comments yourself online for free? Most of the comments on celebrity sites are not worth repeating – the musings of fans or haters.

Now magazine got burnt this week when it ran a comments-based piece on Stacey Solomon, who bit back, calling it “the meanest thing I’ve ever seen” prompting an apology from the publishers.

The thing is that the issues being discussed in the offending article were completely legit territory for a celeb mag: body image, body hair, and bringing up kids. There are interesting things that could have been said by an experienced columnist or journalist, which would have made it a much better read and given Ms Solomon less room for complaint.

Yes, it would have cost slightly more to put together, but it would have been intelligent and unique content that would have given purchasers of Now magazine a reason to buy it again.