Summary:

Hyperlocal network Examiner.com has often been frustrated by being lumped in with the so-called “content farms.” So, over the past year, it…

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photo: Corbis / Jack Hollingsworth

Hyperlocal network Examiner.com has often been frustrated by being lumped in with the so-called “content farms.” So, over the past year, it has been trying to find ways of highlighting the differences between it and the Demand Medias, Associated Contents by instituting a process to shore up the quality of its posts and contributors. Quality has been one issue that critics of these sites have jumped on, so Examiner plans to use a mix of peer reviews and incentive pay to increase the professionalism of its content.

In a white paper presented by Mitch Gelman, Examiner’s VP of Quality, identified some of the issues that are inherent in a site network that publishes 3,000 posts a day from more than 70,000 contributors.

For example, the Monday morning after the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl might have been a good time to capture some traffic off what was, at that time, the number two search topic on Google (NSDQ: GOOG). Still, on the Examiner’s local Green Bay, Wisconsin site, readers had to look past three other stories on the home page to see something about that city’s big news. But algorithms that place stories sometimes miss the big picture of anticipating what sort of traffic should be coming in.

Gelman, who also sits on the advisory board of the Knight Digital Media Center and is a former CNN producer, was hired by Denver-based Examiner.com in Feb. 2010 to help improve the quality of its editorial operations.

The guidelines include basics points for each article to satisfy: such as, asking if the story appears “to be reasonable and thoughtfully reported?” and “credibility: Does the story contain proper attribution and does the contributor have the credentials necessary to make the information authoritative?”

But it takes human beings to really sort all that out. And it’s expensive. For example, AOL’s Patch has made a point of noting that it has hired over 900 professional journalists over the past year. (This is, of course, separate from the dismissals of freelancers at AOL’s main news and finance sites and the exodus of Engadget staffers to SB Nation, that we reported on this week).

In terms of Patch’s efforts to improve the content of its articles, a rep tells paidContent that 75 percent of our local editors, who run over 800 local sites, have worked in traditional media (TV, print, radio) at one point in their career and bring an average of nine years experience.

Examiner has also made a number of professional hires. But with its extensive network, it’s going to rely primarily on the contributors themselves to govern and grade each other’s work, Gelman said. The plan is to mix the contributors’ ability to spot and correct fellow Examiners much the same way Wikipedia does with the establishment of a general group of seven or so staffers to provide some oversight to the process.

“If we notice that there appears to be a lack of understanding about the way, say, attribution works, we can create a module or forum to directly address that,” Gelman said. “And we leave it up to our contributors to ask questions and help others out. After all, the best of advice usually comes from other examiners. We’ve created a community where they can share best practices with one another. We can send automated responses based on what’s being covered, like thoughts on how to cover local or make audiences aware by
tailoring ledes.”

Examiner isn’t just hoping that general altruism and a desire to raise collective standards takes hold among its contributors. The network plans to include ratings of contributors work as part of their performance pay. “We don’t just want to reward driving traffic alone as the basis for paying contributors extra,” Gelman said. “We think popularity and quality have to be equal and our payments to contributors will reflect that.”

No word on how much “quality” will pay, as the company plans to roll that payment factor sometime in the next few weeks.

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