Internet Content Syndication Council Proposes Content Guidelines

A group of Web content syndicators, which include the Associated Press, The Tribune Company and Procter & Gamble, believe that content quality—not to mention the actual utility of the Internet—is being seriously threatened. So they’re working together to do something about it.

The Internet Content Syndication Council, whose members also includes Reuters, Turner and CBS, have released a proposed set of guidelines for content syndication for their membership—and ultimately the online media industry to review. The group held a meeting in early July to discuss the possibility of issuing such guidelines, during which members deemed the issues serious enough to proceed on producing a formal document. “The feeling was we need to grapple this,” said ICSC executive director Tim Duncan.

The guidelines are aimed at countering the effect that the group sees as a growing and dangerous trend on the Web—the rise of shoddy, poorly sourced and edited content, often produced solely with gaming search engines in mind. While not naming these companies directly, the ICSC’s push seems clearly aimed at companies such as Demand Media, Yahoo’s Associated Content and AOL’s Each churns out a large amount of enterprise or general interest service content—mostly produced by low paid freelancers.

The ICSC sees the stakes as being high. Not only is lousy content devaluing professional content in their eyes, it is making the Web experience worse for the average user. “The ICSC believes that content creators and publishers should work to preserve the utility of the Internet for users and advertisers alike,” reads the report.

To do so, the ICSC guidelines—geared toward informational content, not opinion or entertainment—are focused on the importance of journalistic principles. For example, the guidelines encourage that formal editorial processes be adhered to whether articles are produced by staff writers or freelancers. All Web articles should be date stamped, and all corrections be clearly labeled. Plus, perhaps most controversially—the ICSC believes that a writer’s credentials should be prominently displayed alongside their work.

“We know we needed to come at this in a way that we could avoid subjective judgments of quality,” said Duncan. “Therefore we focused on process. If you follow responsible editorial processes, that should help ensure quality.”

Duncan said that the ICSC guidelines will be e-mailed to more than 80 members, who will be encouraged to weigh in and recommend any changes or refinements. “These are just a starting point,” he said. The plan is to also reach out to search engines, including Google, to help solicit their support on this issue. Demand Media has also been contacted directly about the guidelines, added Duncan.