Controversial Content Company Demand Media Hires Editorial Advisors

paidContent’s Staci Kramer is reporting that Demand Media, which has garnered a reputation as a robotic content farmer, has hired some media heavyweights to advise the firm on editorial quality.

According to paidContent, the board includes former Lifetime Networks CEO Andrea Wong; UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television dean Teri Schwartz, USC Annenberg School for Communication dean Ernest James Wilson III, and Society of Professional Journalists president Kevin Z. Smith.

Job-hunting journalists may have encountered Demand Media’s Demand Studios during their search. The company boasts on its Web site, “We produce tens of thousands of articles and videos every month and are growing fast. We are the largest provider of video content to YouTube, and our articles and videos are seen on popular websites such as LIVESTRONG.COM, eHow, GolfLink, and many more.”

Demand takes the seemingly self-evident notion that any content appearing at the top of a Google search page to its logical extreme. It recruits freelance writers, editors, and videographers to create content that fills perceived gaps in the Internet’s knowledge base. Demand Studios doesn’t pay a ton (its Web site says freelance writing assignments pay “$5 to $25 or more” apiece). To eke out a meaningful income, contributors often work at breakneck speed. (For an in-depth look at Demand, check out this Wired story from October 2009.)

Like AOL’s Seed news initiative, Demand faces skepticism from journalists, who worry over the low rates and an apparent lack of devotion to quality. Demand generates story ideas using a complex computer algorithm that trolls search data and traffic statistics — forget the newsroom pitch meeting.

Perhaps the hiring of the advisory board indicates that Demand is actively searching for a business model that will appease its critics. As Kramer points out, though, this whole initiative could be a giant public-relations stunt.

Until we see whether the board has any sway over Demand, the company still has some work to do cleaning up its image. Perhaps it’s noteworthy that BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis has declined an offer to serve on the board, saying “Demand is uniquely controversial right now and so I decided to decline its invitation to advise and also thought I should disclose that here once it made its announcement. … [Y]ou should read no particular statement into my decision to decline; still, I thought you should know.”