Recently a contributor to Forbes named Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote an opinion piece suggesting that local taxpayers would be better off if libraries were replaced with Amazon. The article created an instant controversy and media reporting of the outrage led Forbes to quickly take it down. For years the expansion of contributors to the Forbes network has led to plenty of so-called experts with questionable credentials writing self promotional articles. Earlier this year, there was a long post about journalistic integrity, plans to hire more journalists and how those contributors would be rewarded. The intent to hire more journalists is a noble one, but the fact that stories are published on the site with little editorial oversight seems likely to continue unless Forbes gets serious about reevaluating the criteria for contributors, and providing more traditional journalism training. Sadly, this will likely not become a priority even now.
Forbes has been one of the most forward looking of the “traditional” business publications in opening its network to contributors that would have a difficult time getting those same articles published on a rival site or publication. The upside of this choice for the past several years has been that Forbes has far more content than rivals and therefore appears in more search results, has more people promoting those articles and delivers more page views and impressions to sell advertising against. The dangerous side, as this controversy demonstrated, is that the lack of oversight on all these contributors creates backlash. The bigger truth, however, is that the “controversy” generated is probably not a bad thing for Forbes. It’s easy for them to delete any offending article and chalk it up to a momentary lapse in editorial judgement.
As a result the entire story seems to strike at the heart of what it will take to succeed in media and publishing today. Is it better to open up a platform to all sorts of peddlers of content and mix the good with the not so good and apologize away any potential controversies, or to maintain a strict editorial standard and therefore produce less content and less page views? The answer, at the moment, is anyone’s guess.