Silly as Watson’s particular examples may be, “evergreen” content in the lifestyle section do matter, both to the profession and to news readers. A newspaper doesn’t just reflect a community’s interests and values, it shapes them; every section contributes to that process. The more newspapers outsource the job to national companies, the less connected those papers are to the communities they serve. And devaluing the profession of writing with hastily-produced content-for-clicks doesn’t serve anyone, except for the content mill’s bottom line.
Demand Media and its ilk can’t be the default solution to the problem of shrinking newsroom budgets—a problem that isn’t going away any time soon. If we’re not careful, we’ll all start to expect less: not just of what we read, but of what we write, and how we as writers are rewarded for it.