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I understand this will harm PR but could I get beyond, say PR5, without substantial backlinks?
A lot of good content + wise internal linking = spread pr. Do the math.
>without substantial backlinks
You will need some. But hey, the more good content you have, the more deep links you'll get - naturally.
check and analyze the WebmasterWorld strcuture, content and linkage - both back links and internal linkage.
I have. WebmasterWorld leaves no doubt about who's the king of seo. WebmasterWorld is page one on 25,000 plus terms I have spidered. This place must do 100,000 referrals a day. bt, u r the master!
Should i add more original content to this site? for example some articles, news, etc?
Personally i don't think Googles cares too much at all about dupe content, unless pages are indentical. Stick with adding similar ontopic content and leave the news etc to the BBC
There are plenty of sites which will allow you to post a request for writers and have them bid for the work. Even with a smallish budget you can get a few hundred pages written.
Be careful to specify exactly what you want though. And ask for a few samples of the potential writer's work before you commission them. Your role then becomes more of a commissioning editor rather than writer. As long as you research your keywords carefully and commission tightly to a pre-determined budget, you'll be laughing.