Friday, May 31, 2013

Work for the page views, not the paychecks

Remember in the early days of Web journalism, when the backlash against chasing page views led people to pontificate about that fundamental axiom of journalism, that you must balance what people WANT to know (Kimye's baby name) with what people NEED to know (the government is spying on you)?

Now, chasing page views is falling out of vogue as news organizations that base their success on "engagement" and the many ways that can be measured, and it's not uncommon to hear my journalist friends look down their noses at sites like Buzzfeed, whose click-bait content seems to blatantly chase after the basest desires of the reading public.

I'd like to come out in defense of the page view, to a certain extent, because like it or not it's a rather pure measure of what your audience is interested in. Every click is a decision: Whether from Google search or from a visit to your homepage, that click is a choice to look at a piece of content before any other piece of content on the page at the time.

That is a pretty potent metric.

It's definitely not the whole story, and news organizations have a responsibility to pay attention to the many ways that an audience can give them feedback (time on the page, number of comments, number of shares, for example), but it is a part of the story that should be heeded.

What chasing page views also represents to me, and this is a good thing, is the snobbery of those writers and editors who would rather never publish any news about Lindsay Lohan, or the dog that befriended an injured raccoon in the next town over.

As the deputy editor of, I find myself working with every desk in the newsroom, every day. Video, graphics, desk editors, beat reporters, copy editors, social media moderators and upper management, not to mention the entire Web staff that sits around me.

That means I have a lot of time to observe the apparent motivations of the slice of life that ends up working at a major news organization like this one. What I see are some people who simply work for a paycheck: they do their jobs without making any great effort to do them quickly or to push their jobs to new heights.

Other people, who for the sake of the current discussion work for the page views, pay attention to what the audience is reading, what they are responding to, and what is animating the conversation around the news on social media.

It's not that complicated, but when it comes to the quest for page views, there are plenty worse motivations in the journalism business.

Thursday, May 2, 2013 One year later

A little more than a year ago, I wrote about 11 ideas to improve Fortune's lists online, since the company was looking for a new editor to manage franchise projects like the Fortune 500. I decided to check in on what's changed since then, using the 100 Best Companies list on which I based the initial exercise.


I much prefer the splash page with the top 10 items (each with thumbnail), and instead of the tabs to organize the list, now we have a row of features that are related to this list along the top, each with a big picture. I recommended these changes and clearly they were thinking along the same lines.

I also see that the box on the top right is now being used to highlight other Fortune lists rather than a job search tool, which is a much better way to use the space.

Video content, which used to be up top in a prominent place, now takes a more logical place below the list where it's intermingled with other featured content. I don't know many people who specifically go to a site looking for video content to watch; rather they go looking for interesting content, whatever form it takes. Fortune has apparently realized this, which is a good thing.

So it's a big step forward, pretty much involving all 4 of my original suggestions for organizing this content.


In terms of content, I don't see much new here. Looks like the old lists, just packaged in a new way. Maybe this area will improve with time, but I still think that there should be more social media on this page, and there should be deeper integration with other Fortune lists.


My biggest reaction to the new lists is that finally we have a lot of visuals to make the page stand out and give the reader things to latch onto. I would love to see more non-stock-photo art, but overall the page looks fresher and more modern than it did a year ago. I do think some persistent nav would do wonders for the user experience and would make the lists significantly more mobile-friendly though.

Finally, I am very happy to note that one feature I mentioned in my earlier posts, including one on social media recommendations for Fortune, has been made reality: Social Media Superstars, the companies with the most dedicated approach to using social media to connect with the public. It's a breakout list of the top companies master list, and I bet this one has done well both on the site and in terms of sharability.

Nicely done, Fortune, but there is still a way to go to make these lists sing on websites and, most importantly, phones and tablets. Good luck in that effort.