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 Newsday.com, 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.
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