“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
That iconic phrase (that we generally associate with a lad in knickers and an Irish tweed cap holding a newspaper aloft as he shouts at the top of his lungs) is about one thing:
What sells newspapers? News. And news is always better with lots of drama. Sex. Drugs. Corruption. Plot twists.
So I read with a wry smile last week Tom Foremski’s post at the Silicon Valley Watcher called: “MediaWatch: Journalists Won’t Report News Unless It Can Drive Page Views.”
That’s kind of like saying: “Hollywood Producers Won’t Make Films Unless People Want To Watch Them.”
I like Tom Foremski because he likes to provoke – and this is one of those posts. Tom quotes another excellent media watcher Sam Whitmore (full disclosure: Weber Shandwick where I work uses Sam’s services) as saying:
“It’s now a luxury for a reporter to write a story about an obscure but important topic. That used to be a job requirement. Now it’s a career risk.”
“The dirty little secret of journalism’s focus on page views is that the value of each page view is decreasing, because the value of online advertising is decreasing. This means it’s a strategy that will likely lead to failure.”
The gist of this post is that journalism is being eroded by a focus on driving readership. That important, but obscure stories won’t see the light of day because of this drive to increase readership.
Tom also writes: “Page view journalism also means that smaller companies will be crowded out by their larger competitors.”
Well, no kidding. That’s always been the case. When Apple or Google or Microsoft announces news – they get covered. These are enormous companies with global impact. Of course they are going to get more coverage than a tiny start-up in Boston with five employees, no product, no customers and some venture capital seed money.
That’s why there’s a lot of problems with the scenario spelled out here. Journalism – at least the business of journalism – has always been about page views. Page views just used to called circulation numbers.
I was a journalist for more than 10 years and getting people to read the newspaper – which meant increasing circulation at the time – was goal number one. Reporters and editors have always tried to cover news with the broadest audience and appealed the most to their readers. There were constant arguments in the news room about this topic.
Reporters who wanted to cover an obscure topic had to pitch it to their editors – and tell them why it was important and why readers would care. It has always been this way.
The only difference is that technology now allows editors to accurately measure which stories hold the most appeal and attract the most readers. But this measurement doesn’t occur until after a story is written. And all kinds of quirky – obscure – news can drive eyeballs.
I tend to agree with Mike Masnick at TechDirt who wrote:
“If you have an “obscure but important topic,” that actually tends to be a goldmine for pageviews. Why? Because you’re the only one covering it.”
In other words, scoops – getting news no one else has – bring in readers.
But obscure or not, page views (i.e. readership) has always been at the forefront of journalism. The internet hasn’t changed that.