The medium is not the message - page views are the message at major newspapers

The economics of online news is determined by the number of page views. But "page view journalism" will create problems...
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

In May I wrote: MediaWatch: Journalists Won't Report News Unless It Can Drive Page Views

Lou Hoffman from The Hoffman Agency pointed me to this article from the New York Times:

In Online Journalism, Burnout Starts Younger - NYTimes.com


Tracking how many people view articles, and then rewarding — or shaming — writers based on those results has become increasingly common in old and new media newsrooms. The Christian Science Monitor now sends a daily e-mail message to its staff that lists the number of page views for each article on the paper’s Web site that day.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times all display a “most viewed” list on their home pages. Some media outlets, including Bloomberg News and Gawker Media, now pay writers based in part on how many readers click on their articles.


At Gawker Media’s offices in Manhattan, a flat-screen television mounted on the wall displays the 10 most-viewed articles across all Gawker’s Web sites. The author’s last name, along with the number of page views that hour and over all are prominently shown in real time on the screen, which Gawker has named the “big board.”

“Sometimes one sees writers just standing before it, like early hominids in front of a monolith,” said Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s founder. Mr. Denton said not all writers have warmed to the concept. “But the best exclusives do get rewarded,” he added, noting that bonuses for writers are calculated in part based on page views.

This brings up an issue I raised in January:

The Killer Pitch? - When PR Agencies Can Do This - Look Out . . . - SVW

The killer pitch is simple: "Write a story about my client and we will help drive page views to your story."

Fortunately, PR firms don't know how to reliably drive page views -- at least not yet. But once they figure it out look out because journalists will be tempted to work with those PR agencies that help determine their paychecks.

There is also another sinister side to "page view journalism." If you know how to drive page views to a story, you can also drive page views away from a story. If a journalist writes an unfavorable story then a PR agency could help to diminish the "public" aspect of that story.

The danger of page view journalism is that money will be used to determine what you read, see and hear. And that's because the economics of journalism is determined today by page views. Change the economics and you change the story.

The medium is not the message. In today's media: page views is the message.

(Please note: The majority of ZDNet bloggers are paid by the number of page views but that doesn't mean we write for page views.)
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