The New York Times motto is: "All the news that's fit to print." Today, many media organizations are following a motto that might be rephrased as:"All the news that's fit to drive views," because that's the pressure increasing numbers of journalists are facing.
I get paid on the basis of page views by ZDNet, but I don't let that color what I will write about, I always choose subjects without regard to their potential popularity. That's not true for increasing numbers of journalists because they are under constant pressure to generate page views.
Sam Whitmore of the excellent Sam Whitmore's Media Survey
, a media monitoring service used by many PR agencies, talks to a lot of journalists as part of his work.
Sam Whitmore reports:
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.
Example: let's say an interesting startup has a new and different idea. Many reporters now won't touch it because (a) the story won't generate page views, and (b) few people search on terms germane to that startup. Potential SEO performance is now a key factor in what gets assigned.
Two reporters from two different publications this month both told us the same thing: if you want to write a story on an interesting but obscure topic, you had better feed the beast by writing a second story about the iPad or Facebook or something else that delivers page views and good SEO.
Page view journalism is a bad idea because it will make our society poorer as less popular but important stories and ideas are written and discussed.
Page view journalism also means that smaller companies will be crowded out by their larger competitors. And with the current media tsunami
out there, if you aren't seen by your potential customers, you don't exist.
All the more reason why companies must also generate their own media, to make up for the shrinkage of the independent media industry. (When Every Company Is A Media Company...)
It's not the journalists who are at fault, it is their management, and their management is merely following the actual economics of online journalism. The management shouldn't be following but trying to anticipate the changing economics of online journalism.
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. Media organizations need to adopt a multi-revenue business model, or what I call a Heinz 57 model
Multi-revenues means incorporating lead generation, affilaite marketing, custom advertising packages, virtual currencies, and more.
The rise of page view journalism brings other dangers. In January I wrote:
The Killer Pitch? - When PR Agencies Can Do This - Look Out ...
...here's a killer pitch. It's one that I haven't heard yet but it's only a matter of time.
" ... and we have the ability to drive a lot of traffic to your story."
In a world where reporters are increasingly rewarded not on the quality of their work but on how much traffic their stories attract -- this becomes the killer pitch.
Journalists will increasingly be tempted to work with those agencies that help them drive page views. Luckily, PR companies haven't figured out how to reliably drive traffic to a specific story beyond submitting it to Digg, etc. But that will change.