broadsideblog

Why Crap Gets Read And Real News Doesn't: The Inherent Dilemma Of Writing For Page Views

In business, Media on May 25, 2010 at 9:38 am
Lady GaGa concert

No, this woman is not newsworthy. Image via Wikipedia

Why producing serious journalism and writing for the Web are contradictory impulses.

An intelligent — and deeply depressing to old-school journos like me — analysis from Silicon Valley Watcher:

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 will make our society poorer because less popular but important topics will be crowded out.

The new head of Bloomberg Business Week magazine Josh Tyrangiel, formerly at Time, agrees, telling FishbowlNY:

“Just because you have a witty tweet…that’s not journalism,” he said. “I don’t want to reward people who go out of their way to make a scene…for [Gawker Media chief executive Nick] Denton and some other properties, it may make some sense, but for us it doesn’t.”

I started blogging here in July 2009 and now receive about 12,000 unique visitors a month; this month I might hit a high of 15,000.

But only if I write something really sexy.

Yesterday set a new record for me of more than 1,000 pageviews in a day, when I wrote about the ‘Lost’ finale. I wanted to write on it and I thought the show smart and worth discussing. Cynically, sure, I also knew it was the pop culture topic of the day. It’s like driving with the handbrake on if you ignore the essential reality that popular topics rule this space.

But this means that thoughtful, serious, ambitious writers whose work appears only on-line, and whose only putative value is calculated in pageviews or unique visitors, are toast. Which is how our worth, here, is measured.

If I’m paid $1,500 or $3,000 or $5,000+ for a story that demands multiple interviews, research, reading and revisions, as most newspaper and magazine stories do, and it appears on-line later (as it will, without further compensation — nice), you, the reader have the choice to ignore it or, if you’re willing to dive deep(er) know you’re getting something solid.

It works for both of us. If you’re bored, just turn the page — you’ve already paid for the publication. In print, I get paid enough to make my time worthwhile and can still, occasionally, place a long, thoughtful piece on a tough issue before the eyes of millions of readers.

This volume-vs.-quality metric is applied in lousy newsrooms, where reporters are subjected to managers who count the number of their by-lines in the paper and the number of column inches they have filled with their words. Are the reporters producing smart stuff? Interesting? Breaking important stories?

Who cares? It’s content. It’s being read.

As someone who has become increasingly aware of on-line work and how to grease and speed the machinery, it’s pretty clear that if every piece I posted had a headline or early mention of Lady Gaga or Sarah Palin or the oil spill, I’d be golden.

And if I have nothing new to add on any particular topic, knowing it’s the topic of the day, or am merely shilling for eyeballs (and getting them), does it matter? If I deliberately choose to write about something obscure (educating my readers) or less popular (niche) or investigative (quite possibly depressing and complicated), I’m kissing my bonus goodbye.

Integrity versus bonus. Dark, smart, tough stuff versus lite/happy/cute videos. It’s not a divide I want to straddle, but some of us do. Feeding the beast doesn’t always mean producing my best work, stories and ideas that I — and some of the clients I hope with to work in the future — deeply value.

I find it depressing, but instructive, that my top five best-read (of more than 700 posts) stories here are on pop culture. Sigh. I don’t even care much about pop culture, so it’s a fairly rare event when I care enough and know enough to think I might have something worthwhile to add to that particular chorus.

Professional writers write for money. A very rare, and very fortunate, few freelancers are making serious coin writing only serious material.

Dedicated and amateur bloggers can become financially wildly successful if they persist and draw enormous audiences.

But who, beyond the elite troops of paid on-line journalism veterans like ProPublica, (and the on-line versions of old-school newspapers and newsmagazines) will actually cover anything serious?

Do you care?

  1. If it makes you feel better, I did not read your article about ‘Lost’ because I had no desire to read/hear one more thing about a show I had no interest in and didn’t watch more than a few seconds of while flipping through channels. I come here for the bra talk.

  2. It is sad that pop culture nonsense seems to get more readers than other issues. It must be frustrating to cover topics like that when you would rather cover other things. I have never watched an episode of Lost nor will I ever. I noticed 5 ( maybe more) contributors on T/S wrote about it. Ugggh.

    I also don’t read politics and economics all the time either – depressing. What I liked about your blog is you talked about everyday things and out of the ordinary! I enjoyed reading your thoughts and experiences that other people on here do not (have) write about.
    Many of your past articles were also on uplifting things instead of focusing on the negative. It didn’t matter if I agreed with you or not on each topic, you are an insightful person. You also engage the reader and ask for their thoughts. It was refreshing. Thanks for that.

    • I see nothing wrong with expecting more from your readers also – it isn’t all on you ;-)

  3. Suzanna, this is very helpful. I will, I promise, keep you abreast of all things on the topic…

    evyb, thanks for your kind words. I saw a similar post a few months ago — and he hasn’t posted in a long time — from PJ Tobia in Afghanistan, whose posts I eagerly looked forward to. He despaired of ever finding or building a large(enough) audience to sustain his work.

    The weird challenge of traditional journalism is defining what’s “important” — and often it’s another snoozefest on politics or economics, and written from inside the Beltway. And so I do appreciate the freedom bloggers have to call is as we see it and to roam from serious to Lite. Often within traditional journalism, being funny or silly or straying off-topic marks you as a lightweight or dilettante, when it can really constrict your POV. Every staff journo who wants to keep their job knows that half the stuff that gets printed is done to impress the boss or their competitors.

    I do fear that Lite (or Very Loud rage-filled chest-thumpers), will rule this universe and crowd out the rest.

  4. While the compensation model for writers is different for web based publishing, Caitlin, is this situation really any different than what happened to TV news in the last 20 years when the news division was required to make a profit? It used to be that the entertainment division paid the way of the news division so the news could remain impartial and cover hard-charging, investigative stories. But the minute the news lived or died by the ratings, the format changed: we got a lot of fluff and not a lot of real information. I’m not saying I agree with the model; personally, I think we need to have a system on the order of the BBC in the UK, whose news is far more intelligent than our network news because they don’t have to worry about advertisers buying time. Sure, they have their fluff, too, but it’s primarily confined to the tabloids.

    I’m not sure what the answer is; perhaps there need to be non-profit journalism entities for the web to keep the separation of church and state, if you will.

  5. I recently left a newspaper for a reason you listed. They didn’t care about content; only about filling up space (and this is a local paper with a minimal online presence).

    The editor cared less about the content and more about filling inches.

    I now work at a marketing company as part of their Online Reputation Management team.

  6. Depending on your view of things, we’re either in a great time for journalism/writing, or in the sinking middle of an absolute low point. I’m hardwired to be a pessimist, so I view the hour-by-hour glut of keyword-laden, SEO-friendly articles churned out by everyone-and-their-mother (literally) as a frustrating reminder of how bad things have become. With the great freedom that blogging software (Blogger, WordPress, Drupal, etc.) has provided to everyday people, it has also brought with it daunting challenges. Too many underwhelming stories are posted, reposted, and re-reposted by “writers” who are contributing nothing to the greater conversation, just phishing for page views. All we can hope is that, as page-view journalism continues to rise, writers interested in telling important, original stories will continue to do so.

  7. It seems to me this growing form of ignorance–the important story that goes unreported–is a consequence of new forms of knowledge–the ability to know exactly how many readers read each story. In the good old days we covered dreadfully uninteresting stories because they were important–the planning commission is my favorite example. Stories on the planning commission every week, even when they weren’t looking at particularly important projects. A reporter always sitting beside them, at every meeting. No one read those stories. We suspected it then and we know it now. Knowing it makes it harder to publish them.

    In the old days, it didn’t matter whether people read the story. It was enough that people might be reading it. The planning commission knew there was a reporter present and the story was in the newspaper for everyone to see. That created a sense, for the planning commission, of acting in public.

    That reporter is no longer sitting beside the planning commission. But I wonder, now that everyone is a potential publisher, and every public act is potentially publishable, is this new ignorance mitigated at all by a more pervasive sense of acting in public?

    Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this, Caitlin.

  8. I think consumer readers like me appreciate the dilema you face. And I also believe that the market is adapting. It may not be moving as fast as we would like, but it is working in your favor. News papers that are simply focused on filling up pages with crap are all but sealing their fate. No one has the time to speed read through the paper to find the one good article in it and after enough experience with a given paper we just wont buy it any more.

    Online content is very similar. Yes, you could attract more page views writing about this or that, but then you get into that butterfly wings dilema because you can’t really fake it. Your best writing comes from a place specific to you. Rick Ungar’s best writing comes from a place that is specific to him. In the short-term, each of you might be able to speak to the different worlds you write about, but in the long-term each of you will succeed or fail by building your respective audiences for the type of writing you both enjoy. And that, it seems to me, is the key. Passion leads to quality and quality leads to audience and audience leads to whatever goals you have.

    Now, what I started off with was this idea that the market is adapting and I was thinking about True/Slant. The reason why I think it works is because there are hundreds of writers here and each one has their place or is competing in their space with like minded writers. What I see in this crowded market is that the site is a little island of abundance. There is good writing here, and excellent minds, and what is interesting is that each time a contributor succeeds, s/he brings eyes in that help lift the boat for everyone else that contributes. Now I am sure that the monetization of that needs to evolve, but this would seem to be one of the models of the future.

  9. I do care, but I’m not sure you’re right. I suspect that while Lady Gaga posts might outperform, say, saving money on storage costs by wearing three bras at once posts by 1000:1, how many Lady Gaga posts go up daily versus tribulations of female journalist posts? I suspect that while truly obscure topics might be hard to support, branding can still make a difference, which both good writing and good journalism are a subset of.

    One illustration: I am not a journalist and I’ve never had blogging as a component of my income, but once upon a time, maybe three years ago, I posted a picture of a gnu on my blog. I think more than half of the (tiny) traffic on my blog comes from people looking for pictures of gnus.

    So being esoteric can be a plus as well as a minus. To the degree you’re looking for faithful readers more than random eyeballs, which strikes me as the way to build a reliable brand, being Caitlin Kelly seems as good a strategy as posting on the same topic everyone is reading.

    Reminder: I’m a constant reader here and didn’t get that way because I was looking for another Sarah Palin in Spandex site, or even a women’s issues and journalism site.

  10. The aforestated notwithstanding, Lady Gaga has spectacular hips. Thank you for posting the photo.

  11. Thanks for all your thoughts….This has even more relevance as I may well get fired when Forbes buys T/S, as was just announced. Nice.

    Jeff makes an important point, and one that really concerns me. So much of “political” or economic coverage – by the mainstream media who collect decent paychecks for so doing — is lame, lame, lame. Fawning profiles, massaging of ego in return for access. Not the “we’re watching you, pal!” sort of doggedness that the media traditionally has been called upon to do, not just shill for the edutainment industrial complex. It’s a lot easier to say “Lost! Cool!” than analyze a school budget. Which is more important to use, really?

    john and doug, it means a lot that both of you have found something of value at T/S and at my site. It’s really a matter of hopeful guesswork as to what anyone wants to really read, but I know what *I* want to read and how very rarely I find it. I’ve also found a number of really smart people writing here. I hope some of us make the cut as Forbes takes its pick.

    Feel free to lobby on my behalf!

  12. Can you clarify how someone lobbies on your behalf? If this is an awkward conversation, you can delete this comment and email me at dpascover on gmail.

  13. What if all we’re seeing here is the enumeration of a long-time phenomenon? Google News, Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon are all just headline generators. People click on what they want to read. That click may simply be a concrete proof of the fact that people were always reading the fluff story and browsing the headlines of important stories. The key impact of this enumeration is on the journalist, as you spelled out.

    It’s good to have this conversation, because whatever solutions might be out there, they will have to be found by journalists themselves. We have to figure out how to add value to the work, package it better or learn how to make the soft news carry the hard news. No one is going to solve this for us.

    One thing seems sure: ‘Page view’ is not the optimal measurement. It’s important, but what any given reader does after that click (be it buy from an advertiser, or the writer/website, or change a policy or agitate for change) is far more important. How do we enumerate that?

  14. Lewis Dvorkin, who I have never met, and Coates Bateman run True/Slant; both have sites here. The announcement today comes as a compete surprise and one that leaves me concerned about what happens next for my blogging and an audience I’ve worked really hard to find and build. It’s a terrific accomplishment for them both, and they are proud of it as they should be.

    But I have no doubt that many of the 275+ writers here will not be on the top of Forbes’ keeper list. It may also be that the new terms aren’t (as) workable as those of T/S have been. We’ve been given, thank God, total independence from Day One.

  15. OK, then we among your regular readers need to try and keep you here but also be ready to follow you elsewhere if necessary.

  16. Michael, that’s an interesting question — the “call to action” as it’s called in advertising. I’ve received much more interaction and commentary here than for anything I have ever published anywhere in print in 30 years. The closest was my op-ed on bullying in USA Today that ran about a month ago and my Feb. 15, 2009 NYT essay that has since become my book — to which 150 people worldwide responded by email.

    I think many readers want to feel (more) engaged with the news they read, to have some notion they know the writer(s) and can have a dialogue with them, which we’ve had here.

    I have no idea how to make $$$$$ off my blogging. I have been lucky to enjoy a small, steady income here and would miss it, and this site. But I am not an Internet marketing maven and don’t really want to head out and try to get ads. I doubt anyone would pay for my material because it is NOT niche enough — I love that 50 percent of my followers are male, 50 percent female, which is pretty unusual for the ‘Net.

    Who would find that monetarily valuable? Without much more detailed data (ie. everyone’s age, location, income) who are my readers, probably no one.

    Time for an on-line survey. Maybe I’ll see if I can get one together in the next few days.

    • I agree that T/S has been a great platform for dialogue and getting inserted into the wider conversation. I think the crew here gets it and I hope they get a chance to keep working their ideas at Forbes. Whether there is $$$$ in blogging, for most of us, I doubt. But maybe $$ and the platform, especially when we work in community like this. (I know we’re tired of loss-leaders, especially when it seems it leads to nothing. Alas, it must be.) Jake’s point is a good one — the platform offers a chance for the kind of innovation we know about – researching and writing in a way that compels the passersby to divert their attention for a moment. That’s the exciting part and the community you’ve built is proof that there’s a place for your voice.

  17. doug, I sure hope people will follow. I should know more tomorrow about what happens next and will let you know.

  18. In his book, “The Soul of a New Machine” Tracy Kidder took a mundane subject and wrote a book about it that won the Pulitzer prize. Books like that don’t write themselves. It takes passion and dedication to the subject to make it interesting.

    Likewise, it takes perseverance and good old shoe leather to get an investigative story worth reporting.

    And then, there is the presentation part of the equation. The days of a newspaper are dying fast. They have not yet made the full transition to the online world. Meanwhile, advertisers are still discovering the nuances of advertising through search engines and what those ads might be worth.

    You may not get many eyeballs on your writing, Caitlin, but the ones you do get may be worth far more than average. The key is for advertisers to figure out what they’re worth and for you to negotiate a reasonable price.

    I recommend research in to the statistics that search engines gather about a web site, and using that information to market your efforts.

    Unfortunately, that is yet another thing that news magazines and newspapers used to do, that you’ll have to do by yourself.

    I don’t envision people getting rich off this line of work. You’re competing with the rest of the world. But I don’t think you’ll be hungry either.

  19. I think that the reason T/S isn’t working out as well as it could for you is that you haven’t built a reputation around your writing. You need to carve out a niche and put a label on yourself, so that people will know it’s you they should seek out if they’re looking for information on a certain subject.
    Otherwise you’ll just be lost in the mass of TS’s 275 other writers.

    To be honest, 12 000 unique readers per month isn’t much for a blog on a major website such as TS.
    I have an old blog on blogspot that I no longer maintain, but since I’ve stuck to a specific subject with all my posts, I still have people visiting the blog, and the traffic is actually increasing slightly month by month. This month I’m slightly short of 9 000 unique readers.

    So, I definitely think there is a place and a demand for high quality content on the Internet. You just need to tell people that it’s with you they can get it.

    There is however a problem with simply using readers to judge the value of your content. There needs to be a direct connection between reader value and writer compensation.
    Thankfully, there is a solution in the works.

    It’s called Flattr and it lets users with just a click transfer money to content creators. It’s basically like Facebook’s Like button, just with money.

    Flattr is currently in a closed beta, but check it out and sign up for an invite:
    http://www.flattr.com

  20. Well, so the point I’m trying to get across is I hope you’ll still be here but I’ll follow if any following is necessary.

  21. spacelounge, thanks for the info.

    While 12,000 a month seems paltry to you, (with many more page views), I started from zero, and never having blogged, so it looks good to me. I’m fine with it as an achievement and have learned a lot.

    I also have spoken here and elsewhere about why I blog and what I do professionally and why. I began focusing on women but I don’t “ladyblog”, or want to, whatever that is. I have no interest in competing with the big boys like Jezebel or DoubleX in this regard. I do what I do and if people like it, terrific.

    I did a content analysis a while back and found that I spend about 20 percent of my time on each of a rotating menu of issues: foreign news, writing for a living, women, money and personal finance, sports. No pattern. No reason anyone should listen to me at all because, no, I am not An Expert on any of these. I do bring tremendous life and work experience to my writing — and soon start blogging for an Australian site whose founder selected me from the bazillions of other bloggers out there. She’s a total stranger, but liked my work enough to ask for more of it for her readers.

    The fiscal reality is that people at T/S who got 50,000 uniques a month made the largest bonuses, but even if they hit it every month, it was still less than some people can command for one print article. What I’ve earned here in 11 months, sometimes blogging three times a day, is about what I’d pull in from a medium-sized magazine piece.

    *One.* Not the 700+ posts I’ve created here, likely a total of 350,000 words. (My book will be 100,000 words and is paying me quite a bit more.) I’ve been happy to do it, and hoped I was building toward greater income. It’s been fun, but the next step….?

    I don’t want to specialize and if that condemns me to on-line anonymity and invisibility, so be it. I find anyone who professes to be an “authority” often pretty suspect anyway.

    doug, much appreciated. We writers are being told some details tomorrow about T/S’s sale and I guess I’ll know soon enough if I’m a part of it — or need to spin off and set up my own little tent elsewhere. I would certainly hope that anyone who followed me here might find something of value from me elsewhere. The challenge will be time/money.

    • Thanks for your reply Caitlin, and for the info on how T/S is working out for you as a writer.
      It’s very interesting for me as I like to spend time thinking about the future of media.

      To be honest I’m not surprised that T/S is yet to be a real source of income for its bloggers. There just isn’t a good enough connection between content and reader value in newspapers, be it print or online, today.
      And I actually do not believe that media in general will be supported by ads the same way in the future as it is today.

      I might sound like a broken record, but I think you should look into Flattr if you haven’t already, and what it might mean for online media. I’m not in any way affiliated with them, just an excited beta user.
      I posted something about it on my blog if you want my (longer) opinion on it.

      As it is now, blogging on T/S seems to be a great way to get your name out. But it could, I believe, become a main source of income if used with the service that I’ve already been naming too many times.

      I agree with you that ‘experts’ are suspect and annoying. But it is perfectly possible to write in a non-authoritarian way about a single subject. For me, this built a large and committed audience, and because of my style, I only received two angry comments in the four years that the blog has been online!

      Good luck, I’ll be checking in once in a while to see how this is working out for you– would be great to see a follow up post on this same subject in a few months!

  22. Thanks for this post, Caitlin. It’s very insightful and on point. I consider myself very lucky because music and movies are my twin passions, and I’ve spent my entire career covering celebrities, entertainment and pop culture, so some of the sexier topics are right up my alley. I try never to write posts just for the sake of writing them, or merely re-writing over-reported stories, and always attempt to provide some kind of context with the news hook.

    But some of my most rewarding T/S experiences have been with pieces that have less to do with celebrities or entertainment and are just about real life — like the one on Istanbul or turning 41. And sometimes I do get a little tired reading the billionth spin on a Sarah Palin non-story (though I might be guilty of mentioning Lady Gaga a few times to often).

    But covering pop culture does have its hazards. Working for magazines for most of my career, I was pretty insulated from readers and how nasty they can be. When you cover music and movies, sometimes critically, readers can react with astonishing cruelty. I’m still getting accustomed to it, but being an extremely sensitive person, it’s a way uphill climb.

  23. Jeremy, I am struck by the irony of posting this today — as T/S’s sale is announced and none of us has any idea who will stay and who will go.

    I’ve been fortunate enough (so far) to have escaped the haters. I suspect you and I (as ex-bullying victims), may find that sort of heated attack even harder to take. Not that it’s necessary or acceptable.

    American discourse seems rarely civil and on-line gets completely nuts.

  24. I hope you don’t think that any of your efforts at T/S have been in vain. Your writing has helped me express my own thoughts through comments and conversations with my wife and friends. I know you’re a pro who can dig deep and write about very serious topics. You should obviously be paid for your work. At this point I would pay to subscribe to T/S to continue reading you and the other contributors. It is extremely meaningful to me to share my thoughts and observations about the life I have lead. Maybe the Forbes deal will help profile all of you who write on this site – and pay you as well. Tom Medlicott

  25. Tom, thanks. I’m really honored to read this. It’s bad enough I’m mourning the end of “Lost” this week, (I found the final few moments very emotional), and now this, news that came out of the blue.

    Let’s see what we find out tomorrow in our meeting with T/S. I am already exploring where or how to migrate this blog (the archives I need to consider as well) somewhere else and whether or not I even own this name, Broadside. It has been the most fun and most intimate experience I’ve yet had as a writer so I’d very much like to keep the party going.

    When I taught adult ed. classes at NYU there would sometimes be an amazing class that was very hard to end at the close of the semester, so cool and fun and eager were the students. I feel (not that readers are students!) that way about what’s been happening here. Several of my followers (boy, that sounds pretentious) have become FB friends.

    I hope T/S gives us enough time to fold our tents with grace and give our readers a forwarding address, even if it’s not with Forbes.

  26. Caitlin, when I pull up the T/S page, I scroll down the page to see if you’ve posted and when you have, it’s always the first thing I read.

    I love your ability to pull snippets out of popular current events and put them into a thought-provoking, social context. Your posts aren’t gossipy or snarky or obvious. You don’t rant or overshare. In a world full of I’m-so-witty bloggers, you’re a breath of fresh air.

    I fear mightily for the collective IQ of the US. We’re gorging on a diet of mental junk food and as a country, we will pay for this eventually.

  27. joan, thanks! I may have to tape this to my computer for when I’m having a bad day. :-)

    We’ll know more, I hope, in the next few days how things will change, or not.

  28. Eh, I wouldn’t worry too much. You’ve done a lot of writing for this site, been one of the workhorses. Besides, you’re a classy broad and your stuff is usually worthwhile.

    I haven’t yet taken the plunge toward more “financially rewarding” writing gigs, conetnt to do stuff for a 30k-print alt freebie and a small web/print syndie. I probably won’t, either, reading this. Fighting for page hits against a bunch of chumps making up angles on Lindsay Lohan? Who needs that shit?

    Art simply doesn’t pay. Writing is a fun, part-time outlet for me, and my editor allows me to throw in a few anarchic comments, which is all I could ever hope for. I may even have a few Constant Readers out there, which would be just fab.

    I honestly don’t think I’ve ever even noticed an ad on T/S, which was one reason I liked it. But I promise, next time I go to pay my Sprint bill I’ll start by clicking here. If that helps. Or whatever. Holy fricking crow.

  29. It is not about writing for page views, as you know, but about generating enough interest that will pay the bills AND allow for free voice. With Forbes taking over the like of T/S, this is an incredible imperative.

  30. Caitlin – Thanks for writing about this issue. I’ve found it extremely frustrating that unless I write about something sexy or controversial, people generally won’t read it. I feel as if I have to make a choice: a serious, thoughtful, informative piece that won’t be read, or something sensational that will. One thing I have found somewhat effective is making the title of my posts over the top, but keeping my actual post serious. For example, the title of my post on homeschooling got a lot of people mad, but the post itself was very even-handed. I explained to a couple of readers that the only way I was going to get hundreds of readers–and thus start a discussion among them–was to rile people up with the title. It’s sad, but it’s also reality, so I guess we just deal with it and move on.

  31. Michael, I enjoy your posts and what more serious issue is there than education? The whole point (?) of blogging is to broaden ( not coarsen or dumb diown) conversation or debate. If all we do is flood the net with cheap, easy garbage we’re wasting our time, talent, expertise and passion in favor of attracting more eyeballs to read stuff we don’t even believe ourselves.

    SEO is a fact of life; I find headline writing also quite tough. I don’t like using words like “crap” in my work, but…it worked.

  32. Whoa, wait. I have YOU bookmarked. You. Not T/S. It started with your op/ed, and I thought, wow, now there’s a smart lady that seems to have a brain and similar views to my own. So I came here to find you. Again, let me emphasize, I came here for you. Tell that to Forbes. Sure, I read some of the other articles as well when they catch my eye, but you have the bookmark, not T/S.

  33. Thanks. Just got off a conference call to see what happens next for us; we have another one tomorrow. I’ll make some decisions in the next few weeks as to what happens to Broadside and where it will go.

    It seems very clear there will be no place for this blog, as it has been constituted so far, within Forbes. No one wants a generalist. We are dinosaurs.

    The web (i.e. advertisers) demands specialist “verticals” and hyperspecialists within those — for which advertisers will pay because they (like any print medium, except more so) deliver the audience they want. They will *only* pay for that, not the generalist approach I have taken here, no matter what my audience likes (and has been growing), and has come (which means a lot to me personally) to value. In December, I had 101 followers — I now have 219, more than double in five months. All for nought, in this respect.

    It’s a challenging week. I have a lot of thinking to do and the timing is terrible — I have to finish my book in the same timeframe as deciding what to do about my work here and what role, if any, Forbes might even consider for me.

    It looks like any corporate takeover — we get to reapply for the jobs we’ve been doing and which, in aggregrate if not individually, built the value that made T/S worth acquiring, and which has assured its management team staff jobs at Forbes. The rest of us have to figure it out.

  34. We’re in treading water mode right now.

    • Hi Caitlin – I’m overseas at the moment and wasn’t on the conference call.

      But if you’re dead in the water, then so am I! I am media/foreign affairs.

      Truth is, the bud came off the TS rose for me some time ago. If they don’t like my writing, based on click-count, I’m not interested in wasting my time with them.

  35. Why Crap Gets Read And Real News Doesn’t: The Inherent Dilemma Of Writing For Page Views…

    Thank you for submitting this cool story – Trackback from SurvCast…

  36. Caitlin,
    Here’s a tip. This should zoom you to the top of the NYTimes most read list: Combine topics such as college admissions+Ivy League+local,organic produce+real estate into one fabulous article and you’re golden!

  37. Caitlin,
    I have been ruminating about your post — you raise all the ugly issues with the digital age and news. But I for one am hopeful that this will be a passing phase. We are in the middle of a huge revolution. It’s not clear what will emerge in the next five years as normative news gathering or what the economic model will be. Clay Shirky described what we’re going through the best in a post last year called “Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable” (http://trueslant.com/nancymiller/2009/10/16/where-were-you-when-the-dow-hit-10000/)
    His point: When you’re in the middle of a revolution expect chaos, expect the unexpected, and try to let go of the past.

    Just two years ago, site aggregators like T/S weren’t a factor. Now they are everywhere. I believe that’s the readers way of saying search engines are second rate editors. Still, it’s so troubling to think that enough readers for advertisers will come only if you write about American Idol. But is that how it will always be? I don’t think so — or at least, I hope note. And, I’ll disagree with the commenter who wasn’t impressed with your stats: You’ve done an amazing job building an audience.

    T/S has done an amazing job working to build another model for journalism. Even with all it’s success, the VC money wasn’t there to continue in its present form. But it doesn’t mean there won’t ever be backing or that someone else out there has another idea brewing based on a technology I can’t even imagine. Or maybe it’s time to try and raise foundation money a la ProPublica for another serious-minded news site that incorporates strong editorial leadership with everything we are learning about social media, group sourcing and the power of the web.

    And, finally, I would like to remember that the good old days weren’t all that great in terms of content creation. The Page Six mentality has been creeping into newspapers for decades. Even the great vaunted days when advertising people allegedly never spoke to editorial was complete b.s. I remember I wrote a column that would run only if the paper had a display ad to run next to it. Editorial independence? Hmmm.

    I’m hopeful new opportunities will replace old ones. The transition is a bitch of the first order.

  38. Nancy, you make good points — and thanks for your compliment.

    Frankly, I’m just in shock right now and trying to figure out what to do next, here and elsewhere. It wasn’t a ton of income, but I did rely on this income and now it ends in a month. I want to continue the work I’ve begun here, and have to figure out how that will happen.

    Some of us have spoken privately about trying to re-start our own on-line community. I, for one, have little energy to drum up the financing on my own — we’d need a serious plan and division of labor.

  39. [...] Longtime journalists Tom Foremski and Caitlin Kelly both wrote thoughtful posts on what happens when pageviews become a high priority within news [...]

  40. [...] Doctor linked to a superb article by Caitlin Kelly on True/Slant called appropriately enough “Why Crap Gets Read And Real News Doesn’t: The Inherent Dilemma Of Writing For Page Views.” Read? Viewed? It’s all the same concept. That’s why “the [...]

  41. I found this article by doing Internet searches for news sources which aren’t insultingly biased, full of pundits, and so corporately owned that you may as well flip a coin marked “half lie” on one side and “full lie” on the other to determine quality. Unfortunately, my search turned up nothing, but this article, at least, is thought provoking, and a good last stop before I give up entirely on ever knowing a single true thing happening on earth anywhere.

    I feel that until there is a source for news that is not dependent on money, there can be no unbiased news, which means that there can be no real news on planet earth. The only way to know what is happening in the world is to be there and insist on being a part of it directly. Everyone else who talks about it in a “journalistic” capacity just wants your money. I have come to assume that 100% of journalists now lie 100% of the time, along with politicians, corporations, and clergy.

    Knowledge of the world is such a profound enemy of advertising that the only way for companies to survive who shill products is to own the news, so they do and it will never change.

    “News is more than what happens” is an outright lie. News is exactly what happens and nothing else. This slogan is obviously designed to make advertisers feel better about being able to buy and pay for peoples’ opinions. No one who cares about knowing the truth should care about what people think of it. Truth is truth, that which the universe contains within it, and no one’s opinion of it should be allowed to sway the validity of it for those who want to know it.

    So if you want to know the news, turn off the TV, turn off the Internet, and go become it, because no one online or on television is going to do anything except lie to you for money. I’m fed up with watching the world suck and with watching smug millionaires tell shallow pundits to tell me why they think it does and why I should think like they do and buy products from their sponsors.

    I know this sounds very angry, but I’m not. It’s actually hard to have an emotional response to this realization, because no one wearing a nice suit with a byline has told me how to feel about it, since the total and intentional lack of the capacity to transmit knowledge across our species is not newsworthy.

    So thank you for writing this article, it may be the only thing close to news which exists.

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