Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The future of journalism: Click bait?

The New York Times published a thoughtful but disconcerting story on the future of journalism yesterday.

If I were being paid by the click for this column, I might have begun it this way: Will an oppressive emphasis on “click bait” mean that the news ends up imprisoned by transgendered models posing in disgraceful listicles accompanied by kidnapped nude kittens?


But I’m not. So let’s just say that there is a growing trend in many corners of journalism to tie the compensation of journalists to the amount of web traffic and/or articles they generate.

At the end of February, The Daily Caller, a conservative political site run by Tucker Carlson, said it would begin a hybrid arrangement in which staff writers were paid a base salary plus a traffic incentive. The Daily Caller’s publisher told The Washington Post that the new plan would lead to more traffic and higher overall compensation for writers.

Joel Johnson, the editorial director of Gawker Media, announced a program in February called “Recruits” that creates subsidiary sites for new contributors, attached to existing editorial sites like Gawker or Jezebel. The recruits receive a stipend of $1,500 a month, and pay back that amount at a rate of $5 for every 1,000 unique visitors they attract. They then get to keep anything above the amount of the stipend, up to $6,000.

At the end of 90 days, the contributors are evaluated and retained or cut loose based on their traffic performance. (Gawker has long been a pioneer in traffic transparency and giving its writers bonuses based on traction in the marketplace.)

Depending on your perspective, the trend could be a long overdue embrace of the realities of the publishing landscape, or one more step down the road to perdition. Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, is bullish on the effect of new pay paradigms.

“The journalist will do extremely well in the next 10 years. It will be a booming profession,” he said, adding that he agreed with a recent suggestion by the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen that “news will be 10 times the size it was.”

Others worry that compensation built on metrics will leave working journalists on the short end of the stick.

“It is very early days of pay-for-click for professional writers,” said Minda Zetlin, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a columnist for Inc.'s website. “In terms of it being a bonanza for writers, that is far from true right now, but there will be value in learning best practices and where our traffic comes from.”

There is much more worth reading in the story. Some of this gnashing of teeth over "click bait" is hyperbole. Catchy headlines always get attention and  have always been used to sell newspapers. The editor has to use something to catch your interest. What is troublesome is the focus on "clicks". Crime stories? Clicks. Sports? Clicks. Chicks? Definitely clicks (Why do you think so many sports radio websites have "babe galleries"?). Latest city council meeting? The county beat? Fewer clicks. Taking three days to investigate a real story? No clicks for three days. Well, the reporter's comp just took a hit.  Don't believe me?  Keep reading.

The Oregonian, owned by Newhouse’s Advance Publications, is focusing on digital journalism — and the people who produce it — with a great deal of specificity.

Beginning immediately, according to the documents, the company’s leadership will require reporters to post new articles three times a day, and to post the first comment under any significant article. It’s part of a companywide initiative to increase page views by 27.7 percent in the coming year. Beyond that, reporters are expected to increase their average number of daily posts by 25 percent by the middle of the year and an additional 15 percent in the second half of the year.

If that sounds like it won’t leave much time for serious work, the new initiative also calls for reporters to “produce top-flight journalistic and digitally oriented enterprise as measured by two major projects a quarter,” which will include “goals by projects on page views and engagement.” In the more-with-less annals of corporate mandates, this one is a doozy. Article

This isn't reporting.  This is throwing stuff up on a website wall and hoping it sticks, er I mean, people read it.  The times they are a-changin'. 

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Slow Day?

Johnny Weir said...

Click Bait will be the death of investigated reporting, clarity of focus, deep analysis & advocacy journalism.

Anonymous said...

March 25, 2014 at 10:11 AM = has nothing better to do

Anonymous said...

when journalists figure out how to use click generators to their advantages, this policy will go away.

Anonymous said...

click bait--good grief.

I agree with " Catchy headlines always get attention and have always been used to sell newspapers. The editor has to use something to catch your interest." That's part of the journalist's job.

But click bait will lead to half baked stories because the FACTS become 2nd most important thing. The most important thing becomes---get them here so I can have money.

Interestingly, there are several news organizations that already treat the facts as if they are something irrelevant. Perhaps they are getting their 'reward' in something other than clicks.

Kingfish said...

Would you like to go to the black hole?

Anonymous said...

"Investigated" Reporting?

Whur at?

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).


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Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.


In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

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Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.


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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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