MediaWatch: Journalists Won't Report News Unless It Can Drive Page Views
Sam Whitmore is the best media watcher around, he regularly talks to the press as part of his research for the excellent Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, which is heavily used by all the large PR agencies.
I was at a recent panel moderated by Sam Whitmore that discussed pageviews and the effect on journalism. Although nothing much emerged from that event, it is an important issue, and Sam has been collecting more information on this topic.
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 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, affiliate marketing, custom advertising packages, virtual currencies, and more.
The rise of page view journalism brings other dangers. In January I wrote:
...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.
Update: Journalists shouldn't have to depend on PR firms to bring them stories with a potential to drive traffic, they should be able to craft their own interesting angles on stories.
I love taking a story that might not seem to be very interesting at first sight, or taking a story that everyone thinks they know and writing it in an original way that makes it interesting.
For example, the Foxconn suicides story has received a lot of coverage lately. But I managed to marry it with an older story about suicides at France Telecom and create an original news story. Both are "old" news stories but together they make for a dynamite headline and news copy:
Please see: Every Company is a Media Company - EC=MC - the transformative equation for business.