Is Page View Journalism Really A Problem?
from the not-seeing-it dept
There have been complaints now and again about this concept of “page view journalism” — the idea that in this digital era, reporters will only take on stories that will drive lots of page views. Tom Foremski and Sam Whitmore — two media watchers who I know and respect a lot — recently discussed this issue, worrying that important stories don’t get told because of this. Tom quotes Sam:
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.
Now I’m sure Sam is being truthful in reporting what he heard from those reporters, but something about this just doesn’t ring true to me at all. If you have an “obscure but important topic,” that actually tends to be a goldmine for pageviews. Why? Because you’re the only one covering it. If you look at the types of stories that get a particular site attention, it’s when they really do focus in on an important topic, obscure or not. If it truly is important, then people get interested, and if you’ve done the definitive reporting on it, the great thing about the internet is it often gets found and promoted widely. I’m speaking as someone who writes about “obscure, but important” topics quite frequently. Honestly, who would think that obscure topics like an international agreement on counterfeiting would be of interest to anyone? But because we cover it in-depth, and people realize that it is important, it generates a lot of interest.
In fact, over the years, I tend to gravitate away from the “link bait/SEO” efforts, because it always seemed like everyone else was covering it. I don’t write about many start-ups because so many other blogs seem to have that beat covered to death. I don’t write about the latest gadgets for the same reason. I could — but I’d be one in the crowd — and it’s really just not that interesting to me. I’d much rather focus on stuff that is interesting to me, and hopefully explain it in a way that is interesting to others, and that the community seems to respond.
So, perhaps it’s true that some journalists focus on just writing about the hot topics, and perhaps some publications are focused on that as well. But, at least from my vantage point, that seems like a really bad strategy. It’s destined to put your publication and your writing smack dab in the middle of everyone else, with little to distinguish it or to make it worthwhile. Instead, if you do focus on those “obscure but important” topics, and do a good job of it, people will eventually find you and you can build up a strong audience that way.