Pageview journalism: economic reality or capitulation to pop culture whims?

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Ryan Holiday, writing for the New York Observer, has discovered something very important about the media industry today:

The widespread belief is that the media has “reach.” Trust me, they don’t. Not anymore. It’s become almost pathetic.

It hit me the other day when I snagged a profile for a client on a well-known website…

Dear God, I realized, my client has more readers than they do. The website needed us to attract an audience for them. They wanted the subject of the piece to send his readers over to them rather than the other way around.

It seems a bit strange that people in New York, the media capital of the world, have only just discovered “pageview journalism.”

Popularity has been driving online journalism for sometime, I started writing about it a couple of years ago, noting that reporters are increasingly rewarded based on the traffic they bring, either through direct cash compensation, or by a boost up the editorial ladder, which is essentially the same thing.

Things were similar in the days of paper: writing scoops, provocative subjects, popular columns, etc. But reporters could get away with also writing stories about less well known subjects, ones that might not gain much attention, but the stories were important in highlighting emerging trends and personalities, because it was the overall number of readers that was counted.

In the move from paper to electron, the number of readers of a single article can be counted, and is counted. This means journalists are encouraged to focus on articles with subjects that will bring larger numbers of readers.

Why should a journalist focus on a small company, or unknown individual when the likely small size of the audience will bring the wrong type of attention from their boss?

The focus on pageview journalism is a product of the hard economic realities of the media industry. But its rise represents a capitulation of editorial direction and voice to the fickle whims of pop culture.

The result is what we have today: a bland me-too media landscape which publishes huge numbers of the same stories.

But this is not just about journalists feeling the pressure of popularity. What about PR companies? Why should I take a briefing from your client if I can’t get the traffic?

Can PR companies drive traffic to a story that I write?

If they can they are golden. Reporters will take their calls over any others.

This article by Tom Foremski originally appeared on Silicon Valley Watcher and is republished with permission.

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