Commentary

Your Thoughts Aren't Even Worth A Penny Anymore

"To attract smart, influential writers, analysts and money managers to augment the work of our newsrooms...": TheStreet.com is trolling for contributors who will accept payment based on how many page views their POVs get. For example, contributors that receive 20,000 page views for one article in a seven-day period will get, wait for it… $20. Double the page views and your income doubles (at least up to a point, because 60,000 page views in a week will only get you a measly $50.)

You would think you'd have to work pretty long and hard to compose something that pulls in 20,000 page views -- and you'd be wrong. With 43 words to introduce the Adele Dazeem name generator (which was put up Monday after John Travolta mangled the introduction of Idina Menzel at the Oscars), the authors managed to create the most-viewed article in Slate’s history -- 9.5 million unique users by Wednesday afternoon, and adding roughly 100,000 more every hour. (Pretty sure it's safe to assume those authors were not rewarded with $20 for every 20,000 page views.)

But it does underscore the new arcade-approach to journalism (and we use that term here very loosely) which is accentuated when you offer writers compensation not on the quality of their thinking, but rather on the link bait-fullness of it.  It seems TheStreet.com wage scale closely matches the cost to buy traffic to your story (about $1 per 1,000 visitors in a quick search of such scummy providers). And this will, according to CEO Elisabeth DeMarse, "attract the best and brightest stock minds to join our publisher platform.” Since many of those financial “experts” are in jail now, perhaps they have the time to focus on writing something more than emails that disdainfully call their clients "muppets" -– a character trait Greg Smith noted in his well-known piece, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.”

That nearly every site (including this one) highlights the "Most Read" stories, and some spend every waking hour optimizing the story line-up and layout so that the "most popular" get prominence and the less-clicked are parked in the alley out back, only reinforces a crowd-knows-best mentality. That alone is killing credible journalism.

Back in the day (before this latest resurrection) the editors of Newsweek hated having to put foreign news on the cover because they knew that newsstand sales would tank that week. And that was one of their few tangible measures of success: how many people without subscriptions bought each issue. This encouraged them to go with softer news covers (think: celebrities, social trends and kids), which turned out to be their undoing.

Reading only what's trending is a dangerous development. It means you don't pay nearly as much attention to the "boring stuff” like foreign affairs, business news and politics (watching Chris Christie self-destruct, however, doesn't count. That, sir, is entertainment).  Stuff that trends tends to be lighter fare that doesn't require much thought -- and, in my experience, rarely lives up to its hyperbolic headlines. 

Here's another way to look at it. If a site (like TheStreet.com) figures your attention is only worth about $.0001, what does that say about the quality of audience they are attracting and selling to advertisers? 

Is more better? You do the math.

Tags: journalism
Recommend (6) Print RSS
2 comments about "Your Thoughts Aren't Even Worth A Penny Anymore".
  1. William Hoelzel from JWB Associates , March 8, 2014 at 2:28 p.m.
    Why are we surprised when pollsy show that people know less and less about their government, the decisions that their political leaders make, and their world? It's partly the result of this media (and social media) Darwinism -- the survival of the clickest. We complain about the failures of our institutions -- from our schools to our Congress -- but we don't see our own culpability for those failures when we pay so little attention to things that matter, and when we pay so little to those who would keep us informed. "Information wants to be free?" So does misinformation and nonsense! And the market for those things is huge. -- and trending!
  2. Bob Henry from Bayley Consults LLP , March 11, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
    William, The second part of that oft-cited quote . . . ~~ Bob Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section (February 23, 2009, Page A13): “Information Wants to Be Expensive” [De facto subheadline: Newspapers need to act like they’re worth something] [Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123534987719744781.html] By L. Gordon Crovitz “Information Age” Column . . . When author Stewart Brand coined the expression "Information wants to be free," he focused on how technology makes it cheap and easy to communicate and share knowledge. But the rest of his quote is rarely noticed. This says, "Information also wants to be expensive." . . .