Pay per view? Make that get paid per view(er)

This discussion has been going on for a while (see Lucas Grindley’s original take here and his more recent reaction to Ed Wasserman’s column in the Miami Herald here) — some people find it horrifying that a journalist might get a higher (or lower) rate of pay based on how many readers he or she has.

I’d just like to slice this pie into a few different pieces.

  1. Columnists have a lot of leeway and (maybe) a more cushy life than the average beat reporter. Is there any reason to keep a columnist on the payroll if s/he is not attracting a lot of readers?
  2. Reporters are not columnists.
  3. Some news that is important is not going to be popular with readers. All journalists recognize that some important journalism will never get nearly as many pageviews as something heartwarming or sensational.
  4. This “necessary” journalism needs to continue. It’s in the public interest to make sure it’s out there.
  5. Most columnists have little or nothing to do with getting the “necessary” news online or in print.

It’s great that people are talking about the influence of advertising dollars on what does and does not appear in the news media. If everything had to pass the pageview test, we’d get very little necessary news at all — and it’s important not to sink that low. (This is a big piece of Wasserman’s column.)

But keeping things in perspective, I can’t get very excited about tying a columnist’s pay to CPM (cost per thousand impressions) — just as I can’t feel very sad about ending jobs for movie critics. Of course, I would be sad if I were the movie critic, but hard times call for utility and practicality.

Why not make sure the columnists (and bloggers) are pulling their weight? Newspapers and news Web sites are commercial products, and they’ve got to attract an audience in order to survive.

11 Comments on “Pay per view? Make that get paid per view(er)

  1. I’m a fan of Gawker’s approach: bloggers get a base monthly rate for their efforts and bonuses are determined by page views.

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  3. Mindy,

    Everything you say makes sense. It’s just something this industry has a hard time grasping, especially since many newspapers are union operations.

    But a columnist, blogger, critic, etc should be paid on how popular he or she is. Those people do not do necessary news, as you say. They don’t need to be subsidized.

    CPM is also a good way to judge how popular our content is, and if readers aren’t reading it, and it isn’t necessary news, we should cut it.

    That’s how other businesses work. And let’s be real here, newspapers are businesses.

  4. Right on. The discussion about what’s “necessary” is a black hole, but I like your instincts on this. Distinctions have to be made among the type and value of contributions.

  5. The important thing to remember about the Gawker system and what I’m advocating is that base salaries are NOT replaced by a page view commission. Instead, there’s base salary plus a bonus based on the number of page views generated.

    And I’m tempted to dispute this assumption that so-called “important” stories are impossible to make popular online. I’ve seen a lot of great investigative reports that slam page views. And I’ve seen a lot of boring, wonky baloney that might be “important” but is still poorly done.

    Quality matters. Too often “important” is an excuse to write things from the perspective of officials and from meetings. Go talk to the people affected by these stories and it’s fair to expect page views will rise.

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  7. @Lucas: You’re correct in what you said about “necessary” and “important” journalism. I had in mind a particular columnist I used to read whose columns consistently amazed me in their pointlessness. (I had to read them because I was the copy editor.) I always found myself thinking, “I can’t believe they pay this guy to write this drivel.”

  8. Related:

    How the AP needs to step up to the plate

    Excerpts:

    “If you write one story for the AP,
    and it is syndicated on 200 different websites,
    then it is generating ad revenue from 200 different websites at the same time.

    Think about it.

    You, as the content producer, deserve a cut of that revenue.
    That means you deserve to retain at least some ownership of rights
    to your work in the process.”

    “One story published on one site may not have a lot of hope
    for generating much ad revenue,
    but one story (that you own the rights to)
    published on 200 different websites can make a decent chunk of change,
    especially if it’s a good story.

    And it may generate revenue continuously.

    The AP has the existing infrastructure,
    they just need to step up to the plate and get it together.”

  9. A blogger has the tools at his or her fingertips to promote the blog’s content. StumbleUpon, Digg, linking to other blogs, commenting on other blogs, emailing links to interested parties, etc. So a blogger has more control over whether or not the content gets a lot of views.

    A regular journalist writing for the newspaper doesn’t have control over the play of his or her story, in the paper or online. It’s decided by the editors. You can still pimp your stories out on the Internet by emailing them and whatnot, but there’s not quite as much control as a blogger columnist would have.

    It doesn’t seem fair.

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