Posted on January 8, 2008
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.
- 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?
- Reporters are not columnists.
- 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.
- This “necessary” journalism needs to continue. It’s in the public interest to make sure it’s out there.
- 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.