Online Media

Paying starving journalists will be the death of good journalism

I may have to create a whole new category for compensation of online journalists.

Edward Wasserman, a veteran newsman and a journalism professor at Washington & Lee University, flattered me a bit by picking up on a blog post I wrote in late December; some thoughts on the same topic from Editor on the Verge Yoni Greenbaum; and a piece by Michael Hirschorn in Atlantic Monthly magazine that compares the most emailed stories list on the Web sites of the Washington Post, L.A. Times and New York Times to those newspapers’ front pages. (If emailed stories are a proxy for reader interest, Hirschorn found readers and editors agree less than a fourth of the time. And he said the readers favored “noncommodified news,” or unique content.)

Wasserman take on chasing page views (or readers) appeared in a column in the Miami Herald today. He characterizes paying more based on a writer’s Web traffic as “popularity pay.” The money graph:

The problem with online Popularity Pay is it that it mistakes journalism for a consumer product, and conflates value with sales volume. Journalists don’t peddle goods, they offer a professional service, a relationship. The news audience renews that relationship to get information and insight on matters it trusts journalists to alert it to, even though the news may be disquieting or hard to grasp.

He continues:

What’s more, the public routinely benefits mightily from stories that few people bother reading. Such is the power of exposure.

I agree with much of what Wasserman says, but the fact is reporters, editors and even distinguished journalism professors, I suspect, are paid widely different amounts, presumably based on their value to their employers and market forces. Using the razor precise metrics of the Web to help determine that value would seem inevitable — and if done correctly. a positive change  I also believe that being focused on being relevant to readers is one key to the long term success of news organizations.

At my newspaper, we have been distributing daily top 10 lists of articles based on page views to the entire newsroom for a year or more. The lists are not used for compensation and do seem to provide instant market insights about what readers found interesting.

Wasserman did get a sharp rebuke from Lucas Grindley, who had a thoughtful piece on an ideal online compensation system, with a number of comments, here.

My previous posts (which include a number of links to others) are:

Incentivising is a very bad word, but maybe a good idea (1/2/2008)
Readership incentives (1/1/2008)
Pay ’em what they’re worth? (12/31/2007)
Your writing’s pretty good; how’s your CPM? (12/30/2007)

Obviously, this has struck a nerve. What’s your take?

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Updated Again: Wow, lots of blogoshere react:

Newspapers Online Media

Contest season

Spread the word:

Since 1953 the Scripps Howard Foundation has honored the best work in journalism through its National Journalism Awards program. The awards honor excellence in 17 categories, including one that you will find of interest. The Web Reporting Award carries a cash prize of $10,000. The postmark deadline is Jan. 31; winners will be announced March 7 and honored at an awards presentation April 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  Here are details:


Honors the news organization that demonstrates the best use of new media technologies and innovative techniques to report on a news story or news event while maintaining the highest journalistic standards.

Open to any news organization whose primary function is the gathering and disseminating of news information to the general public. The news story or event must have been originally published online in 2007. Also open to organizations that combine their traditional field with new media efforts or organizations that focus solely on online formats. No college news organization work is eligible.

Entries must provide a URL(s) for judges to view the news story or event. Entry must include a written narrative describing the organization’s efforts, a description of the news story or event and its components, original date published online, as well as justification of why the entry should be presented an award. $50 entry fee. Prize is $10,000 and a trophy. Entry form available at:  Questions: Sue Porter at 513-977-3030.

Also, the deadline is approaching for Inland’s 2008 New Frontier Awards (deadline Jan. 14, 2008).

And for those in East Tnnnessee, there’s The East Tennessee SPJ Golden Press Card Awards (deadline Feb. 1, 2008).


There’s no turning back

Scott Karp on 2008 as the year of ‘change or die‘.


Spare change can change the world

Reading the Sidney Morning Herald’s “Ten things that will change your future” reminded me that I hadn’t mentioned Kiva lately.

But I’ll get to that in a moment. The list is interesting in that the writer says the items might not individually change the world “but which taken together give a picture of where our brave new networked world may be heading.” Now, that’s interesting.

The newspaper’s list of 10:


Maybe you have, but I hadn’t heard of all these and there’s some more info and links in the article.

Kiva is mentioned in peer-to-peer lending. Instead of a technology driven network idea, it’s a human network encompassing the globe.

I got interested in Kiva after hearing a podcast with Permal Shah, its president.

I made a “donation” of $75 on December 23, 2006. (Yeah, I was intrigued by the idea, but my cynical journalist instincts was also at work.) In all, $18.9 million has been loaned and the default rate is .17 percent, according to Kiva.

My money was loaned to Jovcho Bakalov in Sliven, Bulgaria. He received a total loan of $2,000 through a Kiva lending partner for a special vacuum press used in a manufacturing process. So far, 79 percent of the loan has been repaid.

Course, I’m not the only one who loaned Bakalov. There’s Lowell, an auto worker in Georgetown, Ky.; Belle, a real estate developer in Austin, Texas; Lori, a teacher in Madison, Wis.; Paul, an architect in Cambridge, Mass. and others. A network of people in different cities and places who chose to help this one businessman.

When the loan is repaid, I can either pocket my $75 (no interest is paid to “donors”) or reinvest it in another microloan.

Kiva is not charity, the loaned money isn’t tax deductible, and it’s not a financial investment, but a people investment. At the risk of sounding a bit bleeding heart, I think it’s kind of a cool way of people helping people.

Check it out. As the Sidney Morning Herald said, it’s one of those ideas that could change the world. Maybe you could change the world.

Online Media Ramblings Video

Virtual candidate forums

At the blog, Knoxify, candidates are addressing the blog’s three questions for hopeful officeholders (more details). For me, the first two are but warm-ups for the real question, No. 3, What 5 things could you not live without?

Ah, we can tell when you’re faking it It’s kind of fun. Give Knoxify a visit.

At knoxnews, we’ve been rolling out our series of candidate video interviews, about two minutes or so with a candidate. News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy explains.


Wave a Magic Wand

A couple really wonderful posts about suggestions for possibly reinvigorating and reinventing print newsrooms for the Digital Age.

Editor John Robinson modifies Howard Owens’ 10 things non-wired journalists need to do contest  for the “more-or-less wired journalists” in his newsroom at the Greensboro (NC) News & Record and lists 10 things the newspaper will do in 2008.

Mindy McAdams draws inspiration from Steve Outing’s column on changing newsroom culture with a great time to get crazy post. Outing blogged a follow up tying in his column and McAdams’ post

Updated with more thoughts:

Alfred Hermida adds that “It is time to stop thinking about a journalism defined by the means of distribution.”

If the biggest story of all time broke, Pat Thornton asks, would you cover it like a newspaper? He has suggestions.

“Simple put, at some newspapers, it’s time for a revolution,” writes Yoni Greenbaum, a manifesto for the old guard of editors to step aside.

Would these be the magic wands for my “reservoir of skepticism” quote in Outing’s column? If not, they’re darn good prototypes for a magic wand.