Reality TV has set a funny tone across the globe for survival of the most talented, most skinny, most bitchy, most addicted, most pregnant, most Amish, most mean and much more. In journalism, it’s a sad state of affairs that clicks are winning the war in wooing readers in a similar way in the survival of the most clicked.
In our short attention span world, we must be captured and entertained. Then, we click. And those clicks are driving media outlets as they make decisions about news coverage – and how long that news coverage drones on for one particular subject. It is: survival of the most clicked.
In some ways, it’s created a unique stupid-ocracy like the days of early e-mail with spam shares from friends and relatives and silly subject lines.
The click system is also rife for potential fraud where people who are paid to do so can game the system by creating a “sense” of what’s news simply by pushing those numbers around.
David Carr’s post in The New York Times discusses the paid paradigm being created by the new media thinkers of the day.
Here’s an example he cites:
“Joel Johnson, the editorial director of Gawker Media, announced a program in February called ‘Recruits’ that creates subsidiary sites for new contributors, attached to existing editorial sites like Gawker or Jezebel. The recruits receive a stipend of $1,500 a month, and pay back that amount at a rate of $5 for every 1,000 unique visitors they attract. They then get to keep anything above the amount of the stipend, up to $6,000. At the end of 90 days, the contributors are evaluated and retained or cut loose based on their traffic performance.”
Carr says pending your point of view, “the trend could be a long overdue embrace of the realities of the publishing landscape, or one more step down the road to perdition.”
I asked three of my friends now teaching journalism students how the paid paradigm is being taught. I didn’t get much feedback.
“I think all the instructors who teach the skills courses keep up-to-date on developments like this and incorporate them into class discussions as they arise. But I’m not sure we have a specific course to address them. I’m speaking from my small window of teaching, which includes pretty traditional skills courses – basic news reporting and writing, intro to journalism/mass comm, investigative reporting, data reporting. My approach is to teach these as fundamental skills that cross platforms and also, I think, transcend technological or business changes that will continue to occur in the industry. I try to keep myself and my students updated on those changes and aware that they will have to constantly adapt as they move into their careers as well.
So I would put this pay by the click thing in that category, at least for my courses. A lot of the things we teach already – SEO/SMO, writing to be read, reporting for relevance – are skills that would help students deal with that. On a broader scale, I think J-schools probably need to do a better job teaching the business of journalism in a more coordinated way – maybe with a specific course or two.”
Here’s my take: In reality TV, just like real life, the numbers tend to win – whether it’s counted by subscribers or viewers, comments posted, shares or likes.
So don’t expect the news to always be presented in the old school way, which means filtered for bias and influence or misleading headlines.
In fact, expect just the opposite to get the clicks. Remember, Twitter means – short, trivial bursts of information, according to the man who created it.