Click here so I can get paid

by Mathew on October 15, 2006 · 6 comments

I’m a little late to this particular party, but I wanted to wade into the debate over whether compensating journalists based on how many hits they get is a good thing to do or not, which Business 2.0 editor Josh Quittner started. Being a journalist and a blogger, this is something I’ve thought a little bit about — in fact, I remember when we first got a really good page-view tracking tool at globeandmail.com, and I was joking with my editor about getting paid on a pay-per-click model.

He seemed taken with the idea (in part, I suspect, because he knew how few clicks I was getting :-)). And I also remember a couple of years ago how a newspaper in Chile called Las Ultimas Noticias decided to shake things up by putting the Web stories that got the most clicks on its front page — and also paying its reporters based on who got the most clicks. In one of the first reports I read about what happened next, many of the front-page stories seemed to involve explosions or swimsuit models.

Is that surprising? Not really. Tabloids already do pretty much the same thing, because they know what will draw readers. Even regular newspapers choose pictures and headlines based on what will get people to buy a paper, or (hopefully) read it. Tracking the actual clicks a story or blog gets just gives you an even more granular view of how many people read — or don’t read — what you’ve written.

That can be a very humbling thing for a journalist, I assure you. We all want to believe that every single reader our paper has is poring over our every word, when in fact they flip past us to get to the crossword. Dan Shanoff at Huffington’s Eat The Press is concerned that paying people based on traffic will corrupt them, but as Jeff Jarvis points out — and James Robertson notes as well — newspapers already hire, fire and otherwise reward writers based on how well they are read.

Should writers and reporters be motivated solely by a desire for filthy lucre? Obviously not. But it is already part of the equation. Josh is just proposing that we make it a little more obvious.

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