Via Lucas Grindley’s blog, I came across a fairly daft piece from the Miami Herald, written by journalism professor Edward Wasserman, about how compensating journalists based on the traffic they draw is A Bad Thing. As Lucas points out, the example used by the professor of what a dangerous phenomenon this is — Penelope Trunk getting fired by Yahoo Finance — doesn’t even help his argument.
Wasserman says that Trunk (not her real name, apparently) was let go because her blog didn’t get enough traffic. According to the writer, however, her column got tons of traffic — the problem was that Yahoo couldn’t earn enough from that traffic because it was designated as “career” content, and the CPM advertising rates for that kind of content aren’t high enough. That has little or nothing to do with whether paying journalists based on traffic is a good thing or a bad thing.
In any case, Trunk was a columnist/blogger, not an investigative journalist writing for the front page of a news site. And as I’ve written before, I think paying bloggers and columnists based in part on the traffic they draw isn’t such a bad idea. But Wasserman glides smoothly from mentioning Trunk’s case to talking about “handing influence… over editorial content to the outside people who write the checks” and how editors will soon be “redrawing the front page” based on such factors.
That’s an Evel Kneivel-sized leap there, professor. The fact is that career columnists — and columnists in general — are hired and fired based on far more obscure or irrelevant factors than traffic or CPMs, including the fact that a senior editor went to school with them, they once had a book published, or they look good in an evening gown. Welcome to the world of journalism. Find me a reporter whose stuff is killed or moved or who is fired because of low traffic and then we can talk.