Come On Nick, You Can Do Better Than That

Choire Sicha, former editor of Gawker and now co-founder of The Awl, points out that the Gawker offices have a large screen mounted on the wall that shows the top most-read stories on the site in terms of unique visitors, allegedly to motivate writers at the blog network (although it’s interesting to note that this screen is described as being in the reception area rather than where the writers can see it). Gawker also posts its top-read stories in terms of both pageviews and unique visitors, which is an interesting page to watch.

That said, however, pageviews and even unique visitors are only a couple of the factors that media entities need to be concerned about — as I tried to argue in this post (check the bottom for recent updates), based on the Twitter debate between Reuters writer Felix Salmon and Business Insider founder Henry Blodget — and neither one of them is arguably the most important. Yes, they are the metrics with the largest numbers, and so they impress some advertisers and possibly some competitors. But they are also subject to inflation by girls kissing and slideshows, as Felix noted in the tweet that started his battle with Blodget.

Denton says he agrees that pageviews and uniques aren’t the best measures, and asks for others that are better. Okay, Nick — what about time spent with a story? Why not put that up on a big-screen TV on the wall? What about the number of repeat visitors that a writer gets over a month? Or what about the number of comments on a story, multiplied by the number of times a writer actually responds? Gawker is one of the most forward-thinking sites on the Web when it comes to comments and how they are managed, and from what I have seen their writers — particularly Denton himself — are good about responding. That’s a far better metric of value in my books.

Soon, advertisers will realize that chasing after raw pageviews and
big unique visitor numbers is a mug’s game, and one that Demand Media
and Associated Content and similar content factories will win every
time
— and arguably many advertisers are already realizing this,
which is why CPMs generally suck. So what starts to matter more?
Engagement. Admittedly, it’s difficult to measure (let alone define),
but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

Update: In a tweet to me, Nick says that comments are “a horribly misleading measure, e.g. commenter delight at a blog squabble is inversely related to wider appeal.”

Mahendra Palsule also has a thoughtful post about the move from number-based metrics such as pageviews and CPMs to relevance-based measurement and tools.

When does curation become scraping?

Curation has become a popular term in media circles, in the sense of a human editor who filters and selects content, and then packages it and delivers it to readers in some way. Many people (including me) believe that, in an era when information sources are exploding online, aggregation and curation of some kind is about the only service left that people might be willing to pay for. That’s why it’s been interesting to watch one prominent website — All Things Digital, the online blog property that is owned by the Wall Street Journal, but run as a separate entity by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg — wrestling with how to handle that kind of aggregation, amid criticism from some prominent bloggers that it has been doing it wrong.

As described by Andy “Waxy” Baio in an excellently reported roundup of the brouhaha, the fuss seemed to start with comments from Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thompson about how Google and other aggregators of news are “parasites” in the intestines of the Internet, because they republish the content of others and then make money from it. Pretty soon, some bloggers were pointing out that All Things Digital did exactly the same thing in a section called Voices — namely, published long excerpts from a variety of prominent bloggers, displayed in exactly the same way as the rest of the site’s content, and surrounded by ads.

Josh Schachter, founder of Delicious, noted this behaviour in a Twitter message, and Metafilter founder Matt Haughey said that “apparently The Wall Street Journal’s All Things D does a reblogging thing. I sure wish they asked me first though. That’s a hell of a lot of ads on my ‘excerpt’.” Merlin Mann, who blogs at 43folders, said on Twitter that “republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called ‘feed scraping.’ At AllThingsD, it’s called ‘a compliment.”

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

Defending “rule-breaking” journalism

Gina M. Chen, a veteran journalist and editor who works at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y., writes an excellent blog called “Save The Media,” which is aimed at helping journalists get used to some of the new tools in social media. Chen’s recent post, titled “10 ‘Journalism Rules’ You Can Break on Your Blog,” caused a stir in my newsroom at The Globe and Mail. One of my colleagues, for example, suggested that the post was irresponsible and that such rule-breaking is one of the reasons there is a “credibility gap” between bloggers and mainstream journalists.

You can read Chen’s post for the full list, but among other things, she suggested that bloggers should:

  • Use partial or fake names because “there are times on a blog that what a person says as an indication of public sentiment is more important than who said it.”
  • Tell only part of the story because “the beauty of a blog is you can update immediately as more details become apparent or earlier reports are disputed.”
  • Insert an opinion because “I think readers appreciate knowing that journalists have feelings, opinions, lives that shape how they view the world.”
  • Link to the enemy because “with blogging, you can give your readers the best — even if it’s not from your staff.”
  • Get personal because “you’re creating a community; that community wants to know you’re a person, not a robot.”
  • Answer your critics because “blogging is a conversation with readers. If someone criticizes your post or raises an opposing point of view, you should respond.”
  • Fix your mistakes because “I still don’t want to make any mistakes, but if I do, I can fix it in real time, not just run a correction the next day that few may see.”

So is this list an invitation to be careless, cut corners and risk your credibility as a journalist, as my colleague suggested? Hardly. I would argue that nearly every suggestion on Chen’s list makes perfect sense. Breaking these so-called rules not only isn’t bad, it could improve the practice of online journalism.

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Journos vs. bloggers and other straw men

While I was doing my best to remain peaceful during the Christmas holidays, I couldn’t help but feel the blood rising after I read Paul Mulshine’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal about bloggers and the future of journalism, which I found via a Twitter link from my friend Jay Rosen (who was responding to one from Salon founder Scott Rosenberg about the piece). As I read it, I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, the kind you get when you realize that an argument you thought had been settled years ago — and not just an argument, but a distorted and ultimately futile and unhelpful viewpoint — is still very much alive.

Mulshine’s piece (which is here) has the troll-ish headline “All I Wanted For Christmas Was A Newspaper,” and segues from a heart-warming anecdote about old-style reporters throwing copy out the window of the campaign bus into a discussion of how the Internet is “killing old-fashioned newspapers.” The passive-aggressive tone of the piece is somewhat understandable when you realize that Mulshine is an opinion columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, a paper that recently laid off almost 50 per cent of its editorial staff. As a fellow journalist, I can sympathize with the writer’s desire to find a villain somewhere — but as Jay and a number of others have noted quite well since the piece appeared, focusing on the Web and bloggers is not only wrong, but dumb.

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How the WSJ failed the Web 2.0 test

Traditional media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have begun to use some of the tools of social media — blogs, Facebook pages, even Twitter accounts. But they seem a lot less eager to adopt some of social media’s core principles, including a commitment to the two-way nature of the medium and all that it represents. This means a lot more than just talking about “the conversation” and how great it is to get links or comments. It’s about taking those comments seriously, responding to them regardless of whether they are positive or negative, and incorporating that approach into the way you do your job. It’s about looking at “journalism,” broadly-speaking, as a process rather than an artifact.

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