Dangerous Blend

Frédéric Filloux, Monday Note

Last week, the Columbia School of Journalism released “The Story so Far” (PDF). For news zealots, this is tantamount to the Vatican publishing a sex manual. Still, this work is one of the best reports ever written on the state of modern journalism. Its authors, Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave and Lucas Graves, detail the effects of 15 years of making news available for free on the internet, and the consequences of unbundling news into morsels that lose their value in the social media whirlwind. In this 143 pages paper, no complaints, no whining: just facts and insightful analysis of the current state of digital media. An absolute must-read.

Using observations and current examples, the report also ruffled feathers by laying out options for the future economics of online information.

In the most performing outlets such as the Huffington Post, more resources are allocated to audience valuation than to content creation. As the report explains, the giant news aggregator is built on a foundation of constant tracking what drives the most traffic; in audience numbers, it now rivals the New York Times:

Huffington Post also developed an ability to respond quickly to the data that it was getting on traffic and usage—something that is a crucial component of success in digital journalism. Indeed, data analysis has moved from being a required skill in media companies’ finance departments to being an essential part of the résumé for editors, writers and designers.

In many high-octane online newsrooms, the report continues, journalists are asked to keep an eye on dashboards tracking the real-time performances of stories and headlines. They get constant updates on what “clicks” and what doesn’t; everyone is encouraged to adjust their output accordingly. Inevitably, incentives set in, with bonuses tied to tracked performance.

Such obsession with traffic is fueled by the advertising culture that came to dominate the internet: revenue is directly tied to eyeballs, as media are mostly paid by CPM (cost per thousand viewers). The Columbia Journalism School indirectly challenges this system by … Read the full article at Monday Note.