Click-driven media may effect Nola.com coverage

image courtesy of white hat optimization

Now that the Times Picayune is focusing on a larger online presence, one has to wonder if its media coverage will be driven by the number of clicks a news story may receive.

Sarah Carr, a former reporter for the Times Picayune, said, “If clicks drove coverage at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans —a more realistic prospect than it’s ever been—what kind of publication would we get? We can look at past traffic and get a rough answer: In a doomsday scenario, we would read only about sex, sports, crime, and more crime. The most clicked on stories in the month of June, for instance, included the following headlines: Child among five shot (#1 most viewed); Gretna attorney accused of masturbating in law firm associate’s office (#4); Tattoos help Mississippi deputies identify dismembered remains of Jaren Lockhart (#7); and The deadline to sign Drew Brees to a long-term deal is looming (#13).” 

“I laid out most of the implications of clicks-based coverage in the piece for CJR. Overall, I believe it will lead to more coverage of crime, sports, and entertainment: the three areas which tend to receive the most clicks. Within beats, I think it could lead to what I described as more coverage of “micro feuds” — smaller, intensely debated issues that aren’t universally important. I think there will be less coverage of serious issues that affect everyone.” reported Carr.

Carr also collaborated with Cathy Hughes, an online editor at the Times Picayune to compile and analyze data showing which stories received the most page views. They discovered that there were two distinguishable trends emerging from their data: 1) news about death and the dying, and 2) news about wealthy celebrities or sports figures. Carr’s and Hughes’ data collected during the month of June on the top 100 news stories of Times Picayune included “no stories of education, health, immigration or housing.”

Sarah Carr data collection of June 2012 top 100 stories at the TP

If Times Picayune news were to focus its coverage more online than in print media, it would severely handicap its readership if coverage of said news becomes clicks driven.  The only stories that would most likely be reported on would be stories of crime and stories of the wealthy and celebrities, Carr observed from her research of the top 100 stories of the TP in June 2012. If Nola.com were to become a clicks driven online news outlet, its front page would almost exclusively feature only those items most clicked on, which are sports, deaths, celebrities and entertainment, leaving other news by the wayside.

“I can’t help feel that there will at least be an informal emphasis on clicks, and that that will shape reporters’ coverage in ways they might not even be fully aware of moving forward,” Carr said.

Carr worked for 13 years at the Times Picayune and covered the education beat, a position that has now ended. Although she does not plan to apply with NOLA media group, she worries about other talented colleagues whose pay may eventually be affected by the larger online presence and NOLA media group’s commitment to stay relevant in a very competitive online news arena.

This is simply hypothetical. However, MLive Media Group in Michigan has already implemented changes to the pay scale of its online employees, their bonuses are based on the number of stories they post according to Carr. “I would be speculating completely to say whether or not clicks-based coverage will transpire in the next year or two. At MLive.com, another Advance-owned site, a part of reporters’ bonus is based on growth targets as relates to clicks. I think at Nola.com, the news managers have tried to quell this fear, but only time will tell,” Carr said.

Is this a telling clue for the reporters at the Times Picayune? Apparently the jury is still out on TP moving to a three-day-a-week delivery schedule, as it stands the majority of their readers are upset about the changes. As far as clicks per page-view go, the jury is still out.

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