A Sunday story in The New York Times confirms, with great detail, what we have been hearing anecdotally from journalists for the past few years – it really does matter which online news stories get the most clicks. Online news is, essentially, a democracy. The most clicked stories win in the minds of editors who shape news coverage.
Those editors are looking more closely than ever at which stories you click the most when visiting news sites online. Of course, the most popular news sites are operated by newspapers, which are still largely struggling, at least financially, in the transition from paper to pixels. Once upon a time, editors would put together a “news product” (a paper or a broadcast newscast) and think they knew what would interest you. Now – they can know with certainty, right down to the click. Similarly, with radio’s Portable People Meters (PPMs), broadcasters can now measure listener behavior minute-by-minute.
What what does this new level of measurement mean? I depends on “where you sit.” For example:
-For journalists – what will happen to the reporting that used to win awards? That was always news the public “needed” to know, rather than what maybe it wanted to know. If long-form reporting doesn’t get the clicks, but “Top 5” lists do, how can that form of journalism continue to be funded?
And headlines are so important to the clicking process. Could a good headline (which reporters typically don’t write) make or break a story’s “clickability” and future? Also, the Times’ story said that some staffing decisions are being made on click measurements. That’s scary stuff for journalists.
-For advertisers – knowing who is engaging in which paid content has many positive benefits. Expect more detailed information about who is clicking on what and when to be provided in the short term.
-For consumers – you really do have the power. If you like a story and think news organizations do more like it – click it, share it and encourage others to consume it. If online news really is a democracy, you are the registered voter.