Newspapers: Someone Else Is Successful At Something So We Need to Do That

Just because Buzzfeed is good at what Buzzfeed is doing, does not mean that you need to be Buzzfeed:

Internal documents obtained by WW show that a quota system is being put in place that calls for steep increases in posting to, and promises compensation for those employees who post most often.

The new policy, shown to the editorial staff in a PowerPoint presentation in late February, provides that as much as 75 percent of reporters’ job performance will be based on measurable web-based metrics, including how often they post to

Beat reporters will be expected to post at least three times a day, and all reporters are expected to increase their average number of posts by 40 percent over the next year.

In addition, reporters have been told to stir up online conversations among readers.

“On any post of substance, reporter will post the first comment,” the policy says. “Beat reporters [are to] solicit ideas and feedback through posts, polls and comments on a daily basis.”

This is what happens when you have management by panic, and that’s how newspapers have been run for at least the last 40 years. Forget the Internet: The minute TV news came around, newspapers had to be more immediate, more visual, because that’s what TV was good at. Then the 24-hour networks, so let’s all cover whatever they’re covering, in the same half-assed way they’re covering it, because people like that now.

And now this jumping at every goddamn online trend that whistles past the door. I don’t actually think this is an impossible goal or anything, and good reporters usually can throw out enough cheap stuff to keep editors happy while still working on longer term stories, but the rationale is what burns my ass:

The new policy will likely increase‘s use of daily, short posts that follow an original news post by reporting on readers’ comments, creating polls to gauge reader reaction, and “aggregating” the site’s most popular stories—as a way to build page views.

The policy says Advance is aiming to increase page views by 27.7 percent by the end of the year. (The paper’s traffic is already sizable, with online metrics site Quantcast showing 23 million page views last month.)

“Advance, for better or for worse, has been the most aggressive American newspaper company in moving to the web,” says Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab. “This is their bet. It makes sense that they would want to align their staff with that bet.”

First of all, can you think of anything less compelling than reporting that is based on reader comments? (If they were my reader comments, this would make sense, but in the case of a newspaper web site it’s more likely to lead to headlines like, AREA RESIDENTS SAY THEY HATE OUR BEET RECIPE, BLAME NEGRO PRESIDENT.)

Second, if the paper already has good web traffic, why screw with it? I mean is there any other business that says to its customers, “So this thing you like, we’re gonna make it like this other thing instead, because people like that thing, too?” In what universe does that make any kind of sense?

You don’t have to be everything to everybody. You don’t have to sell floor wax and pizza. You do have to figure out whether you’re better at producing pepperoni or shining the linoleum, pick one, and go with it. That can be hard to do, but flailing from one Internet trend to another is just going to make it harder.