News sites may soon offer writers cash bonuses based on their number of online page views—but some fear this model will damage journalism quality.
The Gannett media chain, which publishes USA Today and the site NewsQuest, created a stir in April by announcing they were considering a plan to pay writers annual bonuses based on the number of online hits articles received, which are often a major driving factor of online advertising revenue.
This plan is still under consideration, Heidi Zimmerman, Director of Communications for USA Today told IJNet. “But it is specific to the USA Today Sports Media Group—not USA Today as a whole.”
This isn’t the first time a media outlet encouraging writers to drive web traffic. News and gossip website Gawker introduced a similar scheme in 2008. Bloggers earned bonuses of up to US$7,000 for reaching 1.4 million page views.
But traditional hard news journalists express concern about this model, saying that “sexier” stories — like coverage of celebrities, for example — ultimately drive more traffic and could influence what topics are covered.
“It’s a bad idea. What if an editor needs a journalist to cover the budget deficit commission for the next six months? No one is going to put his or her hand up—because that person sure isn’t going to be getting a bonus,” said Dan Kennedy, an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University in a panel discussion on the issue.
Nevertheless, the debate is likely to continue: a new study done by Columbia University on digital news economics recommends that journalists “gain a fuller appreciation for how advertisers now reach their customers.”
Photo by wfyurasko, used with a CC-license