Think Less About Traffic and More About Outcomes

Writing at paidContent, Robert Andrews recently covered several presentations made at a meeting in Madrid that the Paley Center hosted for media executives. Focusing on remarks made by two executives at Google and Facebook, Andrews describes “How tech’s giants want to re-invent journalism“.

Some of the questions raised by Google’s Richard Gingras resonated with me:

“Do we not deserve to rethink the architecture of what a ‘story’ is, the form of presentation and narrative to meet the needs of people who are consuming, not just by articles?…  As Larry Page once said to me,” ‘Why don’t reporters do more footnoting?’”

In this regard, Gingras invokes Clay Johnson’s call for readers to seek and evaluate original sources. Johnson argues that reporters should footnote, giving readers access to source documents and other resources that would help them parse coverage. In The Information Diet, Johnson also explains why reporters don’t footnote: newspapers prefer to keep readers on their ad-driven web sites.

Somewhat less encouraging were remarks made by Facebook’s journalism manager, Vadim Lavrusik. As Andrews reported:

“People want analysis from journalists,” Facebook’s Lavrusik advised. He showed data from the social network’s recent engagement with news brands suggesting ”posts with journalists’ analysis receive 20 percent more referral clicks (than others).”

I believe the data, and it may well be the case that people “want” analysis. But Clay Johnson would argue it is more likely that people want to be told they are right.

Secondary and tertiary reporting and analysis tends to create an echo chamber that amplifies what we already know at the expense of the underlying data that might challenge our beliefs. It doesn’t really surprise me that Facebook wants to encourage practices that drive traffic, but that’s not what we need most as we try to reinvent journalism.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.