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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Karp’

At What Point Does News Break Too Fast?

In publishing, social media on Monday, 17 March 2008 at 22:27

Scott Karp has an interesting and thoughtful post up on the coverage of the Bear Stearns collapse. He uses the fast-moving story (breaking on a Sunday, no less!) to highlight the advantages of the Web versus print for breaking news. But while I agree with most of what Scott has to say in his post, he loses me here:

“The problem with following the Bear Stearns story on the web is that traditional news brand sites are too conflicted between serving print readers and serving web readers…”

Really? The New York Times homepage was updated throughout the day on Sunday and into Monday. And the paper, well, the paper published the most up to date stories it could given the realities deadlines of the daily miracle that is the big-city newspaper. What’s the problem exactly? Those of us who get our news on the Web got a constantly updated story, well reported and well told. And the folks for whom the paper remains a primary resource got EXACTLY what they expect to get.

According to Karp: “News … has a narrative, a story arc that it is often very instructive to follow. The New York Times has a wealth of reporting that covers a story as it unfolds — but the homepage is useless for looking at the story arc.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but (and I mean this literally) who cares?

We’re all familiar by now with the advantages of the Web versus print on a fast-moving story like this. Karp seems to be arguing that the traditional press — nastier folks than Scott would sneer derisively at the mainstream media — can’t get us there. But for the vast majority of people, the old-school media brands most certainly can, and do, get us there. To be clear, I’m certainly not suggesting that there isn’t a place for bloggers and crowdsourcing and all of the other terrific resources we have at our disposal for the gathering and disseminating information. Of course there is. But I believe that for most people, on the day, the volume, presentation, and speed of coverage of a story like Bear Stearns provided by the Times or the Wall Street Journal is ample. Anything more seems like drinking from a fire hose.

Of course, some people are really, really thirsty when it comes to news. I’d posit that there are basically two groups looking for more/better/faster: industry-types with some sort of direct vested interest in the outcome of the story, and information junkies. Now, are these groups worth catering to on news? You bet. Look no further than the mayor of New York City to know how lucrative it can be: Michael Bloomberg became a multi-billionaire on the back of providing breaking news on a specific topic (bond prices) to a specific audience (traders).

But for most of us, the minute-to-minute details of bond prices, or the Bear Stearns debacle for that matter, are more than we need. In the end, we want to know what’s happening, we want to trust the source, and we want to move on with our lives.


Paying Writers Based on Traffic Is (Mostly) a Race to the Bottom

In editorial on Thursday, 3 January 2008 at 12:11

Plenty of virtual ink is being spilled over the new pay scheme for writers over at Gawker Media. Nick Denton and company are replacing their pay-per-post model for paying bloggers with a salary-plus-traffic-bonus model. According to the internal memo posted on Valleywag, the change is meant, in part, to incentivize the creation of quality content. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Scott Karp does a nice job elucidating the “cons”:

“The downsides of this approach are obvious — the incentive rewards content that is salacious, titillating, slanderous, nasty, etc. — anything that appeals to the base interests of a mass audience. It rewards gaming of social news sites… And of course it rewards search engine optimization … with headlines written for search engines rather than people. “

The “pros” are a little harder to discern. Mathew Ingram seems willing roll the dice:

“[I]n the long run it is likely to make them more intimately involved in their blogs, and more interested in developing a relationship with their readers, and that’s a good thing.”

I’m skeptical. Yes, there’s something to the idea of relationship-building IF the bloggers in question are sticking around for years. But is that really the universe we’re talking about? What’s the average tenure for a writer with a blog network gig? And will this mythical writer actually put more money in his pocket doing an extra-special good job then he might have churning out commodity volume-filler posts?

Of course it’s important to have a strong relationship with one’s readers. But in the end it’s the editor’s responsibility to make sure that the blog owns that relationship. Individual voices are eminently brandable, and can become great businesses. But the biggest content businesses brand businesses, not bloggers.

Dan Blank’s headline, The War Against Mediocre Online Editorial Content, is tough not to love, because we’re all sick of the flotsam and jetsam that pollutes the web’s waters. He rightly points out that “[t]he recognition that the web is is now littered with news and commentary is the key here.” But I think he’s stretching with his assertion that “Gawker is taking a measured step to bridge the gap between blogger and journalist.”

Professional journalists don’t get paid individually based on circ numbers. In fact, compensation based on individual performance would be a disaster for most working writers — it’s the publications (Web and print doesn’t much matter here) to which most readers have fidelity.

Now, that doesn’t mean the occasional rock star journalist won’t make bank. They will; but it’ll be on the back end of building an audience, and come in the form of higher salaries, book deals, speaking engagements, and the like. But these are the exceptions to the rule (and even then their rewards come only for producing a meaningful body of work). It’s not the same thing as Gawker’s traffic-bonus model. Not even the same sport. Denton and company are doing something interesting, but it’s almost the complete antithesis of bridging the gap between bloggers and journalists.

As Scott Karp notes toward the end of his piece, “[w]hat the web lacks most right now is a content filter that adheres consistently to a high standard of quality.” I think that’s absolutely right. Fundamentally, it’s why we’re building Brijit. But we don’t believe paying your writers based on traffic is the way ensure quality. Combining the best aspects of algorithm, user-generated content and traditional editorial control allows us to control for quality. Pay-for-traffic, more often than not, is a race to the bottom.