Poker face: Nieman traffic experiment proves you can’t have sizzle without steak

I call it the “Lady Gaga-izing of news”: what our news websites would turn into if they were driven only by page views.

Our site would be riddled with cat videos, puppy stories and a galleries of NFL cheerleaders.

Sometimes, we find ourselves posting the latest celebrity gossip, and I’ve heard online editors in our newsroom say ‘I’m not ashamed to admit it – I’m a page view whore.’ (Apologies for the nasty language, this sometimes does tend to happen in a newsroom.)

So I wasn’t too  surprised by Gawker’s new editor A.J. Daulerio when he announced in January that he was going to have one member of his staff rotating through ‘traffic whoring duty‘:

A different staff writer will be forced to break their usual routine and offer up posts they feel would garner the most traffic. While that writer struggles to find dancing cat videos and Burger King bathroom fights or any other post they feel will add those precious, precious new eyeballs, the rest of the staff will spend time on more substantive stories they may have neglected due to the rigors of scouring the internet each day to hit some imaginary quota.

Interesting…. would Gawker’s page views go through the roof?

The clever folks at Harvard Nieman Lab set up an experiment to find out. They captured stats from all posts written by staff writer during Gawker’s trial, and tracked a writer’s page views on ‘page view days’ and ‘off-duty days.’

Here’s what the Nieman Lab study found:

On their assigned page view-duty days, Gawker writers produced a cumulative 72 posts — about 14 posts per writer per day. On their off-duty days — and remember, each had four off days for every “on” day — the same writers cumulatively produced 34, or about 1.3 posts per writer per day… Those 72 pageview-duty posts produced a combined 3,956,977 pageviews (as of the days I captured data, Friday 3/9 and Monday 3/12), a mean of 54,958 pageviews per post. The 34 off-duty posts produced 2,037,263 pageviews, a mean of 59,920 pageviews per post.

That’s right – stories such as Penguin shits on Senate Floor, Little girl slaps mom with piece of pizza, saves life and This is what the voice of a the Honey Badger video looks like brought in an extra 5,000 page views.

One of Nieman Lab’s points is that it’s not just about the raw data. Gawker’s writers are happier because they know when they have to chase page views, and when they don’t.

The point of Daulerio’s experiment was to allow his writers (note I have refrained from calling them reporters) to work on meatier projects.

I’d argue that this makes reporters even happier than playing the role of  a page view prostitute. Sure, we run our share of light galleries, including one wishing William Shatner a happy birthday, but we also break news – like the election fraud robocalls.

And I’m pretty sure that when he wrote this story, Glen McGregor wasn’t thinking about page views but reporting the news.

Readers might come for the sizzling cat videos, but if you want them back, you need to offer them something to sink their teeth into.

(Photo from The Inquisitr.com)

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