Julie Angell

Look beyond the media stars for answers

(Courtesy of Chartbeat) A graph showing the relationship between engagement and propensity to return.
(Courtesy of Chartbeat) A graph showing the relationship between engagement and propensity to return.

As a reporter, when I look at the average time someone reads a story, I get discouraged. What’s the point of writing an in-depth, thought out and informational article if I won’t get eyes on it for longer than 15 seconds?

James T. Hamilton, the author of “All the News That’s Fit to Sell” was right when he said that “our problems lie not in our media stars, but in ourselves.” Journalists and editors hold the answer to the page view problem, and it’s simpler than we think.

The answer could be as simple as sticking to a brand and producing content with integrity. If everyone continually tries to be first, pushing out content thats only purpose is to reign in pageviews, then the media terrain will get even messier.

If I were a editor or content manager for a news outlet – whether it be New York Times or Buzzfeed or a small sports startup – I would pay attention to engaged time and recirculation, as suggested by Chartbeat.com, before I even looked at the number of pageviews. If we get eyes on the page longer, then there’s a greater chance they’ll keep coming back to that site. Visitors who read an article for three minutes returned twice as often as those who read for one minute, according to Chartbeat.com.

This simple (maybe optimistic or naive) idea began to form when talking to Tony Garcia, a former coworker of mine, a recent Spartan grad and a newly hired high school sports reporter. I asked him if he could compare working for the smaller outlets and the established newspapers as a sports reporter, and what differences he encountered, as I expected there’d be several.

“I try to act the same way no matter who I am working for. I am representing something or someone somewhere, in addition to representing my own brand,” Garcia said.

His answer kind of surprised me. Garcia is a hard worker and he knows the industry pretty well for a recent grad, so I trusted his insight. Reporters and associated news outlets need to focus on their brands before number of clicks.

I’ve considered a rating system for news outlets, like something you’d find outside a restaurant or on Yelp. New York Times would get four stars or an “A,” and sketchy articles from sketchy websites your friend’s aunt shares on Facebook would get a failing grade. The rating would appear next to the website’s header for readers to see clearly. This would streamline news traffic, steering it towards trustworthy outlets that produce good journalism.

But, until that fancy innovation exists, we can stick to the basics. There are simpler ways to cut down the trend of hundreds of outlets vying for readers’ attention with sub-par content and flashy, clickable headlines.

Will Leitch, the founder of the popular sports website Deadspin, also surprised me with a viewpoint we should all consider for the future of media.

“We’ve let the money people in the room. We’re so obsessed with traffic, we’re obsessed with follower count, social engagement, and all this bullshit that has nothing to do with sports whatsoever,” Leitch said.

Those “money people” are still important, but tracking traffic obsessively while there are more important things to expend energy on is just not working. As Chartbeat said, news is a zero sum game, and “any bad design or eye-roll-inducing advertorials that might cause a visitor to spend a second less on the site is bad for business.” Theoretically, you can have an uninteresting or misleading story as long as the headline is clickable, because clicks are monetized instead of content. But, they won’t help us make money going forward.

We need to create more audience engagement editors, “the children of the copy editor, the public editor, and the paperboy,” according to Columbia Journalism Review. Their jobs are to establish an online tone and brand that interacts with readers. The more the brand is established, the more its trusted, which leads to possibly longer engagements with content.

Answering Chartbeat’s question, I’d say all of these websites vying for our attention are indeed turning on themselves. As editors and reporters, we shouldn’t have to settle for 55 percent of pageviews getting less than 15 seconds of attention. Citizen journalism is only good if it’s practiced properly, but that’s not happening enough. Journalists need to take back quality journalism, and gearing towards engaged time and recirculation instead of page views will make this happen.

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