Deviating from Dance

Pay based on Popularity?

Hello Readers,

Although many of you are not journalists or ever plan to be, you are all consumers of media, much of which comes from online sources such as this. I want to discuss an interesting topic for aspiring journalists of the digital age (such as myself) and make you aware of some issues.

Some online news sources are currently or considering paying their journalists based on the number of page views their stories receive. Essentially, journalists getting paid based on how popular their stories are.

It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Give the writer a bonus if people love his/her work in hopes of promoting more great writing and more readerships. It seems like a fine business model.

The question at hand, however, is how this approach might affect the quality of journalism, for better or for worse.

Personally, my main concern is that entertainment writers would be making exorbitant amounts of money for writing about the latest celebrity baby names while foreign correspondents risk their lives in unstable nations to report about unrest and revolution, yet get paid a fraction of what the Hollywood journalist would receive.

So how can we, as journalists, combat this problem and be paid appropriately for our work published online?

In a word: Branding.

It’s our saving grace in this digital media landscape. If one can establish him/herself as a credible source with a refined message and community to support it, he/she is on the road to success and paychecks.

Len De Groot, data visualizations instructor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, outlines the critical steps to building one’s brand.

  • Know your message and communicate it clearly: No one has time to sift through a long narrative. Make it quick, simple, and informative.
  • Use design to reinforce your message: A simple, clean, and recognizable logo is far more credible and memorable than a flashy graphic that constantly changes. You want to be identifiable.
  • Build a community and reciprocate: This is basically the concept of incentives. Give people a reason to return to your site over and over. Hopefully that motivating reason is excellent content.
  • Be relatable and engaged: People find love via online dating profiles, so make your readers love you through your writing. Respond to feedback your readers give and make sure they know how much your value their opinions.

For more on De Groot’s steps to creating a brand, see this video

While rewarding journalists for producing popular content makes sense to me, I foresee many dilemmas in determining which stories are actually worthy of reward.

For that reason, I hope that this practice is not adopted by all news organizations. It would greatly affect the quality and focus of journalism. Sure, sex sells, but honestly, does it get us anywhere in the long run?

Regardless, our job as journalists is to serve democracy. We will cater to our audiences to the ends of the earth, but I hope that we will retain our dignity and passion for telling truly important stories that people ought to be aware of.

Much love and juicy pliés,

Christina