The battle to increase audiences is hardly a new challenge facing the media environment. Whether print readers, radio listeners or television viewers, it has generally been a case of the more the merrier.
In the world of online journalism, where there is instant access to page view and retweet counters, the ‘success’ of a story has perhaps come to be defined by these metrics. Howard Kurtz, columnist for the Washington Post, has an interesting post on the site this morning discussing the potential impact of this environment on the work of online journalists and the resulting balancing act between appealing to the search engine and maintaining a quality brand.
Naturally, those who grew up as analog reporters wonder: Is journalism becoming a popularity contest? Does this mean pieces about celebrity sex tapes will take precedence over corruption in Afghanistan? Why pay for expensive foreign bureaux if they’re not generating enough clicks?
Doesn’t all this amount to pandering?
Potentially, sure. But news organizations such as the Post and the Times have brands to protect. They can’t simply abandon serious news in favor of the latest wardrobe malfunction without alienating some of their longtime readers. What they gain in short-term hits would cost them in long-term reputation.