Popularity Pays

Edward Wasserman, professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, argues in the Miami Herald that journalism ought not be subject to the brutal trappings of online metrics.

Under the new rules, the commercial value of specific editorial offerings is estimated with precision, rewards and punishments doled out accordingly, and coverage cut to fit.

The problem with online Popularity Pay is it that it mistakes journalism for a consumer product, and conflates value with sales volume. Journalists don’t peddle goods, they offer a professional service, a relationship. The news audience renews that relationship to get information and insight on matters it trusts journalists to alert it to, even though the news may be disquieting or hard to grasp.

Gawker Media already operates on the Popularity Pay model. Nick Denton’s goal is to discourage “self indulgent” posts and “mind-numbing frequency” in favor of “linkworthy material.”

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