The War Against Mediocre Online Editorial Content

by Dan Blank on January 1, 2008

The Echo Chamber of BloggingValleywag reports that Gawker Media is changing how their bloggers are getting paid. Below are quotes from a supposed Gawker internal memo that Valleywag got a hold of.

How online editorial compensation is flawed:

  • Traditional media payment structure can reward those who politics within their organization:

    “It’s only on the internet that a writer’s contributions can be measured. At newspapers, a reporter’s reputation depends on the opinion of their editors, which can be fickle. Some people get on because they play the office politics well. Or simply because they’re more aggressive in lobbying for more prominent jobs, or pay increases.”

  • The problem with measuring success by page views:
    “The view count does not reflect attention paid to the posts on the front page; nor photo galleries (which are usually junk views anyhow); and it can overstate the value of cheap items with superficial appeal, but which damage a site’s reputation. Nevertheless, it’s the best measure we have, so we’re going to use it to calculate bonuses.”

  • Frequency is not the answer:
    “Early on in the commercial blog era, frequency was the key to the success of a site… we now really are reaching the limits of sheer volume. Readers can’t take any more.”

  • Uncovering original news items is critical:
    “…what’s in heavy demand, and short supply, is linkworthy material, by which I mean a secret memo, a spy photo, a chart, a well-argued rant, a list, an exclusive piece of news, a well-packaged find.”

  • Mass appeal is the goal:
    “our objective is not merely to provide gratification for a writer, or amusement for their pals, but to appeal to the wider readership of a site, and to new readers who might discover it through Digg or Google or some other link… [The goal is to compensate] writers who care most about their readers.”

  • Talented writers must be recognized and compensated for their achievements:
    “the market for editorial talent is becoming more competitive. If a writer works like hell, or sparkles, we always run a risk: that somebody outside the organization notices before the news trickles up the management hierarchy. We need a mechanism to reward hard work, and stardom — to dispense pay increases automatically, if you will.”

For Gawker, this is the future of how bloggers will be paid:

“The era of counting posts that are worth $12 or $200 is over. You will be expected to contribute a set number of posts each month in exchange for your monthly base pay. On top of your monthly base pay, you will be eligible for a bonus based on the number of pageviews your posts receive each month.”

Scott Karp has some concerns about Gawker’s new approach:

“The downsides of this approach are obvious — the incentive rewards content that is salacious, titillating, slanderous, nasty, etc. — anything that appeals to the base interests of a mass audience. It rewards gaming of social news sites, i.e. creating content that appeals to the most parochial interests of users on Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc. And of course it rewards search engine optimization, writing content that is packed with keywords and that foots to the top searches, with headlines written for search engines rather than people.”

The recognition that the web is is now littered with news and commentary is the key here. In order to really engage an audience on the web, you can’t simply participate in the echo chamber of the day’s news, or aggregate your way to a truly unique experience. At least, not enough to make the kind of revenue that publishers need to justify their investment – or to make up for a shortfall in print revenue.

Gawker is taking a measured step to bridge the gap between blogger and journalist. True, anyone can create a blog, and have worldwide distribution. However, to find sustainable online success, we must stop calling people bloggers – and work to create more journalists… who just happen to write for blogs.

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