As I write these words, the top headlines on BuzzFeed are, “Here’s what the Archie Gang Looks Like Now,” “13 Butter Sculptures you Butter Believe in,” and “21 Essential Dr. Seuss Quotes.” You say, I’m not being fair, that the biggest buzz on the Internet also provides real news? So I’ve heard, but I click the “News” tab and I get, “Dale from Top Chef Will Make Dumplings at Newark.”
BuzzFeed is just giving the people what they want, right? Shouldn’t we all be doing that?
Well, some are guessing (hoping? praying?) that the people want something more in 2015. In a piece in The Washingtonian last week, writer Andrew Beaujon notes that two top political online publications are going all in on quality. It isn’t only a high-minded correction among the Internet intelligentsia, it’s also a cold calculation.
From the piece:
“Traffic for traffic’s sake is a deal with the devil you don’t want to make,” (Politico’s CEO Jim) VandeHei says. A publisher who plans to make money by selling mere audience numbers “better be up there with BuzzFeed or beyond.” …
In December, according to the digital-measurement company comScore, Politico had 7.6 million unique visitors, the web term for individual readers. That’s a heck of a lot of people (and 44 percent more than Politico had in December 2013). But in the same period, BuzzFeed drew 77 million uniques. By pushing out massive volumes of content to grab ever-diminishing seconds of readers’ time, “quantity players” like BuzzFeed shrink what advertisers are willing to pay for clicks.
“When you have so much supply out there, it just inevitably pushes the prices down to pennies,” VandeHei says.
With that in mind, the article suggests Politico and Gawker at least are bringing in real journalists in an effort to give readers something that sticks to their ribs instead of the candy that brings sweet clicks. Is there anyone here who doesn’t hope that kind of cooking brings more people to the table?
It’s easy to consider the hunt for online eyeballs to be a race to the bottom, where somewhere in the muck lies the common denominator. That is a race that journalists will never win. Instead, we should devote ourselves in 2015 to playing to our strengths. Provide unique content that enriches the lives of readers. Tell them about their world using techniques both old and new. Make connections – between events and people. Use the new tools at your disposal.
Here’s hoping Politico and Gawker help lead the way.