Paid popularity

Inspired by the success of blogging journalist and former staffer Om Malik, Business 2.0 is paying staffers to blog, rewarding them on the basis of traffic. My newfound friend Dan Shanoff objects at HuffingtonPost, arguing, with merit, that this may cause writers to — I’ll put this less delicately than he did — whore themselves for clicks.

But I think it is a good idea. The truth is that we are all, in any medium, influenced by our traffic. We write stories to get them onto Page One. When I wrote covers at People, I hung on the sales reports. I have long argued that on newspapers and magazines, circulation directors should report to editors, for the editor is supposed to be in charge of the relationship with the reader. And as as blogger, I used to check traffic more than daily and light candles in hope of the occasional Instalanche (since shifting my focus to media and away from hot buttons of politics, I’ve gone cold turkey on the stats). And Business 2.0’s move is not unprecedented; both Nick Denton (a friend) at Gawker Media and (a client)

Is there danger in this? Of course. One can be corrupted by the siren call of popularity and, worse, money. But if one corrupts one’s product and credibility along the way, then you can bet that the audience will see through the manipulation, become disenchanted, and leave. That is true of newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and blogs. And in the case of the Business 2.0 bloggers, they can also lose their jobs.

As more of us become independent, and as we need to support our efforts with traffic and advertising, the more we will have to work diligently to protect our own credibility, our own brands, and cope with the issues of church and state ourselves: my left side is church, the right is state. [Hat tip to Andrew Tyndall for making me write this, in the comments here.]

: LATER: Here’s Erick Shonfeld of Business 2.0 blogging about the blogging about their blogging.

: JUST TO BE CLEAR: A few blogs linking to this seem to think that I was endorsing pay-per-post blogging and I most certainly am not. Depends on who’s paying and what the deal is. Business 2.0 is paying its writers to write just as they do in print. That is quite different from advertisers paying bloggers to blog in their own editorial space, which I think is dead wrong. And that, in turn, is different from advertisers paying for space on a blogger’s blog, clearly labeled, which is absolutely fine. And whether the ads on a blog are sold by your boss or yourself or your network or Google, it’s still vital that you separate yourself from those interests or you will lose your credibility with your public. Once again: The reader must never be confused about the source of content. If it is bought and paid for, then you must say so.

  • Nilhan Jayasinghe

    Great summation of a recent hot topic in our office. I largely agree with you about the new independant journalist who like traditional journalist will accept payment all beit from different publishers from one day to the next. But, there is a more sinister side to this. There’re many blog sites out there willing to pay bloggers simply to generate content, solely for the purpose of attracting visitors in order to sell advertising.

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  • Andrew Tyndall

    Jeff —

    I appreciate the courtesy. Your point about this issue being no different for bloggers than for the old MSM is well taken.

    In television journalism, for example, there is the continual short-term-vs-long-term push and pull for ratings. In the short term, sensationalism, pandering and hyperbole can drive up ratings — but only at the risk of damaging long-term credibility for a sense of proportion, moderation and honesty.

    News, unlike other forms of television such as dramas, sitcoms and reality shows, is in business for the long haul, seeking to build a reputation that will endure for decades, not just a season-or-two.

    It is no surprise that the most prized attributes in an anchor (what is often labeled misleadingly as “gravitas”) are the ability to remain calm in a crisis and the caution to separate speculation from fact, both attributes that are inimical to boosting ratings in the short term.

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  • milo

    “One can be corrupted by the siren call of popularity and, worse, money. ”
    This can happen to almost every public work on net, ain’t?

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  • Dan Blank

    Jeff: There is something about this that reminds me of a struggling .com I used to work at. At one point, they sent us all out on the streets to, one by one, tell people about our product.

    When you force someone to do a job they may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, such as how Business 2.0 may be going about this – I wonder about their strategy and support structure.

    Is this a move out of desperation? Is this a groundbreaking approach that will be followed by every news organization in the world? Time will tell, but I wish we would move past the concept that anything with the word “blog” is good, and anything “traditional” is bad.

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