Editorial: Pageviews Is Not The Only God Of Internet Journalism

Taken together, articulating and acting on clear values alongside an aggressive commitment to transparency and community can be a roadmap for news organizations wanting to rebuild and strengthen trust and the emotional relationship with its audience.

—”(HINT: IT’S ABOUT YOUR BRAND)” by Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad?
I’m only happy when it rains

—“I’m Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage

It’s no secret that journalism — especially journalism that focuses on arts and entertainment — has been on a long, painful downslide. Publishers, both large and small, are a bunch of scrappers these days, looking — praying — for any kind of competitive edge that might be parlayed into fiscal gain. The new god of journalism is Pageviews, one of the main factors that advertisers use to determine whether or not to financially support a publication. But Pageviews is like Loki, an unsympathetic, manipulative trickster who loves chaos — no matter the cost to others.

Fire, break-ins, illegal activity and closings are among the most-viewed stories of a food publication. Positive and educational ones rarely get the same results — a depressing fact that makes one question human nature. Negative news stories are the flashing ambulance lights that readers just can’t seem to pull their eyes away from.

HFD fire by Ed Schipul
When someone’s business burns down, it’s a tragedy. It’s also often a well-read story. Photo by Ed Schipul via Flickr Creative Commons.

Yes, bad news has to be reported. And for publishers seeking financial viability, there’s an understandable temptation to guide coverage toward the more negative story. After all, it’s just business, right?

But journalists don’t just convey information; they stir emotion and give impressions “between the lines,” too. There is power in that, and that power should be wielded carefully. As my peer Eric Sandler of CultureMap wrote succinctly during a text conversation, “At the very least, we have an obligation to get it right.”

There will be times we don’t get it right. Journalists make mistakes. When we screw up, the appropriate response is to own up to the error, apologize and issue a correction. It’s also a strong reminder that we need to do a better job next time.

What we write can help or harm someone’s business, whether it be a restaurant, bar or bakery. While we serve the readers, we should also remember — especially in the case of small businesses — that there are real people involved. Their livelihoods, and possibly their life savings, are at stake.

The Internet has changed journalism. The Pageviews god demands tribute — but that power should forever be tempered and curtailed by the guiding North Star of truth. Otherwise, we journalists are simply sacrificing our ethics and, indeed, the long-term credibility of our publications, for a fleeting surge of clicks.

Comments (3)

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  • January 16, 2018 at 11:15 amAmelia

    I’m trying to figure out what the writer is wanting to express here. This “editorial” is full of trite cliches, self-important pronouncements, and delusions of journalistic grandeur. I live in Dallas, but am often in Houston, and since I am in the restaurant industry it is natural that I read from time to time the words of people in both cities who write about food. I must say that the state of food writing in the Bayou City is abysmal, and this attempt at a serious statement by Cosplay Queen Phaedra Cook sums up that state perfectly. (That Cook referred to her peer Eric Sandler makes the piece even better; reading them, you could be forgiven if you mistook Sandler’s words for Cook’s, and vice versa. Lazy, sloppy, PRish … it’s good for a laugh, but not much else.)

    Is Cook stating above that because a business is small, substandard food should be overlooked, ignored? The North Star of Truth? If food is s*it, and that is not stated, where is the truth?

    Is Cook’s laughable editorial aimed at Eater? If so, Cook should be guided by her North Star and say so. Cook would also benefit from learning to discard cliches and overly dramatic passages from her writing. Obligation to get it right? Seems to me that Eater corrected the “story” and life goes on.

    It seems that Cook is attempting to place herself in the journalist stable, when she could not even keep a job at the Houston Press, and her attempt is pathetic.

  • January 13, 2018 at 9:22 amLynn

    Are you sending this to Eater Houston?

    • January 15, 2018 at 10:37 amPhaedra Cook

      It’s not directed at any specific publication. There’s enough shoddy journalism out there that it simply seemed the right time to try and say something thoughtful about the issues and the quality of our work.