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.
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.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.