An American friend who now does a daily blog for a major U.S. newspaper says he came to realize there were certain tricks to Web journalism that did not apply during his many years as a hard-copy reporter.
The key to increased traffic, he says, lies in striking the hot buttons almost immediately – if possible, right in the headline.
If you can get as high up as possible those magic names and phrases that incite the American public – Sarah Palin, the Clintons, Tiger Woods, global warming, anything to do with sex – then the thousands upon thousands who have signed up for alerts on anything to do with Ms. Palin, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Woods, climate change, sex will come flooding to your page.
In Canada, you can add such names as Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff.
The end result should be obvious: lazy journalism. Why search out something new when the old and tried work best?
Why be a storyteller when a ranter will have far more traffic? Why be investigative when instigative is a far quicker route to success on the Web?
“When journalism becomes nothing more than digital hits, the more provocative you are – often, the more obnoxious you are – the higher the hit count,” says Richard Gruneau, a Simon Fraser University professor who studies popular culture and media.
“In that sense, the system pressures you to become a dick. Who cares if what you say is good, let alone whether there is any truth in it or not? When everything becomes opinion, the most opinionated, most strident and least compromising ‘journalists' are the ones who rattle enough cages, or inspire enough like-minded devotees, to build the hit count.
“And if you can somehow get the people you piss off arguing with your devotees, then your hit count will really soar.”