March 19, 2012
Figure out what the people want and give it to them — that’s the basis of free enterprise. But the concept doesn’t sit well with journalists who feel they should be setting the agenda for readers who don’t necessarily know what’s good for them.
Dave Copeland at ReadWriteWeb says this change in attitude is necessary, but it may be too hard for some of us in the business to stomach. How would you respond, for example, if your editor told you that you must work the name of your city into or near the lead of every story? The reason being that this “keyword” would make the stories more easily found by readers using search engines. Old-time journalists would no doubt see this as a corruption of the old who-what-when-where-why formula.
Dead-tree journalists get squeamish when they think about chasing traffic. The notion is that they cover important, newsworthy stories and that, as a result, people will read them. The idea of chasing readers, covering topics because readers want to read about them (and using analytics to write about those topics when they want to read about them), or presenting those topics in a way that may stray from conventional journalistic storytelling is a sure-fire way to get yourself booted from the old boys club that still runs an alarming number of newsrooms.
I know it’s something I find hard to wrap my mind around. The field of journalism may find itself attracting a different kind of cat in the future — or even right now.