Over at Micro Persuasion, Steve Rubel takes note of a new pay-per-performance system at ZDNet, where writers will be rewarded in part based on how many people read what they write. It raises questions, he observes:
For example, will a blogger favor writing a sensational post that is likely to get more clicks over one that perhaps is less sexy and is based on, say, a press release? News value and clicks often go together, but as we’ve seen on collaborative sites like digg, sensationalist rumors sometimes are more popular.
No kidding. This is one of the flaws of simple popularity, which is not the only measure of quality. (And by looking at the “newspapers” at supermarket checkout stands, we know that some big sales mean zero in terms of quality.)
Like most people with some old-school journalistic values — you know, the ones like thoroughness, accuracy, fairness et al — the pay-for-play system is not my idea of a great plan. Another flaw, besides the questionable equating of value with readership, is that the placement on the page has a lot to do with how many people read something. Bury any story, in print or online, and you’ll just about guarantee that it won’t be well-read.
But the system is in some ways inevitable.
In the 1980s I was on a writers’ mailing list on Compuserve. One of the members, a fine journalist, posted something that has stayed with me ever since. He said (I’m paraphrasing now):
One of these days journalists are going to find out what people actually want to read. And that should scare the hell out of them.