Watching Traffic Numbers Is Not a Bad Thing

Numbers are not a bad thing in the newsroom.

This is in response to a piece by our partners over at The New York Times. Ostensibly the story was about burnout in the online media world. But it prompted a lot of discussion among the journalists here and, I imagine, other online operations as well.

Putting aside the trepidation about early start times (talk to the folks producing Squawk about early) and heavy workloads, the story pointed out many places use Internet metrics to gauge performance — and sometimes compensation — in the newsroom. The tone seemed to suggest that wasn't an altogether good thing.

Hey, I love my traffic gauges and gizmos. They tell me if we are covering the things our readers are actually interested in. Connecting with the reader, after all, is essential to effective journalism. The staff here seems to get motivated by them, too. It's a group scorecard we can all take pride in.

The compensation part? I'm not a fan there. Editing and placement can affect the numbers too much — and it's not in the writer's hands alone. One ticked-off editor could cost a writer a day's pay. Conversely, pay-by-clicks methods could lead to some headline-juicing temptations. The line between edgy and misleading is a fine one. Money might make some come down on the wrong side.

Now, do you let the numbers guide all your editorial decisions? No. Sometimes you give a piece a ride high on the homepage because it's the right thing to do. Take an infant formula recall story, for example. Not everyone will read it, but if a few of the right people do, then you've made the world a better place ... another point for journalism.