Romenesko calls out this quote from an interview with
One of the most popular features among Dow Jones staff is the â€œMost Popularâ€? stories list, where you can see whatâ€™s been read the most each day, week and month. People care deeply about whether their stories show up in the Top 10 or not. I think thatâ€™s not a bad thing. Obviously those statistics can be affected by story placement and blog outreach, but you can get a sense of what type of stories your readers care deeply about and you can try to formulate your coverage along the lines of what your readers want. And thatâ€™s not a bad thing for journalists to do.
To which Mark Glaser reasonably asks, “You donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a danger in pandering to readers a little bit?”
I’ve been through this in a couple of newsrooms now — the first few weeks reporters start seeing what the top 10 most read stories are is, for some, a shocker. It’s crime, accidents and disasters. “What, my pearly prose on the county budget didn’t make the top 10?” The first reaction is usually, “stupid readers only care about sensational stuff.”
I think that is a misread of the audience. First, these stories are not sensationally written or presented. The reporting is pretty straightforward. Local newspaper writers rarely go in for salacious details or gossip. So there must be something else about these stories that draw reader interest.
I think it is a couple of things — the immediacy of the reporting, and the hyperlocal nature of the events. We want to know if anybody we know is involved.
Print journalists tend to be turned off by the idea of paying attention to what interests readers for fear of pandering. I think they have in mind, when they talk about pandering, the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality of local TV news. To my mind, TV news only got the equation half right. Yes, readers want to know about accidents and murder, but you don’t need to scream the news at them. You don’t need to sex it up. There is no conflict between providing quality journalism and providing readers with those items they find newsworthy. It’s about substance over style.
So I say, by all means, pay attention to your web stats and follow the readers where they want to go. That’s how we beat craigslist. Just be good journalists.