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Bloggers question the way reporters are paid

If newspapers are no longer able to keep pace with the big players for salaries, then maybe we'll have to start offering a new way of paying reporters and columnists. Pay extra based on the number of page views that stories generate.

Jack Lail over at Random Mumblings responded to my post about the race to hire the best sports writers by suggesting that advertising CPM rates might dictate reporter pay. But there are a lot of holes in that, starting with the absurdly low CPM rates still found online and the inevitable truth that what is popular is not always easy to sell. I agree with Patrick Beeson's response, which says it's too early to pay exclusively on CPM rates. (And I doubt we should ever follow solely that model.)

But I have long supported a bonus structure based on the number of page views generated by a reporter's or columnist's stories. Business 2.0 tried this model and it seemed effective. Those folks who do extraordinary work generating page views are rewarded and, hopefully, the entire newsroom starts to think about what attracts readers. That will help online, but it sure can't hurt print circulation numbers either.

Editors are always struggling with government reporters to tell stories from the human perspective, and they're right. When issues are explained via their effect on real human beings instead of in numbers and figures, the stories are often more popular online.

Page view bonuses do not account for the hard work of some people, such as analysis and investigations that don't pan out but were worth exploring. Continue using traditional means to reward those valuable people.

I totally disagree with the old commission model reportedly in use at Gawker Media, which paid $12 per post, according to NYT columnist David Brooks. Brooks isn't a fan of that or a new plan.

". . . Gawker is an information-age sweatshop. The bloggers on staff are compelled to produce 12 blog posts a day, and under the old compensation system they were paid the munificent sum of $12 per post. Now it’s worse. Owner Nick Denton is going to pay them per page-view. No views, no food."

The old Denton plan favored quantity over quality. The new one isn't much better, since it doesn't value time-consuming, in-depth reporting and might favor sensationalism. A page view bonus structure favors neither quantity or quality more. Sometimes cranking out posts creates the most page views, and sometimes writing one really good post can do the same.

The point is a bonus system doesn't hurt anyone. But it might help retain top talent while also increasing page views and audience.


UPDATE: Check my post in the comments to find the particulars of Denton's new plan, which it turns out is perfect. It should be the model going forward. A must-read. -Lucas

Comments (19)

I don't know that I was suggesting writers be paid by their CPM value. I was noting that many digital media companies, apparently including Yahoo!, either pay by CPM, some hybrid or use economic return in a ratings-type system.

Whether it's good for journalism or not, I see a tighter connection coming between a writer's value to the publisher and compensation for two reasons: 1) The unbundled nature of digital no longer means inserts and classifieds have to subsidize the newsroom and 2) it can be easily measured.

Am I comfortable with it? No. Do I think it will happen? Yes.

(And I hope they don't start calculating the economic return of editors. :))

You're right; new models to pay and motivate reporters need to be developed but I have my doubts about a CPM based system.

The biggest issue is it favors certain kinds of stories such as entertainment/celebrities/gossip that attract large audiences than sports or local news. This would require a scaled CPM model, which could be difficult to monitor.

You're right, Jack. I could have used an editor to clarify that you were not proposing the system, just positing that it might be down the road.

And for Mark, I just want to be clear that a page view based system and a CPM based one are very different. Page views pays out based on the traffic generated by your content. CPM pays out based on the advertising rate generated by your content.

Lucas,

you note that Business 2.0 tried a bonus scheme on reporters paid by pageviews--but, then again, Business 2.0 isn't in operation any more....

As for being paid by the CPM model--if you are working for yourself, and you stoke your blog with ads all over the place, the CPM model works pretty well. There are a number of mommybloggers that make a couple of thousand a month doing this, along with PayPerPost product endorsements.

However, pay rates for professional bloggers, who are often measured by their pageviews, is fairly low (less than $1500 per month in most cases.) Probloggers often cobble together more than one freelance contract (that is, unless under exclusive contract that demands multiple postings per day--a la Gawker) in order to make ends meet. Right now, there are a number of blog networks (such as B5Media) and blog ad networks with content (such as Glam) that are making some money via the CPM model. I don't know about B5, but I do know that Glam keeps a number of blogs and bloggers and has a very interesting SEO schema for pulling people into their content via ads.

This is not to mention sploggers, who seem to be the ones making the most money from CPM.

So, if newspapers move in the CPM direction, they're going to have to look at the numbers of blog networks and blog ad networks, individual bloggers, and sploggers--look at how they are monetizing and how well it might be working for them. Newspapers shouldn't necessarily think that because of their brands that they will be able to keep their CPM higher than certain blog networks (such as Deadspin for sports and Glam for gossip/hollywood.) The CPM model would just put newspapers in competition with folks who have been making the best of the CPM model already.

Business 2.0 went out of business for many other reasons, one of which was not the blogging commission. Every account of that plan I've heard was positive.

Given that this is something we're playing with internally (how to pay our bloggers - we currently pay a base pay + a CPM bonus), this is a great discussion.

The biggest challenge is that writers want a) to be paid for their work and b) to get any upside of massive traffic their article might generate while c) not being de-compensated if an article falls flat...

While publishers want to a) be able to effectively model the costs of producing content and b) want to keep writing costs to 25-40% of revenue and c) feel that it`s difficult to create a system that is truly `fair` - giving writers upside, while also protecting the publishing company from drivel articles.

The core challenge here is probably that journalists / writers / professional bloggers are increasingly having to develop core marketing skills so they know what pieces their audience wants.

Very interesting post Lucas. It certainly makes sense that writers/reporters/bloggers etc should be paid in some part based on their page views, and more importantly the ads that can be sold on those page views.

My biggest worry is this type of model lends itself to lowest common denominator writing; alah reality television.

The best analogies to me seem to be sales people (any good sales person wants to be paid on commission) and professional athletes.

I think any good content creator would be happy to be paid on a model resembling either of those.

L...

I could always check w/a friend of mine who use to write for B2.0....

T

Rick Smith:

The suggestion to pay bonuses based on page views is ludicrous. Suddenly reporters are turned into trained seals.

Beyond that, page views are incredibly easy to manipulate. Just have a hack happy friend write a script, hit enter and bingo, your story is generating a hit count out of this world.

I know because this is exactly what I did for a friend who worked as a reporter for one of the top news sites (I decline to name the organization, for which my friend no longer works).

In addition to page views, the site also added a "ranking" feature, wherein the readers could rank stories on a low-high basis. The more readers a reporter had giving an article high marks, the higher rank the story received.

High hit counts given high ratings sat at the top of the "top ten news stories" list that was prominent on each page.

The editors constantly told the repoters that they paid no attention to these rankings... bull.

I wrote my a script that voted every 60 seconds; his hit count and ranking went through the roof and suddenly, mysteriously, his editors began interacting with him in a much different way. His bonus that year was better than it had ever been, but no... the editors didn't look at the (faked) rankings at all.

The system is inherently flawed and wide open to fraud.

The downside of paying bloggers for page views is that eventually every post will include the phrase "Paris Hilton without panties."

What an absolute ridiculous notion. It would be a tragedy if journalism simply become a quantative notion, not qualitive.
That's like saying there shoud really be no art house movies because they don't have the same box office numbers as some tasteless crass blockbuster, not that all blockbusters are tasteless and crass.
As a journalist I do write a blog, sometimes purely on a hobby basis and I have noted cynically that in the blogosphere a stupid item about Britney Spears gets much, much greater response than say a think piece about the nature of democracy in south esat Asia.
So what would you do: only reward me well financially if I continually pump out prurient pieces about the Brit?
Rack off!

Thanks to Jack for sending an e-mail about the new Denton plan, which has just been released in a memo. It matches EXACTLY with what I would support. He's got it right this time.

"You will be expected to contribute a set number of posts each month in exchange for your monthly base pay.

On top of your monthly base pay, you will be eligible for a bonus based on the number of pageviews your posts receive each month. This total includes any pageview on any story with your byline that was read during the month, even if the story is months or years old . . .

One guest editor on Wonkette landed a huge exclusive and walked away with an extra $3k in his paycheck."

Everyone must read this memo. It's the most important change in salary in a long time, and it's the way nearly every newsroom should pay its people.

Lastly, let me address Rick, who claims to have written a script to artificially inflate views on a reporter's story and thus grant that reporter increased pay. All any reporter has is their credibility, and lying in any form erodes that quality. Any reporter who doesn't care about their own credibility shouldn't be in this business.

ziggy:

The problem with this concept is that some beats are inherently more popular than others, such as NFL teams. Sometimes you can swap one reporter for another or one photographer for another and -- regardless of quality -- the page views for the content will be the same.

Values aside, if the police beat blogger is going to be paid more for rewriting a couple dozen press releases and log entries a day, who's going to bite the economic bullet and take the lower-paid City Hall beat with its dull-but-important stories?

The difference between the police beat and the city hall beat should be made up in base salary.

Too often the police beat is considered just entry-level despite its importance to driving audience. The bonus system would encourage a quality reporter to remain on the police beat because they love doing it. I think there's a lot of room to cover traditional police beat stories in a much more in-depth way, and if the reporter covering the story had a good amount of experience, then they might be able to take the coverage to its next level.

The system would not only improve the coverage of police beat reporting, but also would improve city hall coverage, which is too often considered "dull-but-important" from the moment it's assigned by an editor. Expectations for that storytelling have to be higher. Closer attention to page views generated by these stories would likely create a rally for covering them via the people these issues effect instead of via meetings and officials.

But you're right. There's always going to be some difference in the popularity of topics and those differences should be addressed via base salary.

Ex-Gawker editor Choire Sicha says he supports the new page view bonus system. Here's what he told Gothamist in a recent interview (found via Matthew Ingram on this topic).

"I think I’m one of the few who’s really in favor of it, essentially. Conceptually what paying people for their traffic does is it puts income in the hands of the worker; it puts control of the income, in some slightly messy way, in the hands of the people actually doing the writing. I think that’s actually kind of a huge advance. I don’t know if it’ll bear out entirely in practice but conceptually I think it’s a great idea."

The key issue here is: are we paying for the content, or the visits? The new model suggests we are getting our head around the fact that they should be paid separately: so, we pay the journalist once for journalism, then again for their distribution. I've just posted a huge post on this at http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2008/01/02/a-model-for-the-21st-century-newsroom-pt4-pushpullpass-distribution/

I'm not so sure that Nick Denton's plan (or *anything* that Nick Denton does) should be what the rest of journalism does moving forward--esp. if we are talking about small newspapers and local reporting (where the CPM might not be so hot because the populace is too small to generate significant CPM)

Keep in mind that Wonkette and others in the Gawker media empire are, and grew because of, cults of personality and what they post on the various Denton properties and how well those posts do is contingent on this cult of personality--not necessarily on the quality of the writing...

So, it's not *just* whether or not we're paying for content or for visits, but are we paying for personality? and do we *really* want kind of personality mixed in with reports?

Think about it--Denton *made* Gawker on snarky blogging--not really on journalism. Would you prefer snarky personal comments in the police report just so that it gets pageviews?? seriously! think about it. and don't believe the hype as to how great this is until you talk with some of the folks who've worked for Denton. There are many not-so-hot stories circulating among probloggers about Denton's "sweatshop" working condtions.

Oh. My. God.

Someone decided I'm celeb enough to mention by name on Gawker.

I don't think they understand yet how this page view bonus system works.

Check out this post, which rounds up some other models used for paying bloggers. Still, it advocates for the page view bonus system, which is also in use at b5media.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Bloggers question the way reporters are paid:

» Pay 'em what they're worth? from Random Mumblings
Continuing a theme from a Sunday post, here's some more views on how journalists might be compensated in an digital world where every click is a metric:Patrick Beeson: "I'm not sure dangling CPM as a sole means for earning a... [Read More]

» Readership incentives from Random Mumblings
Details have emerged on Valleywag about a new writer compensation plan for those at Nick Denton's Gawker media empire, which includes the highly read Silicon Valley gossip blog. It's very close to what online journalist Lucas Grindley proposed as the... [Read More]

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 30, 2007 10:56 PM.

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