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