pat walters

freelance journalist in memphis

i like eyeballs

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How do we measure the value of a story? I like simplicity. The more people who read it, the more important it is.

But lots of journalists disagree. Readers, they say, only want sensational, celebrity, scandal news. Give them what they want, and you’ll put yourself out of a job. Give them what they ought to want. Journalism.

That doesn’t make any sense to me. If the news is important, interesting and relevant to peoples’ lives, they’ll read it. This is why newspapers become so important during catastrophes. People want to know why everything is crazy. This is why the Wall Street Journal just sold for $5 billion. People want to know what to buy and sell. It’s about being essential.

I think Joel Achenbach gets this, and for that reason, I think it’s worth reading his piece in Sunday’s Washington Post. He argues against “chasing page views” and for relying on the well-worn gut feelings of good editors. I’m fine with this, because I think good editors’ guts are guided by what they think their readers want.

Howard Kurtz isn’t quite there. And neither is Bob Steele. These guys are brilliant … and they know a lot of things I don’t.

(One reason I signed up for “History of Mass Communication” this semester.)

Achenbach ends with this:

Here’s a proposition: News outlets will never get anywhere if they’re obsessed with chasing readers. They can, however, collaborate with them. And therein lies a hopeful future for the business.

Citizen journalism, commentary, rants, recipes, travelogues. Readers can produce all this stuff for a newspaper Web site. The professional journalist can be an instigator of a micro-community of readers, but the readers themselves really run the show. And by the way, they do it all for free.

Some of you may disagree with the preceding. I invite you to post a reaction on my blog. And, um, if you don’t mind, please “refresh” the page frenetically.

Nice. I love the bit about the journalist being “an instigator of a micro-community of readers.” (Achenbach does a great job of this at his blog, where he calls his readers the “Boodle.”)

But why will the reader-writers of the future post their work to a newspaper site, instead of their own, especially if they aren’t getting paid? Achenbach talks about a micro-community. Why not read-write at a micro-site?

How soon will we realize that the Web is moving us into a micro-world?


Written by patwalters

August 24, 2007 at 1:53 am

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