A reader consumes news on his tablet
A reader consumes news on his tablet. Photo licensed via CC.

The way people consume news has drastically changed since the first newspaper was printed in 1605. In 2015, more millennials reportedly visited Buzzfeed than the New York Times to keep track of the happenings. Every significant event is now reported not by hour, but by minute.

And, as observed by Kevin Sutcliffe from Vice News:

“Young people were not interested in news, and they were not going to watch anything longer than two minutes online, probably featuring a cat.”

The question is: Has technology killed the press, or instead provided more powerful tools for journalists to evaluate the efficiency of their content?

Newspapers used to rely on two sources of revenue: newspaper sales and advertising revenue. When transferring to the web, most of the newspapers rely sorely on ad revenue; only a few of them adopt the subscription scheme.

Digital ad revenue is often determined by cost per impression (CPI), or cost per thousand impression (CPM), which means the more traffic a page get, the more revenue they receive. Therefore, online newspapers prioritise content that attracts readers, including the use of click-baits and human-interest stories.

This results in two llamas running on the street becoming “breaking news” on the Washington Post in February 2015, or PM Tony Abbott eating a raw onion making headline on the Sydney Morning Herald in March 2015.

A dilemma follows: While “broadsheet” articles take more time to produce, they attract less audience and bring less profit, as opposed to “tabloid” contents. Making the right mix between these two types of contents presents a real challenge for the online editors if they want to run a good business while maintaining their established credibility.

From December 2013, Facebook announced a change in algorithm that would see each page’s organic reach dropping from 16% to 2%. Traffics to news sites suffered greatly as the result, and editors had to work around the algorithm. Human-interest stories and shareable contents, therefore, are even more favoured as a way to maintain the organic reach.

As observed by Olmstead:

“Understanding not only what content users will want to consume but also what content they are likely to pass along may be a key to how stories are put together and even what stories get covered in the first place.”

Contents are no longer determined by the editor’s reasoning or the reporter’s interest, but more and more by traffic statistics.

In conclusion, far from putting an end to journalism, technological innovation has helped journalists better serve the public interest by increasing their transparency and adapting to the market’s needs. However, it has also paved ways for the birth of pageview journalism, where the news organizations have to balance between attracting traffic and producing quality content.

Trinh Le

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