On Monday, Bill Bennett wrote a great column for RealClearPolitics, which included a kind plug for my website, but which was widely noted in the blogosphere because of Bennett’s recognition of the rise of the New Media.
Late on Monday night, I compared Bennett’s serious writing to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne’s Tuesday column, which was as weak an effort from a major columnist as I have seen in a long time.
My point was that the Old Media, also known as MSM or “legacy” media, has within its ranks scores of the tired and the tenured, who scribble their quotas of words and mail them in. In the past, no one could really challenge their positions or their influence except their editor, and there was no way to measure whether anyone was actually listening.
That has all changed, of course, and the question is whether shareholders of the Old Media companies are going to demand that their publishers demand that their editors exercise accountability by tracking traffic – the number of visitors to a columnist’s column or a reporter’s story or an unsigned editorial.
As print moves toward text with amazing speed, consumers of news are increasingly going online to obtain their stories and commentary. They are also raising the bar, choosing to read the Belmont Club or Little Green Footballs for analysis of conflict in the Middle East rather than good, old predictable Thomas Freidman.
Serious readers aren’t stuck with Frank Rich or Margaret Carlson any more, they can go find their text elsewhere – and not just folks who agree with them, but better, sharper opponents as well. I’d much rather read through the online American Prospect, the blogs at the New Republic, or Matt Yglesias than the tired old cliches of Dionne and yesterday’s big feet.
The key is that popularity can be measured – there is a way to count how many readers Dionne and his colleagues accumulate. No sooner had I penned this on Monday than did blogger Doug Ross name this proposal “metrics for journalists.” He’s right. That’s exactly what they are – and it would be very useful indeed to know who is being read in what quantity.
So, which will be the first paper to publish the traffic of their columnists on a weekly basis? Does Dionne get 1,000 readers online, 10,000, or 10 million, and how does that compare with Charles Krauthammer? The insecure might stutter that such statistics won’t tell us much, but they will tell us what attracts readers to Internet editions of newspapers.
In an increasingly competitive world, that tells shareholders a lot. And if their management isn’t asking the question, that tells them a lot as well.
A side note: One critic of the Los Angeles Times is former Times man Ken Reich, who has begun TakeBacktheTimes, a new blog devoted to critiquing the Los Angeles Times. Look, Patterico already has a lock on that space, but Reich makes some interesting points and has an insider’s view. Of course, when you read some things you laugh. For instance, Reich on balance at the paper’s editorial pages:
For the most part, the news coverage remains fairly straight. But the editorial pages are now as sharply to the Left as they once were to the Right. And just as before, they cost the paper credibility.
Now, it has become representatives of the Jewish community who have come downtown to remonstrate with editors over Times editorial policy, persistently anti-Israel. But like the Democrats of yore, many of the Jewish leaders have concluded it is pointless to argue. Times editorial pages are devotedly biased and are going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
The news accounts devoted to politics are hopelessly way left – recall when the Times tried to make Arizona a “swing” state in the fall? – but Reich does nail the new Kinsely regime. Again, if the folks at the Tribune Company are serious about stopping the bleeding, ask for Internet traffic stats on the Times’ editorials and columnists. Max Boot will be the leader – though Scheer has a following in the fever swamp – but the rest will be among the most unread of writings available in cyberspace.
Unread in cyberspace – unread anywhere. Do the math.