While it is well-documented that online page views are a flawed metric, most news websites still use it to measure “success” of stories and the performance of employees (like me). In thinking about the possibility of eliminating online comments from news stories, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how that would affect page views.
Fact is, many website visitors, as much as they may complain about comments, love to read them. Cincinnati.Com gets a lot of traffic just to the comment sections associated with stories. In January alone, Cincinnati.Com got more than 700,000 page views to just the comments on stories (not counting blogs, forums, etc.). When we choose to take comments off of certain stories, I can see the effect it has on page views in our analytics analysis.
So what? Maybe we want to take the high road, page views be damned, right?
This comment backlash has revealed another “have your cake and eat it too” problem for the news industry. We want the page views, but don’t feel comfortable with the sort of content that tends to bring them in.
I speak from experience when I say that nothing is more likely to make a newsroom editors exude multiple personalities quite like the almighty page view. One minute they’re railing on about how we’re above using non-news linkbait online. The next, they’re in a froth over a party girl photo gallery with hundreds of thousands of page views, asking for more of the same. When your job depends on it, it can be rough to keep up.
Have I posted or promoted a story because I knew it would get comments (and thus, page views)? Absolutely. It happens on every size of news site and blog. We attempt to balance our tastes and news judgment with the harsh and unpleasant realities of online revenue every single day.
I really doubt news execs are really willing to give up the multiple millions of page views associated with comments on stories every year. Maybe, just maybe, they’d instead be willing to invest a bit of money and personnel in making those comments a bit better via good moderation.
Maybe I’m the one who’s dreaming?