Remember Reverend Wright? Sniper-gate? Tax returns? $400 haircuts? Bitter Pennsylvanians?
These are just a few of several stories that have been part of this year’s election narrative. One could argue, as I would, that each of these episodes has very little to do with how well any of the candidates would govern the country or what their solutions for the nation’s toughest issues might be.
But each of them spread like wildfire around the internet, the cable news networks, local television news and the news papers.
Why does this happen when so many other important stories go unnoticed?
Politico.com’s John Harris takes a stab at explaining this phenomenon and product of the internet age. Ironically, his outfit is one of the chief culprits, a fact that Harris doesn’t run away from:
As leaders of a new publication, Politico’s senior editors and I are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. The way to get links is to be first with news — sometimes big news, sometimes small — that drives that day’s conversation.
We are unapologetic in our premium on high velocity. In this focus on links and traffic we are not different from nearly all news sites these days, not just new publications but established ones like The New York Times.
The “premium” on high velocity translates into advertising dollars through internet ads. More “clicks” means more money. It’s a tale as old as time. Ever since advertisers found newspapers and television to hawk their wares, there has been a premium on attracting readers and viewers. Today, with so much of that advertising moving to the web and with so many competing choices there, the “attracting eyes” has supplanted as “informing and educating” as the number one goal of most news sites.
In defense of the news, however, as long as they continue to reap the rewards – in advertising dollars – of this kind of journalism, there’s no reason for them to stop.
This leaves us, the public who want to be informed, hunting an pecking through millions of different sites for information that doesn’t include $400 haircuts and 12-year-old visits to Bosnia.
Is it time for a new business model?