New media / old debate

Higher quality doesn’t always lead to a larger audience. We know that was true with traditional media. Charlie Rose is less of a household name than Howard Stern, and Thelonious Monk CDs are more difficult to find on the shelves of brick-and-mortar outlets than Mötley Crüe’s greatest hits.

It’s not surprising that we can apply this concept to online news as well. High-quality multimedia content doesn’t necessarily increase site traffic. In fact, audience analysis of online news often results in contradictory findings, as Regina McCombs of the Poynter Institute reports.

In college media, stories that are high in conflict usually generate the most traffic and comments. Much like compounding interest in financial terms, a heavily commented story often feeds itself for two or three weeks as readers return to check out the latest comments.

As a publications adviser for college students, I worry that students may dwell on these statistics and conclude that controversy, not quality, is the best way to ensure a future for journalism. Why should they spend a week or two planning a multimedia package when a hastily written opinion piece on a hot-button topic will generate more readership?

The debate, as it so often does in mass media, centers on ethics. The online environment really hasn’t changed that.

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~ by bakerumedia on November 24, 2009.

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