Leafing through back issues of Henry Copeland’s Blogads weblog, I was amused to read this:
Speaking of the bloggers versus journalists, I had an interesting conversation with a traditional publisher earlier this afternoon. He’d just spent a few days around a bunch of bloggers. He told me he was fascinated by the fact that bloggers are obsessed with their traffic/readers/feedback, while most traditional journalists are obstinately oblivious to their readers.
That’s a key difference between the two wings of the profession, I’d agree (and interesting that Temple Stark so strongly disagrees, saying in a comment that, “If you and he meant not concerned so much with “numbers” of readers than that would make sense. Otherwise the statement is just boldly and horribly wrong.”). It’s hard to generalize of course, but I’d respectfully refine Henry’s comments a little:
Some traditional journalists do not care what their readers think. Indeed, it would be considered a professional lapse to do so, since acknowledging readers’ reactions to stories would compromise one’s integrity. I’m not trying to be funny here, or sarcastic, I think it’s in some ways a sound approach. Do you want to change the way you write a story because of some guy storming into the newsroom to complain about your last one? But of course this is changing.
Some journalists write more for their sources than for anything or anyone else (apart from a Pulitzer, but not every story is going to win one). These are the readers that journalists do interact with, and they care deeply about what sources think of their stories. This is also natural, if you consider that sources who don’t like what you write aren’t going to keep talking to you. But it tends to undermine the purity of the first point, and raise the suspicion that some journalistic distance from the average reader has more to do with haughtiness than with a genuine desire to be objective and unfazed by reader opinion.
Editors, marketing and publishers care deeply about readers, but they don’t necessarily care about what they think. Readers’ mail is regarded as a miracle, and a sure sign of success, but it doesn’t play as big a role as you might expect in calcuating the net worth of a journalist, a section, a topic or whatever. (Online newspapers are different: they know down to the minutest detail what pieces, columns, sections and topics are popular because they have all the hit data to hand.) By contrast all offline editors have are focus groups, reader surveys and vaguely formed opinions about what readers want to read. Or should read. Or what might win awards. Given that is the view from the top, you can’t really blame journalists for remaining in their ivory tower.
In some ways I’m nostalgic for the idea that journalists remain distant from their readership. It was a great era. Journalists were like priests, sent out into the darkness to bring back some light. (That doesn’t sound right — Ed.) But it’s changing for reasons chronicled better elsewhere. I recall a discussion in the newsroom the other day: Should editors even know when they see page and ad layouts what companies are advertising on what page? Would that not influence an editor’s decision about what story to put on that page? (Big Brother Bank ad next to story about Big Brother Bank ripping off small depositor… etc) These things are not writ in stone, but I can understand some journalists thinking bloggers’ obsession with hits, readers’ feedback etc tends to steer, to a dangerous degree, the content of the blog. Does it, and if so, should it matter?