Save Your Thumb And Your Mind: View As One Page

by | Mar 19, 2014

Pageview journalism is a method of presenting information online in a slideshow or other framework that garners as many clicks from a reader as possible. This is what it looks like:

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Writing for The Guardian, Charlie Brooker lambastes the painful conformity of web-based media today, largely in response to the shortcomings of pageview journalism and the damage it does to a journalist’s ability to establish a narrative.

Newspapers used to be sombre dossiers issued each morning, bringing grave news from Crimea. Now they’re blizzards of electric confetti, bringing The Ten Gravest Crimean Developments You Simply Won’t Believe. The art of turning almost any article of interest into a step-by-step clickbait walkthrough has been perfected to the point where reading the internet feels increasingly like sitting on the bog in the 1980s reading a novelty book of showbiz facts that never fucking ends. This trend will only continue. In five years’ time, all news articles will consist of a single coloured icon you click repeatedly to make info-nuggets fly out, accompanied by musical notes, like a cross between Flappy Bird and Newsnight. Even a harrowing report on refugees fleeing a warzone will cynically draw you in by promising to show you a famous person’s bum after every 85th click. And it will succeed.

Media criticism, like this, delivered with a sharp bite is something to behold. The digital echo chamber is deafening. It takes a piercing voice to rise above it. Brooker has this going for him.

Of course, I agree with him that lowest common denominator page view journalism is a shitty development for readers, and makers of news. I’d extend this to advertisers, as well. For brands, the opportunity to serve people with valuable information and develop a customer relationship is in owned and social media. Paid and earned media continue to be important, but even the best online ads and editorial are competing with a thousand other possibly more interesting options, all of which are just a click away.

Media companies that peddle “step-by-step clickbait” believe digital media is not a reading experience, nearly as much as it is a self-guided navigation through text and images. New sites like Medium are beginning to counter this negative trend. Medium is a place for readers—that’s how the site is designed and it shows.

Alternatives like Medium provide one way to combat the “blizzards of electric confetti.” But pageview-driven techniques are not going away. Anything that can be monetized, will be, and right now advertisers and investors are propping up pageview journalism sites with buckets of cash. Henry Blodget told the Financial Times that Business Insider’s 2013 revenue would be “close to” $20 million. That’s a lot of money to work with every year. Nevertheless, media critic, Michael Wolff, puzzles over the math. He concludes, “The digital traffic world, with techniques and sources and results that are ever-more dubious, is, as I’d guess the astute Henry Blodget has ascertained, not a sound long-term play.”

Hard to say who is right, Wolff or Blodget. “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” H. L. Mencken suggested. Maybe clicking 30 times through an “article” satisfies people in ways I don’t understand. Perhpas I should not impose my desire to have people read long copy? By the way, this article is under 600 words, so I fully expect high rates of comprehension and retention.