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USA Today Paying for Pageviews: Good Night and Good Luck, America

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Today, tucked away in a brief article on Big Lead Sports, is a little piece of information that’s going to have a tremendous impact on America and the way Americans view the news. USA Today has outlined a plan under which their writers will receive an annual bonus based on page views. What does that mean to the average American? Oh, where to start, where to start, my friends.

For those of you who might not know what it means to be paid on page views, in a nutshell, it means that each time you look at an article on the Internet, the person who wrote it makes some type of income. Generally, we’re talking cents here, not dollars. More often than not, it’s only a fraction of a penny per view that the author receives for all their hard work. So it behooves the author to write articles in such a way as to attract as many viewers as possible.

Please note: You don’t actually have to read the article for the author to be paid. You just have to view it. You also don’t have to get anything of any interest or value out of the article if you do read it. You just have to go to that page for a second and cha-ching! the author gets paid.

In fantasy land, where the average American is interested in real news – local news, political news, national news, and sports – this pay-per-pageview idea isn’t a problem. You can go to the Internet, type in “war in Libya” and get actual, current information and facts about what’s happening in Libya.

However, this is the real world we’re talking about. And the average American has real problems these days. Unemployment, foreclosure, bills. When the average American wants real news he goes to sites like USA Today. But most average Americans want a little entertainment at the end of a stressful day so they go looking for information on Britney Spears or Charlie Sheen or who got kicked off of American Idol or Dancing With the Stars.

Again, for those of you who aren’t familiar with how the Internet works, as an author, if you want to attract attention to your articles – so you can get paid for page views – you have to include popular search words in your title and in the article. You have to make those titles exciting if you want people to click on them. Because, if you don’t, someone else will. And then you won’t make any money.

The writers at USA Today have, in the past, been paid a salary for writing. Because they didn’t have to worry about where their next meal was coming from, they were free to actually do the legwork involved in providing quality reporting. You know, like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite used to do. News coverage you could rely on.

Now, these reporters are going to have to compete with every Tom, Dick and Harriet on the Internet, and everyone on the Internet relies on page views for their income in one way or another.

Surely you’ve been disappointed more than once when you’ve turned to the Internet for news. You click on a link, thinking you’re going to get information on John Boehner, and you end up on some porno blog. Or you click on a link thinking you’re going to get information on the release date for the newest Apple iPod and you end up on some spammy ad instead.

You landed on those pages because the author used a title that included words that would attract your attention. They don’t care why you’re on their page and they don’t care what you do after you get there. Their main goal is to get you to that page so they can get paid for the page view. Period.

But these reporters from USA Today and other news sites realize they have a reputation they need to protect. Yes, they now need to attract you to their articles if they want to make money. But they know that if they don’t give you what you’re looking for, you’re going to go somewhere else. And what is it that the average American is looking for? What will bring them the highest number of page views for the least amount of work? Celebrity gossip, conspiracy theories, and all that other sensationalistic claptrap.

Woodward and Bernstein spent months working and reporting on Watergate. Murrow and Friendly spent months going after McCarthy. And all for a basic salary. A reporter working under a pay-per-pageview system could make just as much money with one or two properly promoted articles that he researched off the Internet while he was sitting at home in his jammies.Can you see where this is going? Keeping in mind that the average American is more interested in entertainment and fluff than in cold, hard news, and keeping in mind that USA Today, one of the few remaining real news agencies, is now forcing their writers to compete with unscrupulous bloggers if they want a paycheck, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen next.  

As of this writing, there is only one other article on the Internet that references this news about USA Today and that’s the article I linked to above. Sometime, later this evening or tomorrow morning, go to your search box and type in USA Today. You’ll probably see dozens of links to dozens of blogs and none of those links will include any more information than what’s already out there on the Web. That, my friends, is the future of the news.

It’s no longer about quality. Now it’s all about quantity. Quantity, as in, how many page views can you get with that title? Considering there are millions of bloggers out there, all competing for a finite number of page views, it comes down to: Who gets there first and how fast can you get the next attention-grabbing headline posted?

The dumbing down of America is in full swing my friend. We’re involved in wars all over the planet, we have a country in economic turmoil, our health care system is a joke, and we’re coming up on the next presidential election. But you can bet Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen are going to get plenty of press coverage. In the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night, and good luck, America.”

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About Donna Anderson

  • Heloise

    yeah I’ve had to become the queen of fluff at heloise8/The Trough, because no one wants to read the facts and figures about real stories including me. Start talking war I roll my eyes. I like what you said above but I think I will steal it as: “Tom, Dick and Heloise.”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/donna-anderson/ Donna Anderson

    LOL. Go right ahead Heloise. And have fun with it, too. Thanks for taking the time to comment