Here is an important article by The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, Chris Elliott:
Quinoa is the kind of grain that teasers of the Guardian expect to find in its pages, in print and online. Beloved by those with a keen interest in health foods, the grain has soared in popularity. However, its most recent appearance in an online comment article provoked a reaction that was red in tooth and claw. The burden of the article was that the growing popularity of quinoa had tripled its price and made it unaffordable for the Andean peoples who had once relied on it.
This brought about a storm of protest, not helped by a passing reference to soya as “a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby” as an alternative to dairy products, the production of which “is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America”. That gave rise to the unfortunate impression that this destruction was the vegan community’s personal responsibilty – as that community quickly and rightly pointed out. That point became the subject of a clarifying footnote that, while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN in 2006 – is used for animal feed after it has been processed.
Notwithstanding the controversy, the article generated a massive amount of traffic through the Guardian’s website. On the whole, generating traffic, like selling newspapers, is crucial. But in the last six months three colleagues have written or spoken to me to express concern that the entirely reasonable desire to attract people to the site may be skewing news and features agendas.
One conflicted colleague said: “There have been occasions recently where stories have been commissioned by editors who have talked about how they hope it will ‘play well’ online – this appears to have been at the very forefront of their mind when commissioning. Certainly this is the prime driver of many online picture galleries. Obviously … we want to be well-read and popular, but it is a slippery slope, and it now appears that in a few cases we are creating stories purely to attract clicks.”
In short, the concern is that The Guardian favours subjects which are likely generate outrage (and therefore high page impressions from punters wanting to see the outrageous outrage), the sharing of the ‘outrageous article’ (and therefore repeated page impressions as more and more outraged people are shown the piece), and a slew of angry comments by outraged punters determined to have their say about how outraged they are (and, so, even more page impressions).
Chris Elliott says:
Whether a story is popular or populist, it should still meet the Guardian criteria of accuracy and fairness, and in most cases – quinoa being a good example – readers should also expect the story to be placed in some context. The context should explain why the story is worth attention. Or, to put it another way, why it is in the Guardian
The problem is, the measure of The Guardian’s ’success’ these days is now page impressions. They think that by turning themselves into the hub of the global “progressive community”, they will survive the collapse of the newspaper industry. That’s fine – but combined with their “open source journalism” approach, whereby actual journalists with professional reputations will be replaced by activist commentators, who are more likely to say the ‘really outrageous thing’ that will keep the punters clicking and clicking, it is a pretty dangerous mix.
Combine that with The Guardian’s payment model (for “politics of science” bloggers at least) - according to this piece:
“The Guardian pay us a percentage of ad revenue.”
In short, the more clicks your piece generates, the more ad revenue The Guardian makes, and the more the contributor gets. Such a policy encourages sensationalism.
The Guardian is in both a win-win situation and a lose-lose situation. The win-win is that CIFWatch and sites critical of articles by hatemongers and genocidaires published at The Guardian are actually helping them to drive up traffic and revenues. The lose-lose, by contrast is this. Among my friends, by and large not politically involved, not Jewish, but with finely tuned bullshit sensors, The Guardian is considered a joke, these days.