May 12, 2008
Performance-related Pay For Journalists and Unofficial Blogging
Ah, the good people (and by good people, I mean Laura) at Journalism.co.uk seem to be intent on making our lives here...interesting. Today, Laura's posted on the blog pointing out that Divestment Watch, the blog run by a member of the TotalJobs team charting the progress of Reed Elsevier's divestment of RBI, has vanished. I'm not clear at this point on why that should be, as RBI here in Sutton was happy to tolerate its existence, to the best of my knowledge
And last week, Laura's account of publishing director Jim Muttram's speech at the PPA's conference focused on Jim's suggestion that journalists could, in future, be paid partially based on reaching (or exceeding) defined traffic targets. Jim has posted his own response to the story on his blog, Inflection Point.
Personally, I think some move in that direction is inevitable, over time.
Online, we have the ability to see directly what overall contribution journalists are playing to the success of a publication. It's fairly logical that any company would seek to give greater rewards to its best performers, and encourage others to respond more closely to user needs. The "one shot" purchase of a magazine has long concealed the fact that some parts of it go all but unread. On the internet, with decent metrics, you have nowhere to hide.
That said, we really aren't anywhere near the point we need to be on metrics just yet. If any company were to implement this, they'd need detailed, robust metrics that can both be measured in a consistent way, and which can be fed back to the journalists in real time. Without that information, the journalists are working in the dark, and it's not fair to set targets like that without also providing the tools they need to meet them.
As Jim points out, there's an interesting conversation to be had here, about how you measure an individual's contribution to an online publication, and how you reward that. But that conversation will be stifled if journalists always respond with the knee-jerk reaction that this means less pay. If you're good, and your contribution is measurable, there is no reason that this couldn't lead to better pay.
I exist in an odd place, suspended between the world of bloggers, who live and die by their metrics, and journalists, who seem to view them as some evil irrelevance imposed on them by greedy publishers. In all honesty, I find myself having more sympathy with the bloggers - who view metrics as a clear indication of what their readers like - than the journalists. All too often conversations between journalists about the nature of their trade exclude serving the readers as part of it. And that's just plain worrying.
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