Off The Record: Private comments and secret numbers reveal the dark side of the press

Kanye West is a Jackass.  Anyone want to argue the merits of that claim?  Any person who barges on to the stage at an awards ceremony, disrupting the acceptance speech of a gracious winner in order to complain that one of their friends didn’t win is, by very definition, a jackass.  West himself might even admit as much.  But God forbid the President say it.

I know, he’s the President.  He’s supposed to be above such petty things.  But at this point in our history, I’m of the opinion that we need a leader willing to call a jackass a jackass.  Enough of this sanitized, on-the-record, off-the-record garbage.  Personally, I think he should have called Joe Wilson a jackass, too. Right in the middle of his speech, no less.

The media is to blame for this, of course.  The very same people decrying their dwindling influence have made this kind of stuff seem like it’s newsworthy.  Who cares what his opinion of Kanye West is?  Why was it necessary to send this out over Twitter as breaking news like he had just insulted the President of Iran or something that might have actually been important?  And the fact that ABC killed the tweet an hour or so later has become more of a story that the comment itself.

But this is what passes for news in today’s fast-paced, magical world of information.  The press devoted far more coverage to Wilson’s “You Lie!” outburst during Obama’s speech last week than to the actual substance of the speech.  But it was only on health care, not that important.  Only costs us about a trillion dollars a year.  And why would the Democrats in Congress feel it necessary to formally reprimand Wilson after he’s already apologized to the man he actually insulted?  Because more than a few members of the press will show up, report on it, and embarrass Wilson even further.  No news here, just petty bickering from people who should know better.  And the press is an enabler to the whole thing.

Want to know why people aren’t willing to pay for news on the web?  This stuff isn’t news.  It’s like the gossip pages.  It might be interesting to check out for 30 seconds, but who in their right mind would pay for in-depth coverage of the President’s opinion of the Video Music Awards?  Personally,  I’m waiting for the hot scoop on what type of fabric softener Obama prefers before I subscribe to a news site.  I hear he thinks that Snuggle teddy bear is a jackass, too.

Speaking of jackasses, check this out. Who ever would have imagined that publishers would artificially inflate the number of hits and visitors to their websites in order to support higher advertising rates?  Shocking, isn’t it?  It’s practically a time-honored tradition in publishing circles to seriously exaggerate the numbers of people seeing your publications.  I guess that’s at least one part of their business model they’ve managed to successfully transition to the web.

Remarkably, according to the study sited in the above-mentioned link, your average newspaper is reporting unique visitors  per month at rates about 30 percent above the total population of the geographic areas they serve.  I guess making the numbers believable wasn’t a priority.  Anyway, it’s pretty ironic that bogus, over-inflated numbers weren’t a problem so long as they helped to bilk advertisers out of their money, but now that they might pose an issue because the publishers need actual accurate audience numbers to decide how or if to charge for content without losing their own money.  Well, you can be sure if they do manage to get real-world figures, the advertisers (what’s left of them) will never see it.

I’ve always made it a point to downplay raw circulation numbers when talking to advertisers for just this reason, quite often, they’re a lie or at best, an exagerration.  It’s very easy to justify yourself (and your ad rates) using stats, but often misleading.  It’s not the total number of people your publication reaches, but whether or not the people it does reach serves your needs as an advertiser.  But figuring that out is hard work that requires effort.  And tailoring your work to suit an advertiser’s needs is hard work requiring effort.  It’s a helluva lot easier to just quote a number and let them assume that the people they want to reach are included in that.  This kind of “why try harder than you have to” work ethic has definitely contributed to the fall of the industry.  It’s actually kind of refreshing to see at least a little part of it jump back to bite them.

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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