Internet writers, particularly those who were reared in the heyday of alt-weekly and magazine journalism, often cringe at the words “metrics” and “data,” and for good reason. Leaderboards based on “uniques,” bonuses and job security contingent on clicks… truly, those VC-backed newsrooms sound like stresspools and creativity killers. (They are the reason I did not choose to make my living as a professional blogger or web editor.)
Although writers generally have an aversion to numbers (math is hard), performance metrics aren’t the creator’s enemy.* Most creators’ anxiety stems from overly complex interfaces of content data reporting paired with business leaders’ immensely oversimplified interpretation of data stories. And the fact that subpar publishers have tied those super-basic “popularity” metrics to job security.
“These five types of stories get the most clicks! Let’s do as many of them as we can!” has been the content model for myriad ad-supported websites. (Even websites that don’t overproduce clickbait content make a share of revenue from clickbait networks, but that is another story to be told another time.)
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