This past weekend, a number of folks on Twitter were complaining that the media wasn’t covering the story of the 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Islamic militants in Nigeria a few weeks ago. And there’s a reason no one is covering it. No one cares.
Don’t me wrong. I care. And I suspect you care (or you likely wouldn’t be reading this story).
But in order for a blog, a news site, a news network to survive financially, it needs to sell advertising. And the way it gets money from advertising is by writing and producing stories that people want to watch. If people don’t come and check out those stories, the media enterprise goes bankrupt.
And the same thing happens to a blog or a news Web site. Bloggers have mortgages too – if they write about “important” stories that people don’t read, they won’t be blogging for long (and then you’ll never hear about those important stories).
Which brings us back to the 300 kidnapped Nigerian girls. I agree that it’s an important story, so I looked into it this morning and wrote about it. And the story went absolutely nowhere. It got a handful of retweets on Twitter, and a handful of “likes” on Facebook — that’s it. As for the story’s impact on today’s traffic? The term “traffic killer” comes to mind. Zilch. Nada. Niente.
It reminds me of the night the Trayvon Martin verdict came out, and George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder. Around the same hour came the news that Glee star Cory Monteith had died over an overdose. So I wrote about both, at midnight on a Saturday night. Here’s how much traffic each story brought in. Zimmerman got 9,000 reads. Glee got 43,000. About 5x the traffic (which isn’t exactly 5x the money, but it can be). And here’s the social media response for each:
And there was some story a few weeks ago, I’m pretty sure it was the news that the Iraqi government is looking to legalize marital rape and lower the legal age of marriage to 9. That story got, I believe, around 4x less traffic than the update I wrote about “the plane” 36 hours earlier. I’m talking, the old news about the plane was still getting more traffic than the new news about women/girls in Iraq.
There’s a reason CNN won’t stop talking about the freaking plane. They’re giving their audience what it wants.
We have a problem. And I’m not entirely sure how to fix it. For ten years now, we’ve built a progressive Netroots that big donors simply do not want to assist. They’re happy to give money to a multi-million dollar liberal organization, but to mom and pop activists making a difference on the ground? Not so much.
So now we’re seeing more and more blogs simply die. A lot are gone already. And I can’t tell you how many bloggers have approached me privately because the ad-revenue-model simply no longer works. I’ve written about that before — it’s complicated, but media overall is no longer a lucrative job. And by lucrative, I mean “one that pays your mortgage.” And it’s all well and good for people to say “you shouldn’t be in it for the money” — and when someone figures out how to pay the mortgage without making money, our phone lines are open.
And the problem goes far beyond blogs. We’ve seen newspapers close across the country, or be bought by political partisans or big corporations (or both). That can’t be good. And as much as it’s chic on the left to criticize “the media,” the American press is a lot better than Fox News and what goes for “media” in parts of Europe. At least the media in America (sans Fox, the Washington Times and a few others) tries to get the story right. And they won’t be trying much longer if we can’t figure out how to make the media business profitable. The only media left will be bad media.
In the end, chastising potential readers isn’t going to get any of us more traffic or viewers. But I think there are a number of micro-topics involved here that warrant further discussion (recognition) on the left.
1. Sometimes the media doesn’t cover the “right” stories because the public at large simply doesn’t care about those stories. And the micro group of readers who do care, aren’t enough to pay the bills.
2. Maybe media, and activism, as social goods shouldn’t be “for profit.”
3. The left in America needs to figure out how to fund people who do good work, rather than give all their money, year after year, to the .org version of the 1%.
4. And America needs to figure out how to stop losing so much good media, and replacing it with tabloids and outlets, some of which, try even less to get to the truth.
To paraphrase Mitt Romney, and Soylent Green, the media are people. They have bills to pay just like the rest of us. And if any of us worked a job where our paycheck would be cut in half if we chose path A vs choosing path B, most would choose path B rather than risk losing their home because they couldn’t afford the rent.
It’s all well and good to criticize the media when they don’t do their job. But sometimes the American people aren’t doing their job either.