March 22, 2012

Nieman Journalism Lab
Andrew Phelps’ breezy, fun analysis of Gawker’s Web stats since its editor, A.J. Daulerio, instituted a “traffic-whoring” experiment is a piece every modern media writer should aspire to producing, not least for the brio with which Phelps approached what could have been a dreadfully dry assignment. Instead, he created interest in five major ways:

1. Looked at data. For two weeks, Daulerio assigned one staffer the responsibility of generating clicky posts, a task they responded to with work that simultaneously brought in gobs of traffic and made fun of the Web. Phelps looked at what those posts produced during the first week, not just by pageview, which wasn’t significantly higher per post than the site’s usual fare, but also by new visitors, which was much higher.

2. Used that data to dig in on one of the defining tensions of Web news organizations, which scales to every site, not just a behemoth like Gawker. Producing traffic-chasing stories doesn’t bum the staff out, Phelps says, because it gives them more time to devote to the “more substantive stories [that] serve as tentpoles for the entire site; once in a while, they’ll blow up huge, and they’re probably more appealing to the kind of brand advertisers Gawker seeks.” Call it a reverse-Fresca.

3. Introduced, via a Max Read quote, the term “traffic sex work.” Have you ever heard a better term for writing posts you don’t love but know will keep food on your table?

4. Got both Gawker honcho Nick Denton and former Gawker editor Choire Sicha saying the staff seems happier.  “The writers at Gawker actually seem to have fun these days,” Denton tells Phelps. Sicha, in a sharp email, says the staff “is the happiest it’s been in a while — certainly happier than they were last year.” He also defined Gawker’s “contrasting missions” as “greatness versus traffic.”

5. Used a headline that pays ironic tribute to one of Gawker’s best ironic linkbait headlines, “I Can’t Stop Looking at This Weird Chinese Goat.” It showed Phelps got the subject he was writing about, and it is also hard not to click on (and wish you’d thought of yourself).

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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