Editorial Judgment Over Public Preference

Posted: September 6, 2010 in Journalism
Tags: , ,

The internet has changed the newspaper business in a number of ways that has helped and hurt the industry, which has caused drastic changes to its’ approach at presenting the news. In the article by Jeremy W. Peters, “Some Newspapers, Tracking Readers Online, Shift Coverage” in the New York Times, Peters explains various newspapers’ ability to track what readers are viewing and how long they read an article for. This new benefit of the internet has allowed an industry which has had to estimate how many eyeballs viewed their ads for several hundred years to gain an accurate grasp on the numbers of readers they are receiving as well as what they are interested in.

Although reader surveys have helped newspapers in the past, there really is no way to judge many things properly based on voluntary surveys due to its reliance on honesty and they can lack the opinions of people that don’t participate. The capabilities of the internet have changed this technique for the better or the worse depending on how newspapers use this ability.

Customer opinions should have some bearing on what is covered since the the newspaper industry is a business out to make money first and foremost, yet public opinion can be fickle and uneducated. Peters’ mentions one of the top five stories last year on the Washington Post website was a story based on Crocs. Fashion is important to many Americans, yet the information presented in an article about footwear is nowhere near as important as a President’s approach to foreign policy or a new law being passed that affects everyday life. Editorial judgement is an essential element to newspapers that allows professionals that have studied and perfected their craft to determine newsworthy stories. I am an avid sports fan and news involving my favorite teams matter to me more than anything, but if I were to determine that the recent signing of Darrelle Revis to the New York Jets should be on the front cover of the New York Times over President Obama’s new job plan that he is pushing Congress to pass, which calls for modernizing the nation’s transportation systems, would be utterly irresponsible. Many Americans might not choose to make this distinction. The main essential purpose of the media is to serve as watchdog over the government for the people (regardless of whether they fulfill this responsibility or not). Some people would rather be ignorant of the truth and be patriotic as seen in the media debacle preceding the war in Iraq. This ignorance should not be based on the will of the masses and needs to be overpowered by the expertise of trained professionals.

If newspapers were to use this newfound technique to make judgments on how news stories are presented such as the Wall Street Journal has been doing could be very useful to online reader stimulation. Interactivity and links to various related articles have enhanced modern news follower’s access to in-depth journalism that takes advantage of newspaper’s approach to online articles. The internet has altered many people’s ability to pay attention and retain information due to rapid, short bursts of information rather than extended articles and several hour long broadcasts. Today’s news consumer would rather get a a quick two minute wrap-up of the day’s news and events over reading an entire newspaper or watching an hour long news program. By paying attention to what will maintain a reader or viewer’s interest newspapers can prevent people from moving on after reading the first paragraph of an article or changing the channel or website after the first five minutes.

“We don’t let metrics dictate our assignments and play,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, “because we believe readers come to us for our judgment, not the judgment of the crowd. We’re not ‘American Idol.’ ” Keller has the right idea to retaining editorial judgment, but he should be open to the idea that people may lose interest as more and more newspaper websites provide readers with what they want to read and how they want to read it.

  1. lew247 says:

    Good. This was a thought-provoking post. Ultimately, I think editorial judgement borders on the line of arbitrary judgement – much to the chagrin of ‘media should be a watchdog’ activists.

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