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Strong opinions, weakly held

How the media really works

Politico editor in chief John Harris wrote a sort of meta-piece on the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s invocation of the assassination of Robert F Kennedy as an example of a Democratic primary that was still going in June. If you really read the piece, you’ll find it’s a sort of shameful confession of the fundamental sleaziness of the political media. His main point is, “Yes, we suck, and we’re surprised to find that the more established outlets suck just as badly as we do.”

Here’s how he puts it:

As leaders of a new publication, Politico’s senior editors and I are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. The way to get links is to be first with news — sometimes big news, sometimes small — that drives that day’s conversation.

We are unapologetic in our premium on high velocity. In this focus on links and traffic we are not different from nearly all news sites these days, not just new publications but established ones like The New York Times.

Here’s what John Harris said in January, 2007 when Politico launched:

We won’t usually be chasing the story of the day. We’ll put our emphasis on the “backstories” — those that illuminate the personalities, relationships, clashes, ideas and political strategies playing out in the shadows of official Washington.

Guess the race to the bottom lasts about 18 months.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for putting into words what I didn’t like about that mea culpa. I also found it off-putting that he’s telling the world not to care about a story that was obviously of strong interest to many people. When it went live Friday on the Drudge Retort, we had 80 comments in two hours, and that was before I saw it had been posted by a user and promoted the story to the front page.

  2. Thanks for putting into words what I didn’t like about that mea culpa. I also found it off-putting that he’s telling the world not to care about a story that was obviously of strong interest to many people. When it went live Friday on the Drudge Retort, we had 80 comments in two hours, and that was before I saw it had been posted by a user and promoted the story to the front page.

  3. That’s pathetic.

    The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. The way to get links is to be first with news — sometimes big news, sometimes small — that drives that day’s conversation.

    I guess they didn’t consult any bloggers who have widely read blogs. Seems to me that bloggers get readers through, oh, I don’t know, original and compelling content. And those are readers who return.

    I guess that’s the difference between wanting ‘traffic’ and links and wanting readers and people to hold a discussion with.

  4. This is why “tabloid journalism” or “sensationalistic journalism” is ruining the quality of mainstream media.

    Sure, the masses are demanding it because it’s more interesting or more exciting but by focusing on the glitz and ignoring the story behind the glitz/hype we end up with a media industry that caters to those in power, recycling talking points, selling us an unnecessary war, inane conversations about a flag lapel pin and the personal beliefs of a unbalanced pastor, etc.

    Sure, it sells more papers and generates more clicks, but the long-term harm it does to a nation and a culture is inexcusable. Just look at the mess that the past 7 years has been. Would we be in such a mess had the media been responsible and focused on the details and done their job educating the public instead of climbing all over themselves trying to out-do each other to be the next Drudge Report or Rupert Murdoch-style sensationalistic trash-loid.

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