June 18, 2014


Why Audiences Hate Hard News--And Love Pretending Otherwise : Ask readers what they want, and they'll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they'll mostly eat candy.  (DEREK THOMPSON, JUN 17 2014, Atlantic)

The most important story in the world, according to every major American newspaper this morning, is the violent splintering of Iraq. It was the front-page and top-of-the-homepage story in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and more. 

Surely, there are millions of people who are reading about Iraq, because they're fascinated in the Middle East, in foreign policy, or in the general news cycle. But despite Iraq's prominent location on every major newspaper, the most-read stories on those papers' websites aren't about Iraq, at all.

In the Post, the top stories included an op-ed about Benghazi, and updates about the World Cup and a midwest tornado. WSJ's most-read box led off with two stories about YouTube games and taxes. The Times' most-emailed stories included two pieces about gluten and postpartum depression. Not one of the most-read or most-emailed boxes on three papers' websites included the words Iraq, Sunni, or Maliki when I looked this morning. 

Iraq is a uniquely difficult news story. But there's nothing unique about U.S. readers side-stepping the news cycle. Last year, BuzzFeed released a review of traffic to sites within its partner network, including the New York Times and The Atlantic. Of the 20 most viral stories across those sites, just three dealt with recent news events--the Miss America Pageant, a Netflix announcement, and the Video Music Awards --but the vast majority weren't news. They were quizzes, lists, and emotional poppers.

Ask audiences what they want, and they'll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they'll mostly eat candy.

Audiences are liars, and the media organizations who listen to them without measuring them are dupes. At the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director of international operations for Al Jazeera America, shared survey data suggesting that 40 to 50 million people were desperate for in-depth and original TV journalism. Nine months later, it averaged 10,000 viewers per hour--1.08 percent of Fox News' audience and 3.7 percent of CNN. AJAM, built for an audience of vegetarians, is stuck with a broccoli stand in a candy shop.

Where's The National when we need it?
Posted by at June 18, 2014 6:59 PM

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