The internet is transforming media. But just how much will it warp editorial values?by Andrew Currah / April 26, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
“The newsroom was electric,” an editor told me after the discovery of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews, who went missing for 24 days in February 2008. “Minutes after publishing the story, we watched the clicks go up like a petrol pump. In just an hour, we had 60,000 hits!”
As newspapers and broadcasters move online they are finding new ways to judge what makes a big story. Using the latest “web analytics” technologies, publishers can now monitor the trails of the “clickstream”—a measure of what their users are choosing to read, watch and share. Newsrooms now feature both giant flat screens suspended from the ceiling and small desktop widgets that shower staff with a relentless flow of web statistics. Never before has the marketplace of journalism been so visible.
This brave new world has positive aspects. Media companies can offer precisely targeted “behavioural” advertising, allowing their clients to aim messages at well-defined groups of users. Some are even using the tools of neuroscience to measure the subconscious foundations of the clickstream—drawing on biometric data (brainwave activity, eye tracking and skin response) to assess the effectiveness of online advertising formats. When advertising budgets are being squeezed, such innovations may save the media industry’s skin.