Performance-related pay: What's your story's CPM?

Paying journalists on the basis of the traffic or advertising revenue that their stories generate online is one of the ideas that arises frequently.

The topic arose again over the holiday season after New York-based blog network Gawker Media announced that it would pay its journalists a salary and a bonus based on the number of page views that their blog posts generate.

Nick Denton, the ex-FT journalist who runs Gawker, argued that the scheme is to encourage his journalists to post ‘linkworthy material, by which I mean a secret memo, a spy photo, a chart, a well-argued rant, a list, an exclusive piece of news, a well-packaged find”.

But some media bloggers fretted that paying journalists on the basis of the traffic they generate would lead them to post celebrity trash, pictures of cute animals, Mac vs. PC debates and other material known to reliably drive traffic.

Performance-related pay can work in journalism, particularly if the bonus is paid to the newsroom as a whole rather than each individual journalist. Journalists at Archant‘s regional newspapers in Norfolk have had a web traffic bonus for several years. According to the NUJ, it resulted in a bonus of £120 last year.

‘It’s very difficult in an editorial department to find measurable criteria to base a bonus scheme on, so we started using web traffic – and it’s actually been one of the best ideas from our point of view,’says the father of the Eastern Daily Press NUJ chapel, Pete Kelley.

But it’s clear that web statistics have brought home just how low the ad revenue per thousand page impressions (CPM) can be on any individual piece of news or commentary. And that is allowing some publishers to make some worrying new types of calculations.

Just after Christmas, freelance Penelope Trunk revealed that Yahoo! Finance had decided not to renew the contract for her (popular) careers advice column. On her blog, Trunk claimed that Yahoo! managers had told her that careers content such as hers was reducing the CPM of advertising packages when bundled with more valuable financial information.

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