Page view whoring and the dark side of online writing

Do we really need to know who slept with whom and what other skeletons celebrities have in their closets?

Over on another blog where I cover Christian music, I posted a quick note about American Idol season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino’s alleged overdose on “aspirin and sleep aids”.

I briefly commented in the post – again, because I rant about this frequently on that blog – that I hate writing about celebrity news. I mean, in the whole scheme of things do we need to know that a pop star may or may not have had an affair with a married man, and do the parties involved really need their dirty laundry hung out for the world to see?

But my job on that blog is to write about music, Christian music, and anything remotely related to Christian music, and since American Idol has been one of the driving forces on that blog for two years, I felt I needed to at least mention the story.

That, and I’m expected to generate a certain number of page views every month if I want to get paid.

And after two years, I have learned that news about the release of a new worship album generates zero page views and pop star gossip draws all the readers.

I call it page view whoring, and it’s the dark side of online writing.

I’m not alone. In fact, I’ll bet if you’re a writer for an online publication, your editors are sending you daily updates on what hot topics are trending on Google, Yahoo and Twitter, and are encouraging you to use those keywords and topics in your headlines and posts. The site wants visitors, yes, but chances are you’re being paid based on the number of page views you attract. The more views, the more money you make. And I’d venture to guess that we’re not talking thousands of dollars here, either. A few hundred dollars a month, maybe?

So you search for hot new stories, find a way to write about the news story with an angle related to the topic you write about, and do what you can to get people to read your blog. And you need to do it in a unique way, make it interesting, often add a local angle, manage the comments and spam, deal with stalkers, and hope you make a few bucks along the way.

I’m not complaining. I love the publication that I write for. They’ve been very good to me and when I was one of the first writers to cover the Christian music/American Idol angle on Season 8, I generated a lot of page views and made enough money to pay the mortgage every month.

And I’ve made some fantastic friends in the music business and had some great experiences. I’ve been fortunate to meet some Christian bands when they were first starting out and almost a decade later still call them friends. I’ve met icons in the industry and been able to give voice to some artists you might not otherwise have heard about. I’ve interviewed genuine celebrities.

But the reality is that when it comes to blogging, the posts that get the  most views are the ones I’ve hated writing, the stories I didn’t want to cover but felt like I needed to to satisfy my page view requirements and my contract. (If you only knew the stories I didn’t cover. I may have lost page views but I was able to sleep at night.) And they’re also the ones that have been misconstrued, misread, misunderstood and generated lots of hate mail.

Maybe that’s why dog writing has become so attractive to me lately. It offers me a chance to take a break from the entertainment spin cycle, where success as a writer often comes at someone else’s expense. I’ve been writing about my dogs and chickens, and even helping one of my dogs, Bandit, with his It’s A Dog’s Life blog.

With my new blog, BarkAroundTown.wordpress.com, I can share stories about dog adoption, news about pets and pet health, and take a break from the moral struggle I sometimes have covering entertainment and music. I still need to worry about page views and covering current events, but I feel like it’s less exploitive and more informative.

So that’s where I am today.

Am I alone with this problem? If you’re a writer, do you ever struggle with topics you’re expected to cover? Do you have to deal with page view whoring? And if you could write about any topic and be paid, what kind of writing would you do? I’d love to know if other writers deal with this stuff.

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7 responses to “Page view whoring and the dark side of online writing

  1. I feel bad for famous people who have their personal problems broadcast everywhere, and whenever I see a story like that, I say a quick prayer for the person. If everyone would sincerely pray for these people instead of judging them, the attention might not ultimately be so bad for them. Gossip rags and their readers are often decidedly mean-spirited. Clearly, you don’t want to be like that, but you can cover some of the same stories, discouraging a judgmental attitude and encouraging prayer instead. That’s not exploitative; that is a much-needed counter to the message of the common tabloids.

  2. Thanks for those thoughts!!

  3. I suspect the reason news of a new worship album does not generate many page views is because it simply is not very interesting. Most people follow their favorite bands on Facebook or Twitter, so there’s no need to go to Gospel Soundcheck looking for news of a new album release.

    I have an idea that might generate more page views without resorting to celebrity gossip. Why not write Christian reviews of mainstream albums? There are lots of reviews out there that evaluate how well an album matches the arbitrary personal preferences of music critics, but not many people bother to analyze the actual messages an album is sending (lyrically and otherwise) and determine how well it aligns with a Christian worldview. I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear such an evaluation of Miley Cyrus’s latest work. And it would be interesting to know if any of Katy Perry’s recent music hints at her Christian background, or if there’s no sign of it. Even artists who are generally positive may send some subtle messages that are worth attention. Taylor Swift usually seems like a good role model, but some of her lyrics seem to over-idealize romantic relationships (except when she’s bashing an ex-boyfriend). And Jack Johnson has a couple of songs that reflect a nihilistic worldview that many would consider incompatible with Christianity. Of course, you don’t have to condemn a whole album or even a whole song just because you don’t agree with everything in it, but I’m sure a lot of parents would want to know what kinds of messages are out there so they can discuss it with kids or teens.

    Admittedly, this idea might mean listening to a lot of annoying pop music that appeals mostly to the younger set. And you may want to keep your blog strictly about Christian music, rather than being a Christian blog about music in general. But still, it might get more views, especially since many Christians do not limit their musical diet to “Christian music” anyway, but might want to guard their hearts by at least being aware of the subtle messages their hearing. It would also be a way to be a little more mainstream without merely parroting news that’s already out there or becoming one of those wretched gossip columnists.

    • Those are great ideas. When I was hired, it was to specfically cover Christian music, b/c I’d been doing that for about 8 years. So everything had to tie back to Chrisitian music in some way. And I actually do write a lot about mainstream artists from a Christian point of view. In fact, my posts about Katy Perry are still the most viewed posts in the two years since I wrote them, LOL. And the Jonas Bros always get a lot of readers. But I’m just honestly not into music enough to be able to really speak intelligently about most mainstream music. Plus, most of it’s crap.

      Its been an interesting two years, actually, but frustrating. If I wrote about mainstream music – like Katy Perry – the Christians commented about how sinful her life was because she was gay. If I wrote about Christian music in mainstream – like season 8 of American Idol, where 1/2 of the top ten were worship leaders – the mainstream readers accused me of being homophobic b/c I predicted Kris Allen to win, LOL. It generates page views, yes, but honestly? It’s exhausting to deal with that every day. No one actually read or understood the points I was trying to make. They just wanted to argue about homosexuality or how Christians are why the country is in the toilet.

      I loved it, but I think I’m worn out from it, LOL.

  4. I know you write for another site doing Christian music reviews and news. I have a question to ask. I am a big fan of music but not Christian music. I want to be, I just can’t seem to find the artist that stacks up to what is put out there on regular radio. A lot of that stuff is not that great either, but generally what I listen to is more critic type albums with a little bit of top forty thrown in there. What I am looking for though in the Christian realm is something more haunting and sparse. Something like david gray’s this years love, or ray lamontagne’s hold you in my arms, or ben harpers waiting on an angel. I don’t know if that type of artist exist for Christian music or if there is anyone good enough to listen to but that is what I have been trying to find and figured you may be able to help. If anyone else can help me that would be great. My email is cscarce42@yahoo.com. Thanks. Chris

  5. I feel a huge urge in my spirit to encourage you right now. It has to be difficult to have Christianity as a job. Many Pastors probably feel the same pain. The truth of the matter is that people are more interested in things from a cultural perspective, as opposed to a Kingdom one. That’s why you end up having to fight to have page views. It should be about lives transformed and people coming to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. The name of the singer, their personal lives should be of little relevance, what their message and contiributions to the Kingdom should be what creates buzz. But that doesn’t generate views or press. Funny thing is, it never did.

    Outside of the most devout of believers, most “Christians” couldn’t tell you about D.L. Moody or William Booth. Or about Saint Francis. We live in an age where people are about judging whether or not someone’s life is matching the words on the pages of the Bible. Truth is, that’s of secondary importance to letting people know that “Jesus Lives and He saves.” Not knocking your animal stories, I do hope that you get to a place where you can use your writing talents to further the cause of Christ. If you can find a way to bring glory to God and people to salvation through your love of animals, cool. But we were bought at the greatest price ever for the Great Commision to be fulfilled, to spread the Gospel. That is “dropping your nets.”

    Maybe God has burned you out on the cultural aspects of Christianity to show you the real purpose for your life. If it is animals, great. But whatever it truly is, it’s got to be for the Glory of God, and to further His Kingdom. That is all this is about. His Glory, His Honor and Praise. All the other worries and cares of this world are secondary. At the end, we will be asked what we did with our talents, and we will be labeled either a sheep or a goat. (many goats will be “christians” that He never knew.) I’ll pray you find the peace you need, and are strengthened to the tasks that God calls you to. Keep your eyes on Jesus and you will not sink! God Bless! Brian

    • Thanks for the encouragment Brian! Yes, I would say 2010 was the year I burned out. Totally. Here’s to being more open to what God has planned in 2011, and being able to recognize it!
      Joanne

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