I think it’s normal for writers to get a little caught up in their own statistics. It’s nice to know that something you wrote really hit home with your readers. It’s nice to see the Facebook “like” counter climb from the 10s to the 100s to the 1,000s to the 10,000s.
It’s kind of cool.
Of the places I write, there’s only one that pays me based on how many views my pieces get. For the most part, every other outlet pays a flat fee per article, editorial, etc.. While that set up — the flat fee model — is nice, putting less pressure on the writer to drive traffic, it shouldn’t be seen as a license to write truly unreadable material. It’s safe to say that if the writer strays too far from material welcoming to an audience, dives too far into an avant garde style or subject matter, or just genuinely produces bad content, their days writing for that particular outlet are numbered. Still, the lessened emphasis on filling the role of some sort of journalistic carnival barker — which inevitably leads to spamming friends with links, keeping stories on life support long after their expiration date, and becoming somewhat of a nuisance — allows one’s work to stand on its own, leaving the marketing to marketers, and the writing to writers — though, again, there will always be a small amount of overlap.
Earlier today, I criticized another writer for conducting what was in my opinion, a botched interview. The writer let the interview subject get away with simply making an assertion without any pressure to back the claims up with supporting evidence. The writer brushed off the criticism, and eventually produced the tired line, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”
I suppose so. Even still, what’s the point of interviewing someone if you’re simply going to let them lay out their own free form talking points, if you’re not going to challenge them? In that case, why not just solicit an op-ed from them, removing yourself from the equation entirely?
I kept pressing.
As tensions mounted, pushing back and forth, the writer said, “You’re probably just jealous because I get more page views than you.”
I was taken aback. For one, there’s no way this writer could possibly know whether or not they have more readers than me. Secondly, what difference does that make?
The “I have more, therefore I’m right” argument is in itself a logical fallacy (argumentum ad populum). Flawed in a range of ways, this logic would lead us to believe that Jeff Foxworthy is the funniest man alive, that “Gangnam Style” is one of the best songs of all time, and that Danielle Steel is one of the top five best authors ever.
The most widely read article I’ve ever written (up to 85,000 Facebook likes) was little more than me describing YouTube video. Is that my best work? Absolutely not.
That’s why I hope writers can all remember this about the meaning of pageviews: No matter how many clicks, views, Facebook likes, or tweets your work generates, a video of a cat crawling into a cardboard box will drive more traffic.
If one’s goal in life is to be read by the largest possible audience, cover pop culture, celebrity gossip, or what have you. For the rest of us, I hope we can seek out the stories that haven’t yet been told, ask the questions that haven’t been asked, and write something we can be proud of.