Bylines and bottom lines: what newsrooms can learn from Yahoo


New York Times newsroom
New York Times newsroom

Although I don’t get invited to as many journalism class discussions as I used to, I don’t take any offense. Usually, I was the one guilty of offending.

Often I would challenge these budding journalists to think of their work in a much different way than they were taught in college. I would simply ask each of them to take stock in the beat or work they were doing for a newspaper. The question they needed or need to ask themselves is, “Is what I’m doing adding or detracting from the bottom line of my newspaper?” If the answer is negative, I would tell the students to demand a new beat from their editor because they would be involved in the next reduction in force.

Needless to say, the journalism school professor or dean never had an appreciation for such advice ... but what they can’t deny is that I’m correct.

Yahoo, to its credit, not only believes in this philosophy, it puts it into action. As highlighted in Advertising Age online by Yahoo’s Jimmy Pitaro, the company’s top chief in its media division, “Yahoo measures each (Yahoo) writer’s page view performance on a quarter-to-quarter basis.”

And I don’t think Yahoo is doing this to hand out monthly “Way to Go!” stickers.

Pitaro states that the expectation at Yahoo is “that the revenue generated by that writer would be greater than the cost tied to that writer.”

What a concept! Measuring the value of an employee, let’s say a newspaper content producer or its editor, based on the revenue their work brings back to the newspaper.

One has to ask how many publishers are using such metrics to measure the success or value of their own editorial/content personnel? My guess? Not enough. Yet, moving to such a model of evaluating content personnel benefits the newspaper, its audience, and therefore, its advertisers. And fear not editors and content producers as the news coverage doesn’t have to be compromised, it just has to be improved to meet the expectations of the audience.

By creating a competitive den of content producers, the most talented will draw an audience, the keyboard punchers will not. And which do you want taking up space in your newsroom?

Soon, I suspect Yahoo will launch customized city sites similar to the efforts of ESPN with its ESPN Chicago and ESPN Boston sites. When this happens, newspapers will face the challenge of having its content staff up against one being evaluated quarterly on its audience metrics. The newspapers are not only going to need a staff set up to compete, but an evaluation process that rewards its top performers up against another eager competitor.

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