10 January 2013

A response to a response

Wahoo! Somebody in The Irish Times reads me!

Hugh Linehan has an interesting and very welcome editorial in the Irish Times online today condemning the recent hysteria emanating from John Waters, David Adams and others over the subject of Social Media. Linehan is one of the few in The Irish Times who understands the online business (he has to, its his job), and sometimes I picture him wandering around the halls of Tara Street banging his head off random walls in frustration.

In his piece he takes a moment to respond to certain recent suggestions that the Irish Times by publishing such pieces is either engaged in a war against the Internet, or is merely fishing for pageviews (it isn't, he says). In the comments thread someone linked to my republished piece on Politico.ie, and Linehan responded that (and here I am attempting to paraphrase for fear of being charged for linking to and/or quoting from the IT, as apparently text extracts are still billable) the actual monetary reward for any given post is minuscule, and that while my article has impressed some folks because of my attempt at maths, all of my conclusions and most of my figures were wrong.

Which means some of my figures were right! Also, "some folks" have been impressed! Winning!

In all seriousness though, of course my numbers are erroneous, the post was a satirical thought exercise that compared the value of John Waters to a horse's penis, all based on a hefty number of shaky assumptions. Although I used the IT online rate card, often large discounts are given for multiple buys. If the IT uses an ad agency to sell inventory then the agency are taking a cut. Ads are not shown on every page, like those with murders, disasters etc as that would be inappropriate and the advertisers don't want to be associated with tragedy, and of course it assumes all ad inventory is sold, which frequently it isn't judging by the number of in-house ads for other Irish Times services that appear on the site. There's also some hefty assumptions about the readership of any individual article, perhaps every single person who read the John Waters piece were so incensed that they shared or commented, so the total number of impressions was barely 500! On the other hand although I based my numbers on 2009 audience stats of 26,125,949 monthly impressions that are still listed on their main online rate card webpage, I see 2010 stats are listed now on a separate page with 36.2 million monthly page impressions, an impressive jump in a year but the data is still two years old.

But none of that was ever the point (as pointed out by lostexpectation in Linehan's comments thread). The thrust was to highlight that sensationalism sells, whether in the Press or online, and that the Irish Times wouldn't have John Waters on their books if he didn't sell papers. While there may indeed be a strict separation between the editorial side of the website and the revenue side, at a senior level within the paper when folks are deciding who to hire at the back of their mind there has to be a business motivation, who's writing will sell the most papers?

The spate of recent hysterical pieces on the subject of social media have been alarming, both in the depth of their ignorance and the breadth of their scare-mongering, and if the motivation to publish these hasn't been financial, then what has it been?

With elements within the Government taking a very harsh line towards Social Media of late, and public concerns being expressed over any possible attempt by the Government to restrict or regulate online communication, even if there is no commercial and/or editorial motivation at work here does the Irish Times really want to be seen as reenforcing the Government's current ill-informed attack policy in this way?

Update (or 'A Response to a Response to a Response') 17/01/13
Over at Politico.ie, Eadaoin O'Sullivan took Hugh Linehan up on his offer to discuss the broader aspects of the implications and effects of online advertising for newspaper websites, and the resulting interview is really quite interesting. While I don't agree with all of Hugh's assertions, I am impressed with the level of his responses. You really should read the whole interview here.

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