In these days of newsroom metrics and algorithmes, what if a publishing company could come up with a formula for figuring out the exact worth of a reporter, editor or photographer?
Matt DeRienzo poses that question in an article in Editor & Publisher.
When editors cut staff in the name of cost-cutting, do they actually know the monetary worth of the reporters or photographers they are axing and how much their loss with hamper future revenue growth? he asks.
“Because it’s such an inexact science, there is rarely opportunity, on the flip side, for an editor to make the case that adding a new reporting or editing position will help grow the business in any kind of tangible way,” he writes.
In contrast, that same publisher wouldn’t hesitate to expand his or her advertising sales staff, having confidence that the newcomers will bring a certain amount of revenue.
What if you could attach similar metrics to newsroom jobs? he asks, adding that this could be a powerful argument against short-sighted cuts to local journalism.
He also acknowledges that such talk isn’t always welcome. What, for example, would happen to stories that defend the powerless and the penniless which might not boost the bottom line but have long been part of journalism’s mission? How do you defend work that has no tangible impact on revenue?
Publishers could end up viewing local journalism in three major buckets: content that drives subscriptions; content that drives page view-based advertising; and content that drives context-based advertising (an arts and entertainment vertical, for example, or special section on real estate).
The first category gives editors the most leeway, he argues. Investigative and accountability reporting that has impact, but doesn’t generate a great deal of audience or page views, could make the most effective case to readers that they should pay for a subscription.
With modern analytic tools available to track reader conversion – that is, what stories they read on their way to subscribing, perhaps viewing journalists for their monetary worth is inevitable. At the very least, DeRienzo poses some interesting questions.