“I can write and report a kickass story with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. But the algorithm that decides how much I get paid for all that badass-ness doesn’t put any value on how good I am. It cares not at all how well written this story is or how much experience I have. All that’s important is how many times you guys click.” — Erin Biba
Romenesko: So, did people click on your story?
Biba: Shockingly, I have gotten quite a lot of clicks. At the moment it’s at about 8,200 — which has me netting roughly $200. That’s waaaaay more then I ever expected to make on this piece.
At first I thought, oh shit, this invalidates my whole argument. But now I’m thinking it actually proves my point even further. Here’s a piece that I wrote in 30 minutes, barely edited, and said stuff that I’d never write in a journalistic piece and I also BEGGED people to click on it and share widely.
The only reason it went viral is because I did all that stuff. If the piece had instead been highly researched, filled with facts and figures about the industry, totally unemotional, and a true piece of journalism that was actually informative, the pay-per-click model would have netted me significantly less money.
“While I’m all in favor of this new world of media startups, where truly well-intentioned people are trying to figure out how the heck to make money from journalism on the Internet, I just need to step up right now and call bullshit on pretty much all the algorithms.”
What are you hearing about your piece?
For the most part the reactions have been extremely positive. Of course my fellow writers have been cheering and patting me on the back. But I’ve heard great stuff from editors and non-media folks too. And even Evan (who co-runs Medium and who I used to work with at WIRED) said to me in a tweet that he agrees the pay-per-click model doesn’t value writers and we need to find a different model. He also mentioned that Medium is experimenting with different ways of paying now.
That said, I’ve been also getting some very negative responses from the startup and new media folks who think I’m championing the old way of doing things. They think anything new is good universally and don’t appear to be able to accept my constructive criticism. They also seem to gloss over the fact that in my rant I say that I love the Internet and am all for finding new outlets for Journalism, but this particular one just isn’t working.
They point out that $0.025 cents per click is an incredibly high CPM and I should just accept that or get out of the business all together. Which basically proves my point on may levels. There’s a huge disconnect between the Internet folks and the journalism folks. Nobody (even within journalism) seems to agree what a reasonable pay-rate is. I *can’t* just accept low pay and expect to live a life above the poverty line. And if I *do* accept it and quit journalism, then journalism changes in a way that I think is terrible — and becomes made up entirely of folks doing it for fun or on their off-hours and not really dedicating time to doing it in a serious way.