The New York Times doesn’t gauge the success of its stories on how many people read them, its executive editor Bill Keller says.
We asked Bill about this because we think a smart way for the New York Times to slim down the newsroom without readers noticing would be to spend some time analysing the traffic logs–an idea that was resoundingly ridiculed by a staffer we spoke to Monday.
Bill tells us, “We monitor traffic to get a general sense of audience behaviour and to help gauge reader interest in particular features. Naturally we are pleased when good work finds a big audience,” but pageviews aren’t the ultimate measure of success.
The NYT is offering buyouts to 100 newsroom employees. If less than 100 take the buyouts, employees will be let go. Times reporters worried about losing their job aren’t sure what criteria will be used to decide who stays or goes.
When we asked a reporter at the Times if they might use pageviews as a metric to determine who stays or goes, the reporter laughed at us, saying, editors are “terrified of pageviews…They flirt with them, but they’re scared. They’re like a teenage girl about to lose her virginity. They’re really excited for it to happen, but at the same time scared to death of it.”
We asked Keller if this was true. Here’s his take:
I agree that pageviews are unlikely to figure in staff cuts. I do not agree with your source’s characterization at all. It’s wrong, and silly.
We monitor traffic to get a general sense of audience behaviour and to help gauge reader interest in particular features. Naturally we are pleased when good work finds a big audience. If a regular feature — a blog, for instance — consistently fails to interest readers, we will look for ways to fix it, or we’ll examine whether it is worth the investment. But we do not judge the success of individual articles by the traffic they generate. Times readers come to us for our judgment of what matters, not just what’s popular. As for our journalists, we evaluate them on the quality of their work, not the quantity of their pageviews. We’re not Digg. We’re not American Idol.