Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stop the ... well, never mind, but we've spotted Blue Ivy

Pity poor Arianna Huffington. She clearly, desperately wants to be taken seriously as a kingmaker (or, ahem, queenmaker, of course) and political polestar. And yet, on the day when the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on California's Proposition 8 (and, to its credit, HuffPo is leading its page all day with live coverage), here's a screen shot of HuffPo's most popular stories of the day.

There are two ways to look at this. The first, and more unlikely, is that the HuffPo folks find this disappointing and frustrating, so intent are they at being taken as serious journalists. The more likely scenario is that the HuffPo brain trust couldn't care less what people are reading, so long as it's on Huffington Post. Then, they can put the serious stuff at the top but make it easy to find the seamy or trivial stuff that people really want to read. That, dear reader, is a win-win deal.

The art of attracting readers in the Age of Entertainment is tricky, particularly if you want to maintain the illusion of practicing serious journalism while cranking out the sludge that most people seem to want to read.

It's not just HuffPo, of course. Serious journalism site wannabe Slate showed these most-read stories on March 26, the day of the Prop. 8 oral arguments: Live chat with a "cat lady"; Why Amanda Knox will never be extradited; The passion of Lew Wallace (civil war general and novelist); The Star Trek episodes you should watch for free this week; Live chat with woman worried about her boyfriend's weight loss; Your neighborhood needs more bars.

The Post Register has not found the magic formula. For the sake of comparison, I'm attaching the Most-Read section of the Post Register's home page today.

Oh, no. Kids in crisis. Woman dies after fire. A story about legislation that went nowhere. Another sex offender. Another animal abuse story.

We do give celebrity trivia a half-hearted try. There's a brief about Angelina Jolie visiting the Congo and another about the producers of a TV show apologizing about taking people to the site of a B-52 crash on the site today. Compared to HuffPo and other "global" sites, though, these are pretty slim pickings. Our headlines are dry and we have no photographs inside the box. In other words, we're booorrrrriiinnnngggggg by comparison. Our readers are too -- just look at what they chose to read.

In truth, the old saw "If it bleeds it leads" still holds true. It's very common for stories on crime and mayhem to lead our most-read statistics, even if we've had a particularly thoughtful piece of long-form journalism on the same day. There's probably not a lot new about that.

Some of you may read this and accuse me of living in my crumbling ivory tower, where serious journalism abides. You would not be the first. Try as I might, I simply can't conjure up any passion for where Beyonce and Blue Ivy (that must be the baby?) have been seen lately.

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