Rewarding Bad Behavior [Philadelphia Inquirer]

This post was prompted by Tom Ferrick’s whining and Mark Bowden’s attempt at outrageousness.   I’m not going to bother parsing their statements (Ferrick’s on Casinos aren’t bad for Philadelphia’s waterfront followed by the usual journalists’ waaaaahumbulance cries that he gets hatemail, and Bowden’s Waterboarding isn’t torture and it’s A-OK with him if it works) in current and recent columns.

Brian Tierney, in a Philly Mag interview called Press Lords 2.0 laid out his vision for Philly.com, one where it became a MySpace with User Generated Content (UCG) including those wacky Mentos-and-Coke videos, along with online content created by those in his employ in the analog properties (ie. the papers).  

After we finish our cafeteria sandwiches, he stands up. He steps to the big white flip pad ” “my famous flip pad” ” and starts pitching his vision for Philadelphia Media Holdings, which he doesn’t describe as a newspaper company but as “a brand of local news and content.” With a fat red marker, he scribbles a rectangle representing the Philly.com homepage. He calls it “a shopping mall” of content. To attract more shoppers, Tierney wants a localized version of MySpace; to create more content, Tierney wants journalists to use digital cameras and blogs. “I’m not going to force anybody to do it,” he says, although he hopes journalists will want “to play the game up on the balls of their feet and be excited about it and be relevant.” Explaining what he means by “relevant,” Tierney mentions that when the Mel Gibson DUI story broke last summer, both Philly newspapers covered it on inside pages, “but Philly.com should have had that as a bigger thing than just a line, because everybody went to Drudge” ” the right-wing gossip site ” “or CNN.” The website could use its own journalists who only do Mel-type stories, or who shoot their own “silly and fun” videos, like the one where the guy puts the Mentos candy in the Diet Coke and creates a soda volcano. “I love the smile of our own reporters doing those sorts of things, you know what I mean?”

One could say that this is a somewhat lower goal than that of speaking-truth-to-power or civic responsibility that I have come to expect (and lament, of late) in journalistic endeavors.

Tierney’s Online Experiment also seems to employ to strategies that are prevalent online as well – that of link baiting and attention whoring. One could argue that these are contrarian arguments, possibly hoping to widen the debate.   I suspect not.

Why else would one gather Rick Santorum (former GOP-Senator), Jonathan Last (a consistent conservative columnist), and Michael Smerconish (conservative talking head and veteran of the Bush-the-elder’s administration), all GOPers and place them prominently in the Currents section?   Is this an example of being fair and balancedâ„¢ in print, affirmative action for bad ideas, or maybe something else?

Simply put, Tierney knows any news (or links or posts, in this case) is good news.   The economics of the blogosphere don’t much care whether you agree or disagree with the content to which you link .   The value of one’s internet property is determined by the traffic it receives and how much that traffic is worth.   Should one of those high value liberal-progressive bloggers such as Atrios, or others in the local sphere, comment and start a blogstorm on some content, it would deliver spike in traffic, which in turn helps Philly.com out.

There are a couple of people I know and love who work for the Inquirer and or the Daily News.   But I just can’t justify the reward bad behavior (after this post, that is).  

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