I was torn about what we should talk about in today’s Masterbitch Theater. At first, we were going to talk gun control. Then, I considered talking about the state of mental health care in the U.S. Finally, however, I landed on something else entirely.
Don’t get me wrong, gun control and mental health are great topics, and we may come back to them in future installments. What I’d like to talk about today is Internet publisher responsibility, with a specific focus on how some sites use tragedies to create profit. (You’ll note there are no ads on this page.)
Gawker.com, not even Gawker Media as a whole, just that one site, has run over fifty articles with the tag “Sandy Hook Shooting.” The posts have between 10k and over 100k views each. I’m not certain how Gawker makes its advertising money, but most websites are paid by impressions and clicks. P-Mag, for example, makes roughly one dollar for every 1,000 unique people who view an ad and a little less than a dollar per ad click through Google ads. We can charge up to $80 per week for a sidebar ad above the fold, through our main ad service outside of Google. We’re much, much smaller than the Gawker sites, so it’s safe to assume they can make substantially more money per impression and per click, but it’s likely they sell ads at a flat rate, depending on the site’s traffic at the time. Let’s do some speculative math, shall we?
Let’s average the pageviews to 25k per post, and round down to fifty posts total. 25,000 x 50 = 1,250,000 pageviews. If they made P-Mag Google ad money, that would be roughly $1,250.00. Since Gawker sites claim to get as many pageviews in a day as we get in a year, it’s safe to assume advertisers are paying top dollar for real estate on the Gawker sites.
PerezHilton.com, which uses the same ad service we use (BlogAds) can charge $4,000 per week to place an above-the-fold sidebar ad, and Perez gets a fraction of the traffic Gawker gets. (And we get a fraction of what Perez gets. Goddamnit.)
My issue isn’t with making money off of online content–running a quality website isn’t free. Hosting a site on a dedicated server (or farms of dedicated servers, like larger sites do) costs a lot of money, tech and coding support, art, security, and writing talent (again, for larger sites, we all work for free here) cost a lot, too. I have no problem with a company making money from hard work. What I do have an issue with is sites milking big news stories and tragedies for every pageview/dollar. If kids die, Nick Denton shouldn’t get to buy a summer home from the money he made inventing shitstorms about the circumstances of their deaths. Surely it wasn’t necessary to spread the coverage of the Newtown shooting out over 50+ posts on Gawker, and upwards of 200 posts across Gawker media as a whole.
Gawker certainly isn’t the only site to wallow in smarmy opportunism: Huffington Post has hundreds of Newtown headlines. Responses to responses to responses of some of the more viral pieces to sprout up since Friday are springing up all over my news feed, from sites both large and small. Even news sites like CNN and MSNBC are dredging the bottom of the lead barrel to write about every unconfirmed, salacious detail of the shooting.
What do you think, readers? Am I over-reacting, or are Internet publishers like Ariana Huffington and Nick Denton lining their pockets by exploiting tragedy?