The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Sunday, June 15, 2008


They're out there.

In the year 2007, Larry McDermott of the Springfield Newspapers wrote a column about which stories their readers were reading the most, based on the ability of the internet to record precisely how many people click on a certain story in order to read it. McDermott wrote a column about the discrepancy between the stories the readers liked and the stories the newspapers editors chose as being most important. Of course I had to pipe in and get all sarcastic.

I had forgotten writing about that until someone brought to my attention that much of my piece had been reprinted in The New England News Forum, which studies New England media. Here is what they wrote:

The technology of the web is making it possible for editors to measure with precision how many people are reading which stories online. Some of the results suggest a wide disparity between web readership and what editors choose to put on front pages, but not much such difference when print readers recommend print headlines. It raises starkly an age-old question for journalists: Should a news organization lead or follow public opinion?

At The Republican, the Springfield, Mass., daily, Editor Larry McDermott's weekly column on Jan. 7 reported on the top 10 most-read stories on the paper's affiliated website. They all had to do with intensely local crime or odd elements of human behavior or coincidence. With one exception, none had anything to do with state or local politics or government. And none of the top 10 read on the web were among the stories chosen by the paper's editors as their top 10 stories of the year apply traditional news judgement. McDermott handles the disparity pretty much without comment, except to say it suggests a difference between the demographic of web vs. print readers.

Regarding the Springfield, Mass., report, Thomas R. Devine, an Amherst, Mass., based writer of an online local commentary-and-analysis blog, Tom Devine's Online Journal, offered some sensible commentary in a Jan. 11 post about McDermott's column. In it, Devine listed the top 10 stories with his own comments. Wrote Devine: "Overall, the list does not reflect well on the intellectual depth of the newspaper readership. McDermott tries to be polite about it in his column, but I will not."

Commented Devine:

Here is what was on each list, in descending number from
one to ten, followed by what I think explains the discrepancy.

Republican Choice for #1 - Deval Patrick elected governor.
Reader's Choice - Belchertown family sues over "ugly" bride.
Commentary - Who cares about who's governor when you're stuck with an ugly bride?

Republican Choice for #2 - Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan take toll on Western Mass.
Reader's Choice - Friend of Hampden victim held in slaying.
Commentary - One person is killed, fascinating. Many people killed, yawn.

Republican Choice for #3 - The Asselin clan, a Springfield corruption scandal.
Reader's Choice - Missing Ludlow mother in Vegas.
Commentary - Missing mother on gambling spree, fascinating. Missing millions from taxpayers, yawn.

Republican Choice for #4 - Springfield under state-appointed Finance
Control Board.
Reader's Choice - UMass student-EMT dies just after aiding at 1st crash.
Commentary - Rescue effort of a person goes badly, fascinating. Rescue effort of a city goes well, yawn.

Republican Choice for #5 - Pioneer Valley Transit Authority corruption
Reader's Choice - Monson teen charged in neighbor's death.
Commentary - Teens might kill you, buses only rip you off.

Republican Choice for #6 - Gay marriage focus of Statehouse battle.
Reader's Choice - Springfield accident kills postal worker.
Commentary - There was no indication that the postal worker was gay.

Republican Choice for #7 - Mass Turnpike Authority abolishes Western Mass tolls.
Reader's Choice - Agawam cookie tragedy prompts warning.
Commentary - Chance of dying of a food allergy - near zero. Chance of
getting ripped off by the Turnpike - 100%.

Republican Choice for #8 - Supreme Court rules local health boards can ban smoking in private clubs.
Reader's Choice - Drugs in Springfield cop's car lead to internal probe.
Commentary - Thank goodness the cop wasn't smoking cigarettes!

Republican Choice for #9 - D. Edward Wells Credit Union shut down, another Springfield corruption scandal.
Reader's Choice - UMass athletic director's 19-year old son killed in 1-91 collision.
Commentary - Both are stories too sad to comment on.

Republican Choice for #10 - Republican Sen. Brian Lees steps down from Senate, elected court clerk.
Reader's Choice - West Springfield auto dealership raided by IRS.
Commentary - Politicians and auto dealers - both tax your patience.

One of my favorite places to fish used to be Five Mile Pond on Boston Road in Springfield. It was the site of great late night skinny dipping parties too! Bill Dusty recently made a video of the place, unfortunately with neither fish nor nudity.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Good post.

I think the common thread among all the stories the readers "picked" have a human element. To my mind, a good story melds the "macro" Big Picture in with a "micro" Human Story, and uses one to tell the other. This is really, really tricky though, and it's a learned skill usually found in feature or magazine writing. It's hard to imagine a lot of readers having the time or the patience for longer pieces like that.