How Should Journalists Be Paid in The Digital Age?

Journalism is in a state of flux. Traditional newspapers are in decline, Millennial-centric sites like BuzzFeed are actually making a profit and sponsored content is now the norm.

Writer compensation is constantly evolving, too. What’s a fair salary for a digital journalist these days? There are plenty of payment methods out there. Gawker famously tried the pay-per-pageview model. Writers went overboard with galleries and articles on celebrity sex scandals, and realizing that pageviews were too easy to inflate, the experiment ultimately ended. They now base their goals on unique visitors attracted. Other sites, like Complex, pay their writers based on overall percentage of company revenue, among other metrics.

10,000 Words recently spoke (via email) to Coates Batemanthe executive director of digital programming strategy at Forbes Media, about the conundrum of how to pay digital journalists. The first thing Bateman told us was that Forbes has never used the pay-per-pageview model. What asked what he thought of this type of payment, he replied: “We cannot speak for others. Our model is about individual experts building audiences and communities around their knowledge. That is why we choose to compensate based on unique visitors.”

The assumption that basic journalistic standards go out the window when clickability is king isn’t necessarily true, Bateman says.

“Journalists and contributors who operate with integrity, transparency and understanding of the dynamics of an evolving medium will thrive even more so than their predecessors.”

The concept of paying a journalist based on audience metrics does not necessarily work for everyone, according to Bateman.

“Every situation deserves an economic model that fits,” he said. “The time of one size fits all is ending.”

Andrew Sullivan is a perfect example of this. The former Daily Beast columnist left the site in January to start his own blog, The Dish. Sullivan has effectively turned himself into a profitable brand. He has close to 100,000 Twitter followers and a loyal, built-in audience. His credibility was ultimately more important than the number of pageviews he accumulated for The Daily Beast.

Bateman acknowledges that writers need to do more than just type out a story in this hyper-competitive industry. But he’s confident that there are journalists out there who can make a lasting impression.

“Those who write well, develop sources, own a topic and participate meaningfully in social media are going to do well,” Bateman said. “And I would imagine an increasing salary would be the result.”

How do you think digital journalists should be paid? Let us know in the comments below.

— Aneya Fernando