The culture of the click, 10 years later

C.W. Anderson has been one of the most influential scholars in my career. His ethnography of digital news in Philadelphia is the dissertation I wish I had written. His thinking on digital news is must-read for anyone interested in this field.

Over at Nieman Lab, he spoke with Livia Vieria about ethonography, business models and more. This passage, about metrics in journalism, stands out:

Any journalist who would claim that they don’t need to know what their audience wants to read is deluding themselves.

But I do think that journalism as a professional category needs to make decisions for itself about what it thinks is important. That’s what makes a professional community: It’s a group of people who have a certain amount of expertise and then can decide for themselves what the important thing is. Journalism as a professional community is highly threatened — and that’s a problem, because it’s important for journalists to be professionals.

So I don’t think clicks and metrics alone are terrible for journalism. But I do think that insofar as they contribute to a larger deprofessionalization of this very important occupation, they can be part of a bad trend. The short answer would be: Journalists need to know what their audience thinks, but they shouldn’t become slaves to what their audience thinks. And they need to continue thinking for themselves about what their audience needs.