Proof that news websites are doomed

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 11, 2013

Profit models for news websites inevitably treat page views as the red headed siblings of circulation.

Ideally, you want more page views than your circulation because page views are worth less under the current model. Your goal becomes herding as many people to your site as you possibly can.

But websites aren’t really the best place for enjoying a leisurely read.

The act of reading and comprehending demands you tune everything out. All the forms of revenue generation, however, are there to compete for your attention.

News writing has to appeal to the masses, which means it should strive for a low grade level, usually the ninth or 10th grade, and be comprehensible. News websites, however, are a predominantly visual medium.

The headlines of news websites, like Huffington Post, are meant to appeal to the masses too. Because news websites place a heavier emphasis on 1) reaching the widest possible audience and 2) competing with ads that crash every browser on a computer made before 2011, their headlines seek out our inner 14-year-old. 

You wind up with a collection of click-bait morsels like these. (I’ve added my visceral reactions to them.)


If that’s the way news websites are going, then I have some bad news. We simply can’t compete with …

A website that removes the bouquets from wedding pictures and replaces them with cats.

Or …

Drunk Dial Congress

A website that enables someone to call their elected representative while getting intoxicated.

It also can’t hold a candle to …


A picture illustrating the ridiculousness of Tennessee and Virginia Tech. playing game in the friggin’ Bristol Motor Speedway (officially the most redneck thing that’s ever happened in the history of the human race).

Also, Larry the Cable Guy is worth $50 million. Fifty. Million.

I don’t think the theory that the number of page views is comparable to circulation makes any sense. Quantity of views doesn’t reflect or determine the quality of the content.

If the aim is drawing in millions of views, there are simpler things that are more effective.

Part of “fixing” the industry means changing the way we think about news as a product.

We’re confusing the number page views with the value of our content. We stop to look at car accidents on the side of the road, but I don’t think everyone driving by would pay to see one.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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