More on journalism’s Internet viability

In a recent New Yorker profile, writer Ben McGrath gets the inside scoop on Nick Denton, who owns Gawker, a chain of blogs that really has revolutionized Internet news.

Some might take exception to the sites being called news, but few would dispute sites like DCist and its Gothamist ilk are journalist endeavors. And the further into McGrath’s piece the reader delves, the more you realize that most popular, professionally-run blogs like DCist (and not like this one) take their cue from Denton’s empire.

But what about the money? Denton employs 120 people, most in New York or Los Angeles, and attracts 17 million unique viewers a month on nine websites. Added together, he gets 450 million page views each month, and pushes his writers to write pieces that draw traffic: A scoop that nobody cares about is a failure, in this setting. From McGrath’s piece:

At the outset, [Denton] had assumed that, in order to be viable, each individual site would need to achieve a million monthly page views; that threshold, he believes, is now twenty million.

That is a crazy amount of traffic; but more importantly, how important is each individual view? Not too important, as 1,000 views is usually equal to a couple bucks.

Denton believes he is the future of Internet publishing, and scoffs at the stodgy old-school media. But the Wall Street Journal and USA Today reach almost 4 million people combined each day. The Post reaches over 500,000. And they don’t read one 12o-word post. They read ENTIRE NEWSPAPER SECTIONS.

Advertisers know these readers are incredibly valuable: That’s why they still advertise in the dinosaur of media. Newspaper readers literally see dozens of advertisements every day, most on higher-value products than a bottle of Jose Cuervo, which was the first ad I saw on Deadspin on Tuesday.

Denton argues that online versions of newspapers probably won’t be viable — there he may have a point. A few rounds of layoffs taught me that in most newsrooms, the physical newspaper is still what makes money.

But advertisers continue to buy spots in print newspapers, as well as papers’ websites. These publications simply aren’t going anywhere, at least not quickly, though the online model needs revamping. Newspapers’ swan songs may take decades. We won’t wake up one day in 2011 to find that Gawker is the dominant publishing arm in the country and Mitt Romney bought the New York Times for $12. I shudder at the thought.

Who doesn’t like to read something funny on Deadspin? That’s not the question, and Denton’s sites aren’t a problem. But what they suggest IS a problem. If a bunch of gossip writers crammed in a New York office is the most viable effort the new media can put forward, we are in a lot of trouble.

But seriously, did you hear about the “Drunk Chicagoan [who] Scale[d] [a] Dinosaur After [the] Bears Win”? Now THAT’S a scoop.

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