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KING: News in the age of instant feedback

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Mason KingIn a surprise move, Marion Country Prosecutor Carl Brizzi announced Friday that he would quit his job in the wake of an IBJ investigation into his business relationships and join the Butler University men’s basketball coaching staff as an unpaid assistant.

“Tim Durham, my financial and spiritual adviser, said it was the right time for a change,” Brizzi said at a news conference Friday, joined by his fiancee and motorsports icon Danica Patrick.

Brizzi will continue to host a local radio show on WIBC, but his weekly program, “Crime Watch,” will give way to a weekday drive-time offering, “Butler Blitz with The Brizz,” co-hosted by local radio mainstay Jimmy “Mad Dog” Matis, who will change his nickname to “Blue III.”

Do I have your attention? Thanks to the in-depth data we now have for readership trends on IBJ.com, I bet I’ve been pushing your buttons.

For better or worse, we know what our online readers like.

Most IBJ editors and bloggers now can access readership stats for every bit of news content on our website. We know how many times each story, blog and video has been viewed and for how long, for any month, week or day. We know viewers’ preferred search engines, the kinds of connections they use, and their blood-alcohol content while reading. (Yes, I’m talking to you, BoonesFarm_1953@yahoo.com.)

Just kidding about that last part. We don’t know your individual identities or e-mail addresses, but we’re aware of which stories and features tickle the collective consciousness of IBJ’s Internet audience. And I assume our print readers share common interests.

As you might infer from the fabricated story at top, you’re fascinated by our pieces on Brizzi and his financier friend Durham. Anything related to Butler or the Indianapolis Colts gets your mouse clicking. Putting Danica Patrick in a headline helps pile up page views.

One quirk consistently surprises us: your intense interest in local radio programming. Our most-viewed online story so far this year focused on Matis’ firing from Q95.

Most major news organizations now have access to their online stats, and each is considering how it can use that data to drive page views, whether the content qualifies as “hard news” or “total fluff.” That’s a big break from the past. For centuries, print journalists toiled in a vacuum, with no better gauge of reader reaction than street sales, letters to the editor, and angry shouts after shrinking the font size on the obit page.

Is this cause for alarm? Journalists might pander to readers’ proven interests at the expense of “news” — assuming there’s a difference.

At IBJ, we use this data to figure how to deploy our finite reporting resources—at least in a limited way. News gathering is far from an exact science, filled with hunches, time-consuming research and dead ends. It sometimes helps to know what readers find intriguing when you’re deciding which stories to pursue.

You could accuse us of trolling for page views or, in the old parlance, “trying to sell papers.” As sports reporter Anthony Schoettle wisely puts it, “OF COURSE we’re trying to sell papers.” This is a business. No readers, no paycheck.

The difference is that we have high standards for ground-breaking journalism and readers who hold us to these standards. It helps that readers usually respond in greatest numbers to hard-hitting, investigative stories, and that we consider such reporting our bread-and-butter fare.

Our staff is populated with ornery truth-seekers who enjoy that kind of stuff. Managing Editor Greg Andrews spent weeks sifting through Durham’s financial filings. Reporter Cory Schouten clocked 60-hour weeks nailing down connections between Brizzi’s business relationships and his role as prosecutor.

That’s complicated stuff, and hardly Internet-friendly. That these and other aggressive stories still pay off in online page views is gratifying and instructive, although hardly an imperative.

So…trust us like you always have. Sure, we know some of your online reading habits, but that information will never replace good, old-fashioned news judgment.•

__________

King is IBJ’s multimedia producer. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mking@ibj.com.

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  1. With Pence running the ship good luck with a new government building on the site. He does everything on the cheap except unnecessary roads line a new beltway( like we need that). Things like state of the art office buildings and light rail will never be seen as an asset to these types. They don't get that these are the things that help a city prosper.

  2. Does the $100,000,000,000 include salaries for members of Congress?

  3. "But that doesn't change how the piece plays to most of the people who will see it." If it stands out so little during the day as you seem to suggest maybe most of the people who actually see it will be those present when it is dark enough to experience its full effects.

  4. That's the mentality of most retail marketers. In this case Leo was asked to build the brand. HHG then had a bad sales quarter and rather than stay the course, now want to go back to the schlock that Zimmerman provides (at a considerable cut in price.) And while HHG salesmen are, by far, the pushiest salesmen I have ever experienced, I believe they are NOT paid on commission. But that doesn't mean they aren't trained to be aggressive.

  5. The reason HHG's sales team hits you from the moment you walk through the door is the same reason car salesmen do the same thing: Commission. HHG's folks are paid by commission they and need to hit sales targets or get cut, while BB does not. The sales figures are aggressive, so turnover rate is high. Electronics are the largest commission earners along with non-needed warranties, service plans etc, known in the industry as 'cheese'. The wholesale base price is listed on the cryptic price tag in the string of numbers near the bar code. Know how to decipher it and you get things at cost, with little to no commission to the sales persons. Whether or not this is fair, is more of a moral question than a financial one.

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