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LA Times: when news stories are for celebrities, blogs for politics, videos for emotion

LA Times: when news stories are for celebrities, blogs for politics, videos for emotion

The Los Angeles Times' website drew 115 million page views in June, just short of its all-time traffic record of 120 million PV set in May.

A quick glance at the list of most-read stories and most-viewed multimedia features in June gives a good idea of readers' favorite topics of interest - namely a push towards celebrity news and away from global issues and traditionally important topics such as the general elections. The lists also show that, despite newspapers' widespread emphasis on blogs and videos, these platforms still account for a minimal share of total traffic.

Furthermore, these lists provide some indications about how reader interests may vary from one platform to the other (news, blogs, videos, picture galleries).

If one supposes that latimes.com readership isn't too significantly different from average online newspaper readership, then these numbers hint toward which formats work best for different topics (Skip to 'Insights' for a brief summary).

Text - Top articles:

1. Alex Kozinski suspends L.A. obscenity trial after conceding his website had sexual images (Scott Glover)
2. Mega-mansions are L.A.'s really big show (Jessica Garrison)
3. Oliver Stone and 'W.,' a story of President Bush (John Horn)
4. Fourth day of triple digits sends crowds to L.A. pools, beaches (Tami Abdollah)
5. Packing in public: Gun owners tired of hiding their weapons embrace 'open carry' (Nicholas Riccardi)
6. Envisioning a world of $200-a-barrel oil (Martin Zimmerman)
7. Judge orders TMZ to remove sex tape of actor Verne Troyer (Harriet Ryan)
8. Lakers have a collapse for the ages (Mike Bresnahan)
9. Offshore oil drilling opponents are rethinking (Richard Simon and Bob Drogin)
10. Obama leads in battle for Latino vote (Peter Wallsten)

The first thing that strikes us when looking at the list is how few stories relate to 'global' issues or to the general elections in the US: ranked 6 is a column about rising oil prices and the only story directly related to the elections is ranked 10. The majority of stories have mostly local relevance about Los Angeles.

(Only) one of the top 10 stories concerns sports - a usually strong section for most newspaper websites although June isn't the biggest season for sports in the US - and the Lakers' basketball team's demise in the championship finals.

The top three stories (and 7) revolve, more or less closely, around issues of sex and the cult of celebrities and entertainment. Number 3 is a story about the making-of Oliver Stone's latest movie about President George W. Bush. Granted, considering Los Angeles' prime location in the movie and celebrity industry, it isn't particularly surprising that many latimes.com readers are going for those stories.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that readers of latimes.com news articles prefer 'softer' content compared to readers of other online newspapers. In fact, this distribution is probably representative of a move towards celebrity news by mainstream media and the audience in general.

Limitations: This is a very cursive overview of readers' favorite topics for news stories only looking at the top 10. A more in-depth study would possibly show that while a few select individual stories about sex and celebrities receive many hits, the sections for 'hard' news (World, Business, National) on the whole generate substantially more traffic than Entertainment.

Top blogs:

1. Top of the Ticket -- 1,743,178 PV
2. The Dish Rag -- 1,437,462 PV
3. L.A. Land -- 652,605 PV
4. Lakers Blog
5. Show Tracker
6. L.A. Now
7. Technology Blog (first month out, and in the top ten)
8. Gold Derby
9. Web Scout
10. Countdown to Crawford (launched June 17)

Now a look at the top-10 list of blogs gives a more intricate perspective: compared to news stories, the blog format seems to draw more readers to 'serious' topics such as politics and the general elections.

The political blog Top of the Ticket is in the lead, and Countdown to Crawford (a blog that covers the final steps of the elections) has made it to the list although it was only launched in mid-June. Ranked 6, L.A. Now covers general news about California.

It may seem counter-intuitive that readers prefer the blog format, usually associated with a more conversational tone and less formality, to read stories about politics. On the other hand, this preference could also be explained by the fact that those readers precisely prefer a format open to opinion and debate to read about those topics. Since blogs typically allow for more author disclosure, they can also be seen as a more transparent medium.

The last two blogs revolve around technology and developments in the digital landscape, a thematic that was absent from the Top 10 news stories.

Limitations: Again, this is hardly a scientific procedure, and the top 10 blogs on latimes.com account for less than 5% of total page views on the site. To put this in further perspective, five of the ten blogs relate to 'softer' content - three revolve around celebrities and the movie industry - one is about the Lakers and number 3 is a blog about real estate (note the parallel with the news story about mansions ranking 2).

Furthermore, The Dish Rag, ranked 2, is edging close to Top of the Ticket, so that in reality the number of users consulting LA Times blogs for soft and hard news is probably equivalent.

Pictures - Top photo galleries:

1. Celebrity and sports collide in L.A.
2. Universal Studios fire
3. Celebrities' real names revealed (Denise Martin and Stephanie Lysaght)
4. Hollywood hunks before they were hot (Elizabeth Snead)
5. Celebrities by The Times
6. Celebrity shots
7. Midwest flooding
8. Top 9 cars women buy more than men
9. Hollywood's unwedded bliss list (Elizabeth Snead)
10. R-rated firsts (Susan King)

Unsurprisingly, the list of most popular photo galleries is also dominated by celebrities, even more so than for news stories or blogs (seven out of ten).

Of the three remaining picture galleries, two are big general news stories with obviously strong visual content: ranked 2 is the Universal Studios fire and ranked 7 is a gallery about floods in the Midwest.

Video - Top videos:

1. Dogs orphaned in China's quake find a home - 132,239 streams - AP
2. LAPD goes green: Maya Sanchez reports - 112,375 streams - KTLA
3. Tsvangirai on Mugabe - AP
4. Local update: Moe the chimp escapes cage - KTLA
5. Amanda Beard heads to Omaha for her fourth Olympic swim - LAT
6. 17-year-old decapitated by Six Flags ride - AP
7. Australia marks Iraq withdraw with parade - AP
8. Evening update: USC student sentenced to time served in baby's death - KTLA
9. Fires grip parts of California - AP
10. Bush pleased with war spending bill - AP

The top-10 list for videos also delivers its share of lessons. First of all, despite newspapers' wild rush to boost video content, videos generate a limited amount of traffic compared to most text stories.

Many of the videos in the list are 'soft', but don't relate to entertainment especially. Instead, they are often emotionally-driven (dogs orphaned in China, 17-year old girl decapitated at a fair park). A lot of these popular videos are visual anecdotes with a potential for virality (Moe the chimp escapes cage).

'Hard' news, ie. a Congress debate about legislation or a business acquisition, does not typically constitute a popular pick for videos, as it is often poor visually.

The majority of successful video content is syndicated, generally provided by the Associated Press (only one of the top 10 videos was produced by the LA Times). Considering the average PVs for videos, and although CPMs for video ads are usually higher than for regular PVs, it is still often (too) costly for newspapers to produce their own quality videos.

Insights

In short, here are some of the insights brought by latimes.com's Top-10 lists:

- The Los Angeles Times has strongly emphasized 'soft' news, which is becoming increasingly popular among regular news stories.
- On the other hand, its blogs seem to attract many viewers interested by politics - although half of the blogs in the list deal with lighter content.
- The blog format is also popular when they deal with technological issues.
- To an extent, it could be inferred that the latimes.com is fulfilling its role as a newspaper by focusing on 'local' stories: Hollywood, celebrities and the entertainment industry being part of that local context.
- The photo galleries are overwhelmingly dominated by pictures of celebrities. The only two 'hard' news stories are obviously visual: a fire and floods.
- Video content must also be visually rich, but the most popular videos are those that are emotionally-driven and potentially viral (ie: humorous anecdotes, shocking stories).

The purpose of this piece was simply to make some observations as to the types of topics preferred by online users, depending on the format they were published in. The goal wasn't to quaintly warn editors against the risks of chasing eyeballs at the expense of news judgment.

However, these Top-10 lists are clearly representative of the trend, adopted both by editors and by the audience, towards more celebrity-type news, or 'soft' news in general. In January and April, when the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times announced that they were beefing up coverage of Britney Spears, at the same time as newsrooms across the nation couldn't afford the expenses of covering the elections, many newspaper editors were outraged by this rush towards more catchy, entertainment-driven, stories.

According to others, celebrity is a cultural currency that fulfils a role in the press. But at what cost?


Links

Author

Jean Yves Chainon

Date

2008-07-09 14:15

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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