From the editor’s desk: Clickbait, sensationalism & how not to make a ton of money

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While defending a decision to publish a controversial story recently, I realized that there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding what we aim to do with this website and exactly how we make a profit.

Those in the media are often accused of sensationalism and, “clickbait,” and I, of course, am no exception. We’ve all heard the supposed cliches: “If it bleeds, it leads,” and “Facts and truth don’t sell newspapers.”

One thing that’s important for me to get across is that NRI NOW’s editorial content doesn’t, “sell” anything. We aim to inform you, to continue to grow our readership and to be a valued source of information about your community. We hope that with continued reliability, more businesses also come to rely on us for their advertising with the understanding that we are followed by a large audience of their potential customers. (It’s far larger than you might imagine, by the way, considering how localized and “new,” we actually are.) But no one pays us to write articles, and we would not accept funds to do so. That’s just not how real journalism works.

When we write is a controversial story, it also does not necessarily serve the goal of earning a living. We utilize Google Adsense for national advertising, and they provide all of the ads you see on this website that are not from local businesses or organizations. With Google, we get paid by “clicks,” yes, but that funding is a tiny portion of our revenue, at just pennies per thousands of views.

The majority of our revenue comes from local advertising, and historically, for obvious reasons, local businesses do not wish to be associated with controversy. I have worked for both online and conventional news sources and believe me, for journalists, there is always an unspoken pressure that comes from the profit motive and the desire not to alienate potential advertisers. That may not have always been the case back in the day, when newsboys would yell out headlines from the village square and subscriptions were a main source of income, but times have changed. Nowadays, the pressure in, “print,” is not so much to write a sensationalized story that everyone will read, but rather, to whitewash the news so as not to make enemies who might work against that desire for cash.

It’s a motive that I, as publisher and editor of this news source, am not always particularly good at. In addition to not shying away from controversy, you will sometimes find, here on this webpage, stories on local government that are informative and important, but not particularly exciting. And it turns out it is neither scandal nor detailed, informative pieces, but rather, pictures of kids and pets that are considered most profitable and “advertiser-friendly.” We publish those too, but my main motivation has always been to tell the truth and to educate. I was that 90s teenager who dreamed of changing the world by exposing wrongdoing, and educating people to enable them to rise up against injustice, or take action in their local government.

That was a long time ago, but in many ways, it is still my foundation. It is tempered, now, with knowledge of how the world works and the understanding the most issues are complex, and that every story has two sides. But there, underneath the bits of business savvy and wisdom I’ve acquired over the years, is that passionate young writer with the desire to stand up against injustice and to tell the truth at all costs, money be damned.

(See paid ad below, placed here for ironic effect but also, to get the word out about a local opportunity…)

And so, when I publish a story that is potentially damaging to someone’s reputation it is not just for, “clicks,” and my decisions are never made without consideration of fairness, whether or not something is truly newsworthy and if it is, at least in some way, serving of the public good. I believe in the importance of local news and the public’s right to know what happens with their money, their community and their elected and appointed leaders, whether or not my decisions are always popular. Contrary to what some seem to believe, businesses do not come in droves to line my pockets with cash when I publish less-than-flattering information about a beloved local figure.

I promise to continue to do that anyway, when I believe it serves a purpose, and to keep you informed, entertained and engaged to the best of my ability. My mission is to provide knowledge you might not get elsewhere that helps enable you to make decisions, and to be an active participant in your community and government.

I won’t always be perfect, and you won’t always agree with my judgement calls. But I hope, at the end of the day, you still walk away with something of value, and that we continue to be a resource.

Sandy Hall

Sandy Hall is the publisher and founder of NRI NOW.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Keep up the good work of informing the local public on things happening in Northern RI. I real like the articles related to the political issues and meeting votes. The website and articles are a real eye opener to some of the waste in taxpayer dollars. Keep up the good work.

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