The NewsCut top 10: What we’ve got here is failure to communicate

Every year around this time, like every other news organization that needs to fill up space when there’s little news happening, I try to publish a list of the 10 most read NewsCut posts of the year.

I’m taking a pass this year because I’m not that crazy about 9 of the top 10, reflective, perhaps, of my inability to get out more this year, due to declining health and the difficulty of keeping the blog updated when I’m not in a position to do so.

Like it or not, page views are the coin of the realm for people who need to justify their existence as bloggers.

I miss going out and meeting more people and telling you about them. I miss you giving me a heads-up on what people I should go talk to if I could (which I can’t thanks to deafness).

But here’s the thing: what I enjoy doing most, what gives me the most creative satisfaction as a writer, what makes me convinced that people’s stories are valuable enough to be told, and what makes me excited to get up in the morning … isn’t what you tend to read. Not here, anyway.

Because it’s a blog, most of the posts are actually other people’s creative outlet; my job is to tell you it exists, maybe post a few excerpts, give you the link, and then let you comment to your heart’s content. Nice, maybe, but not particularly fulfilling for a writer. Radio Nowhere: blog version.

Personally, my favorite post this year was this one, followed by this one, and this one, and this one. And I’ll always have a warm spot for this one.

The highest rank of all but one was 60th — this one.

You — and I mean the collective “you” — didn’t agree and this gives me pause for a number of reasons.

A few weeks ago, a colleague posted an article for digital producers that we should stop doing what people don’t want, which makes a lot of sense, I guess. If people don’t read a story I think is worth the time and expense to tell, as judged by whatever measure of “engagement” — as the kids say — happens to be in vogue that day, is it really a story worth telling?

This — and I admit this is an old newsperson yelling at a cloud — troubles me because I think the erosion of audience in matters of journalism is partly because of a disinterest in knowing things we don’t know in favor of the things we do and want confirmed. This is most often the case, of course, with political stories.

In the article my colleague posted, there is this frustrating passage that is clear reality in 2018.

“If we look at the last two years, the amount of anger in the news has boosted our traffic,” Duhigg said, referencing coverage of U.S. President Donald Trump. “It is the most high-arousal emotion on earth and nobody expects they are going to enjoy it. The trouble is the kind of arousal we most dislike when we can anticipate it is anger — the emotion news usually causes.

“If you say to somebody ‘Would you like to be angry?’ they will universally say no. Then they read something on Twitter that makes them outraged, they will share it and read it again and again. We have to find other emotional rewards to deliver something sustainable.”

News media’s historic emphasis on selling their products with an “eat your vegetables” mentality — expecting people to buy because reading the news is “what’s good for you” — lacks this emotional reward. Said Duhigg: “For the health of the nation and the world, the vegetables are important. I am not saying we shouldn’t do vegetables. But for the financial health of our organizations, the rewards are candy. If we’re not taking the vegetables and dipping them in caramel, we’re making some hard choices.”

It’s only natural that news organizations put resources and time in the things you’ll respond to, and who can blame them? It’s a business and it’s no fun being artistically satisfied while being financially bankrupt.

NewsCut remains one of the most popular spots on the MPR News website, but it will finish the year with about 10 percent fewer “page views” than a year ago. And unless something changes, it will record its sixth straight month of declining audience over a year ago, with losses in eight of the 12 months.

I can’t quite figure it out other than a confirmation that blogs are — if not dying — dead. Long live podcasts. Or whatever.

That’s a lot of wordiness to get to the substitute for the top NewsCut posts of the year.

Here is the only original piece of work that made it into the top 10. It finished at No. 3.