Last week, Miley Cyrus was big news.
By DEREK DONOVAN
The Kansas City Star
No wait make that big news. The 20-year-olds performance on the Aug. 25 MTV Music Awards show certainly was the topic that night and the next morning. Her wildly sexual dancing and flesh-colored rubber bikini dominated the morning news shows, news websites and especially Twitter and Facebook from the second she hit the stage.
KansasCity.com posted an item from a staff writer about the former teen stars appearance Sunday night, and it briefly ran in the top spot the next morning. Web editors bumped it down lower on the page before 9 a.m.
Upon reflection, the performance was obviously an orchestrated ploy by the former Disney star to refashion herself as an adult artist. And virtually every media source fighting for clicks in the bloody oceans of online breaking news helped shower the attention she was so clearly seeking upon her.
I doubt anyone would argue seriously that it was a meaningful news item.
Thus the real dilemma for general-interest journalism circa 2013: Intentionally ignore a story that everyone is talking about nonetheless, and you get skewered by the scores of online critics who pick apart everything they see in the professional media. Out of touch! they howl. This is why youre dying!
But if you follow along and publish the fluff in the fleetingly temporal Internet news cycle, you instead draw barbs from the other side. You call this news?!?! they demand. This is why youre dying!
The grand irony is that Cyrus was by far the most popular topic on KansasCity.com that day, and continued to generate traffic through the week.
Its a gross mischaracterization of the site to paint it as nothing but gossip and trash, though. KansasCity.com carries most news content that runs in the print edition, and much more. It also hosts literally thousands of wire stories throughout the week on a wide variety of weighty topics. It focuses on a mixture of hard news, features, sports and other topics, just like print.
Now, that Most Read list thats a different matter. Its generated dynamically by what users are clicking on, and it is obviously influenced heavily by stories that go viral online. Those items about sex, sentimentality, sports and quirky quick-hits get shared, skimmed and quickly forgotten.
Those big spikes of interest drive traffic to websites, even though theyre empty calories. This is something thats worried journalists and serious readers ever since the advent of the web the news equivalent of the popular Choose Your Own Adventure childrens books.
But without delving too deeply into it, those bursts of page views actually have quite a minor effect on the websites bottom line. Generating viral hits isnt the be-all and end-all for The Stars Web editors.
All news organizations, The Star and KansasCity.com included, come in for heavy criticism whether they do or they dont run with the pack. I am with readers who encourage The Star not to follow that pack off a cliff.
Just dont equate the Most Read list with the whole site. There is plenty of real news, and you dont have to look far to find it. And its ever-shifting content is more than a little like Midwest weather: If you dont like it now, just wait around a few minutes.
We all hope the business model can find a way to sustain itself robustly in the future on a diet balancing the cotton candy with broccoli.