Public Editor

Too fluffy or out of touch? Which is it?

I’ve been struck by the increasing negativity of the feedback I’m getting, particularly in social media channels, and how it’s in an almost directly inverse relationship to what readership data reveals.

Take a look at the top 10 most-read stories on right now. As if this writing, not a single one is what I think anyone would classify as “hard news.” In fact, they’re all about crime, sex, sports, or a handful of “talker” topics that other sites all around the Web are aggregating today.

Yet as popular as these stories are, I’m also reading tons of voices criticizing’s editors for running them. Not news, according to a lot of people.

Obviously, I’m far from the first person to notice this discrepancy. And it’s the topic of an upcoming column in the print edition Monday.

But here’s my question: Are those screaming about the fluff actually clicking on the meat and potatoes news on the site? If you don’t think the continued buzz about the rodeo clown’s Obama-mocking stunt or a Taco Bell restaurant remodel are important, why are so many people talking about them?

It’s a circular argument — the essence of chicken and egg. And while I do absolutely agree that too much frivolity threatens to crowd out any media source’s reputation for serious journalism, this is one place where the print edition and its much more traditional, sober news judgment must continue to uphold standards that the Web just can’t attain.

I often think back on years ago when the liberal commentary site

did a major overhaul of its design. It led that day with a story about Britney Spears, who was in the throes of some obvious personal problems. The editors remarked the next day that among all the complaints about the (long-since abandoned) redesign, the ultimately superfluous Spears story was among the most popular items it had published in recent memory. And this is a site with ostensibly a readership very different from that of the gossip and teen-oriented music sites.

Is there a way for serious-minded journalism to triumph? I think we all have to be real here: Reporting requires resources, and nobody can clap his hands and make it profitable just because he wishes it to be so. How can the important news generate the necessary income on its own online without the fluff? Nobody I’ve seen has cracked that code.