Testing The Waters For Journalists'​ Flexible Compensation: The More Clicks, The More Bonus

Author:Dr. Thomas Rihm
Profession:Rihm Attorneys

One of the leading media houses in Switzerland, the Tamedia Group, is testing since February of this year a new compensation model for part of its online journalists (about 30 for the time being): these authors shall get a bonus of some hundred Swiss francs per quarter for the most clicked (actually not read) articles, whereby team written articles shall also benefit.

In addition to this, the journalist with the highest number of clicks is paid 800 francs per trimester, whilst CHF 500 and CHF 300 are paid to the journalist coming in as second and third. Entire teams will benefit from a bonus of CHF 1'500 if they were able to increase the total number of clicks compared with the previous month.

"Online journalists could be tempted to put up lurid headlines or selecting shrill content in order to drive up clicks." With these monetarian incentives, the Tamedia Group intends to motivate its online journalists to make "dry news agency releases" more attractive for its readers. These journalists should be motivated to present somewhat bulky but important news materials in such a way that readers (or actually clickers) perceive it better and recognize its significance. The drawbacks of this new compensation are obvious: online journalists might be tempted to think short term by e.g. putting up lurid headlines or selecting shrill content that just boost the clicks.

Comparable models payment models have been practised since quite some time in the United States and Europe. There, different media groups have developed performance-oriented pay models over the past few years. The Gawker website, which had recently been discontinued due to an expensive legal dispute, paid to so-called recruits USD 5 per 1'000 visits, so some of these recruits were able to attract up to 1,25 mio. clicks. The recruits were obligated to comply with the publishing guidelines of the website, and not only to go for a short-term maximization of visitors' traffic.

"There is only little research on the consequences of "performance-based" wage models for online journalists." Two years ago, the stock...

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