At last Wednesday's weekly staff meeting at the New York Observer, an old-fashioned paper memo was distributed; it was not sent out by email. It explained a new trial incentive program for reporters, to begin immediately. A bonus pool-of money-had been set aside, and, beginning immediately, it would be dispersed to the staff as incentives for web popularity and web traffic.
The memo explained the intricate system, clearly the product of much labor.
There are five categories, each with their own cash bonus, and each category will have a first and a second place award each month. The trial period is for May, June and July.
The categories are:
- Number of posts
- New Twitter followers
- Number of comments
- External pickups
So many ways to win.
The first place will pay $500. The second place will pay $300. There is a $2500 cap per employee in total awards. This means that one employee can sweep each month; but also there is a caveat that the same employee cannot win in consecutive months (questions of fairness versus merit-capitalism!-were clearly considered).
There were more caveats; for instance, web-only employees were not eligible.
The memo also contained tips for winning in each category.
The tips for "pageviews" included using Google Trends and Twitter and other web tools to see "what's buzzing" on the web, so as to write about more popular things, and also it was suggested for writers to link back to previous stories, and also to use social media to promote their stories. (The paper already employs an "audience development manager.")
Tips for "highest number of posts" included that, in addition to original reporting, employees might also write more posts, to offer commentary on important stories around the web in their beat.
Tips for getting Twitter followers included encouraging readers to "follow" the writer at the end of his or her posts-and also to "tweet" regularly.
Tips for the highest number of comments were: that reporters should consider ending their items with "conversation starters," and questions to the reader-and also, to consider writing items that ask the readers to make suggestions. Also, it was recommended that writers respond to comments.
Tips for getting stories "picked up" by other blogs include developing a list of bloggers and reaching out to them about stories.
Annualized, the bonus pool of $48,000 could hire two extremely junior reporters with no benefits or a single rather senior one.
The 23-year-old weekly paper has been majority-owned by Jared Kushner since 2006. A new editor, Kyle Pope, was announced in November, 2009; a new executive editor was installed shortly thereafter, and a new managing web editor was hired this February.