Selling Your Soul for $124 Per Tweet, and Other Lessons of Digital Journalism

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Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Just in time for summer, the newshounds at the Columbia Journalism Review have dropped a breezy beach read in our laps: a 146-page treatise on the future of digital journalism.

The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism” is a gripping read if you enjoy sentences like “engagement is the unit of monetization." It gets bleaker from there. Apparently, it’s hard to make money online! News editors are chasing page views rather than encouraging loyalty. Online ads and editorial content aren’t linked like they used to be. And basically nobody knows where mobile media is going.

The report has some interesting analysis of the online-news food chain and who reaps the traffic benefits. It includes the saga of Gabriel Sherman’s Intel item back in March about Roger Ailes stepping in to warn Sarah Palin about her impending “blood libel” video — a good scoop that became huge when the Huffington Post shortened and posted it with a new headline on its front page, boosting traffic, ad revenue, and garnering more than 2,000 comments for its aggregative work. (Side note: If HuffPo aggregates this post, it will break the space-time continuum.)

But who needs advertising, even the newfangled SEO-optimized variety, when you can pay regular people to shill your product? The report cites a Florida company, Izea, that pays bloggers and tweeters in cash and travel to write favorable things about participating corporations. A 2010 study priced a “sponsored tweet” from a personal Twitter account at an average of $124 and a “sponsored blog post” at $179 — more than many media company web pages could ever get from display ads.

So what's to replace the once-magical fusion of ad dollars and editorial content that has given us the journalistic world as we know it? The report concludes: "There are many possibilities, but few are likely, on their own, to provide the stream of dollars that advertising and circulation once did."

We’d go on about the dangers of the world's journalistic declines and the porous walls between editorial and business, but frankly, we’d rather spend the afternoon doing something more uplifting.

Like, maybe, drinking Sierra Mist Natural? It is, after all, a refreshing all-natural elixir sweetened with real sugar and no artificial flavors. Goes great with a summer day.