I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that most of you have never heard of a PPM, and few of you have spent much time thinking about page views. So allow me to explain the two in terms we all understand: They're report cards. Radio uses a PPM (Portable People Meter) to gauge success, while newspapers (among other media) base much of theirs on page views. As I reported on radio's switch from a "diary" system of audience tracking to the PPM (see "The Meter's Running" in the July issue of Reverb Monthly, out today) and how it's changed the way success is measured, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was writing about the way newspapers have adapted to the Internet era, and our business' own concepts of success and sustainability.
In the old days, newspapers were printed and editors assumed they knew what readers read. Meanwhile, DJs spun records and stations thought they knew who was listening and when. Yet our modern-day report cards tell us these highly presumptive methodologies were wrong.Radio programmers now know that they get higher marks when they favor familiar records, even if it means some of their favorite bands get left behind. Newspaper professionals know that celebrity gossip, scandal, crime, extreme weather, and lists keep the page views coming, even if it means some important smaller stories get left uncovered (to be fair, dramatic staff reductions have contributed to this phenomenon). So should we both be giving our customers more of what our report cards say they want?
"A combination of art and science" is the way longtime radio programmer Chris Mays says she approaches her job. That's also a good way to explain how editors and reporters approach theirs: mixing a balance of what's popular with as much of what's important as possible. But like our colleagues in radio, when we need a bump in our grades, we reach for what we know works: the familiar, the hits, the lists.
Are we Dumpster-diving, or giving our audience what it really wants? The answer is somewhat irrelevant: Page views and the PPM don't recognize the difference.