If a person were to read much of the recent discussion about the ways journalists (AKA reporters and columnists) should be compensated, they might walk away believing that performance-based compensation is a foreign concept in today’s news organizations.
Yet as anyone who works in a newsroom and ventures into other parts of their building likely knows, performance-based compensation is actually alive and well. At many newspapers, this approach is used in departments from advertising sales to circulation and even marketing. And where base compensation is not tied to performance, bonuses typically are.
But this is not a simple issue and online reaction really has ranged. I think that some of the negative comments have been in response to the incorrect notion that people are suggesting that base compensation be tied to online performance. I believe this happened because the term salary was often used almost interchangeably with bonus. That aside, I personally found some of the posts convincing and agree with Lucas Grindley that:
“…a bonus system doesn’t hurt anyone. But it might help retain top talent while also increasing page views and audience.”
Given all the passion that has been expressed in blog posts and in comments, it’s clear that this is not an issue most news organizations are likely to reach a consensus on any time soon. I did find it interesting that many if not most of the people who have opined or blogged about this issue currently work in the online side of the news business. While I’m sure that many of these people were “once” reporters and most currently “work” with reporters, I’d be interested in hearing from some actual reporters (what this says about the online habits of reporters, is another issue all together).
With that all said, I would argue that is not a bad idea and more importantly, that there is a place for this type of compensation structure in our newsroom today.
I would suggest that a performance-based compensation plan be applied to current online employees like online producers, online editors and others. Especially given that many newspapers are fond of calling a 1.25% annual pay increase a “raise,” this type of compensation plan could help keep talented technical employees while improving their performance and helping the website grow. As I’ve previously blogged, newspapers need to start thinking like pure-play businesses.
So for example, an online editor would receive a base salary but also a bonus that is tied to increases in page views and unique visitors. If they were to post a story, and push it out to say Fark or Drudge and some local sites, and as a result X number of additional uniques were drawn to the site bringing Y number of additional page views they would receive a bonus. Same thing could be done on the creative side for say a staffer who produces a Flash package or video presentation; reward performance that succeeds online. And this analysis would be easy thanks to all the online data that newspapers collect.
I believe that this is a scenario that could help news organizations grow revenue and improve their site, while rewarding employees and increasing retention. To me that’s a win-win. So what’s left to debate?