Chasing Clicks and Staying Ethical at The Boston Globe?

I recently opined in class on the news coverage in the Boston Globe of Tom Brady, the emails he had to fork over, and the lawsuit he is facing. I'm not an avid football/Patriots fan nor do I take a stance or pay enough attention to Deflategate to get into meaningful details. I saw the title one morning and clicked. Reading through the first few paragraphs I stopped after reading this:

Brady doesn’t provide a smoking gun as far as having any knowledge of a scheme to deflate footballs, and all sensitive information was redacted.
— "E-mails open a window into the life of Tom Brady," The Boston Globe

The article continued on to divulge in the minutiae of Brady's personal life. So what was the journalistic purpose of this article?  He handed over his phone and while his emails provided no insight into the controversy, we find information about his life - then the Globe published those details. It was surprising to have stumbled into entertainment news, and even more shocked that I fell for the click bait. I read The Globe for good journalism, not for good entertainment. I wondered why I clicked, why it was in The Globe, and how it could be one of the most read stories that morning? Is The Globe trying to bring good entertainment while bringing good journalism? 

The Online News Association recently recognized the newspaper with "General Excellence in Online Journalism" for large organizations from around the world. There was another big announcement from leadership this week about buyouts as part of the news organization's transition to become digitally-focused. Editor Brian McGrory stated his intent was to hire staff who are "multiplatform editors" and those who are digital natives. Fewer people will be doing more work that spans from reporting, social media, web editing, and I wouldn't be surprised if video is included - though it wasn't mentioned.

These pieces of information had me wondering if stories like insights into Tom Brady's personal life will become ubiquitous across the website? At this writing, the Top Trending Article (you know, in the right side bar?) is "Page six report: Christine Ouzounian joined Ben Affleck and Tom Brady in Vegas." It's a brief article summarizing the story with links to The New York Post and Us Weekly. 

I can't blame an organization for trying to increase their SEO. It's got the keywords and backlinks that one would want for someone to click, like myself. And yet, The Globe is receiving some angry and disappointed feedback from readers. 

The move to become more digitally-focused is out of necessity and I think The Globe may be one of the few well-respected news organizations bold enough, and in a good enough financial position, to make this move. However, chasing the clicks muddies the ethics of good journalism. If the purpose of airing out Brady's emails was for clicks, how can readers expect to get to other stories, not at the top of the trending list, that had journalistic purpose and value? 

What is a bit scary from my perspective is that I would absolutely love to write for The Globe someday. I am a digital native and have spent the early part of my career building skills across platforms on web and social. I would like to write good journalism, and be respected for all the ethical principles we've discussed in class. But my baseline experience, however, is to increase web traffic and use words that get clicks. Can a journalist or an organization remain ethical and follow the journalistic purpose of a story, thereby gaining respect, while also increasing clicks? 

Emily Turner1 Comment