The SI.com writer evaluation criteria has been controversial mostly because we do not know precisely what the parameters are by which SI.com evaluates “content beneficial to advertisers.” And we don’t know the weight this criterion, among seven others I think, carries in the overall evaluation of the writer/reporter.

We just don’t know if SI.com is judging the criterion by a definition posted to the ASBPE LinkedIn group site by Dean Celia: “…producing content that engages readers, I am putting more eyeballs on the page (oops, screen)…and that indeed is ‘beneficial to advertisers’.”

Dean’s definition stated above is the way a publisher, an advertiser, a journalist, and a reader could be thinking about the matter. However, in B2B publishing, I would make “usefulness” to the reader a higher priority than “engagement.” Remember we journalists still have the obligation to publish news whether it is useful or engaging to anyone or not. I might use engagement as a “tie-breaker” of sorts.

SI.com’s Response Lacks Integrity in 3 Ways

  1. By being disingenuous (i.e. the SI spokesperson interpreted the “beneficial” criterion as “appeal to the marketplace.”)
    To me, the spokesperson believes “marketplace” is a euphemism for “advertiser,” not the reader.
  2. By seemingly couching the validity of the criterion as part of the new digital journalism environment in which high website traffic is a self-evident positive metric because if you can measure it, it must be valid. Conveniently disregarding the numerous methodological problems with such metrics.
    Also, Time Inc.’s chief content office Norman Pearlstine says: “In a dot-com world, if you’re judging people on audience traffic, one of the qualities of those things is, ‘are you creating traffic for advertisers that you can monetize?” He also says: “Had it gone past me, I would have said, ‘What the fuck is this?’ ”
    You see, Pearlstine doesn’t know HOW SI.com is making the judgments. How is SI.com actually defining “beneficial to advertisers”?
    I don’t know the timing of all this. Was he working at Time Inc. when the evaluation parameters were developed? Are evaluations part of Pearlstine’s responsibility? Would or should it have crossed his desk?
    He should be transparent about it now, and report how the judging parameters are defined. And he should take a hard look at the methodological issues with web metrics.
  3. By leaving it to a “spokesman” to give the company line, rather than the Publisher or even the Editor. Or in this case, Pearlstine, who says he only learned about such criteria when he read about the controversy on Gawker.com (too new to the job?) and blaming the issue on Guild contract negotiations.
    In other words, the Guild can’t be correct because it is in negotiations. Flawed logic.
    Given that the judging parameter exists at all, will Editors now publish nice things about advertisers to increase their job performance rating? The editorial staff will now ask each person mentioned in an article what car they drive, and if that car manufacturer does not advertise on SI.com, mention of the car will be left out.

How To Judge the Writer/Reporter

SI needs to replace “content beneficial to advertisers” with “content that is useful to readers and/or engages them.” Then everyone might be happy, but will SI.com do it? Will they think they’ll lose face if they do it?

I’m rather certain SI.com believes in the criterion exactly as it is now written. And they think we don’t get it, but the commandment for an editor must always be reader-first.

How To Judge the Sales Person

Can we turn the tables? What if we were to judge sales people by their ability to understand the needs of the reader and the usefulness of theadvertiser to the reader, especially a reader who spends money with the publication?

I have participated in surveys asking me to evaluate advertising in a B2B magazine I subscribe to. I downgrade most ads because they do not quickly tell me something useful, actionable, or how-to. I rarely learn anything from the ads, which mostly just make assertions, the same assertions that all the advertisers ever make.

As a reader I simply don’t care about their identity and branding campaigns. Tell me something I can use – how I can make money, how I can save money, be more efficient, increase quality. Where’s the research about your product? Prove it to me.

So why isn’t the sales person advising the advertiser about the type of content that should be included in the ads? Why aren’t THEY, the sales people, better partners with both the reader and the advertiser? Are sales people ever judged on a “beneficial to the reader” basis? Or, by being “a good partner with the advertiser to meet reader needs”?

The Real Solution

These days, one can assume so many editors, especially B2B editors (I have no idea how many), are no longer journalists, that they are marketers or rather “content marketers,” given the pressure from many publishers on editors. Just admit it. Be transparent and get on with it. Tell the public that you are no longer a journalist.

Tell your readers that some of the content in your publication is not journalism. But be honest: Tell the public what is and what is not journalism. Can you be even more honest and tell them why the content is or is not journalism? Educate your reader.

Well, you can’t be honest can you?

If you say you are a content marketer, you’ll be fired because you’re not holding up the fiction of being a journalist. Your publication would lose face.

If you say you are a journalist, you’ll be fired because you’ll tend to not acquiesce to the demands of your sales and marketing people. You’ll no longer be considered a team player.