How do we pick what gets published on TTAC? It’s a fair question and one which almost never gets asked by anyone. We’re continually asking for new contributions from readers, but our readers tend to be a pretty shy group. Much of what we get from freelancers is a nightmare to edit — there are a few names which equate to “full rewrite” when I see them in my Inbox. Some of the contributions don’t meet my public standards for work-safe content, political slant, and so on.
In the end, however, there’s a little bit of dart-throwing involved. You throw some articles in the trash and you publish others and you hope you’ve made the right choice. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, like today, you thought you didn’t, but you did. They don’t think it be like it is, but it do!
David C. Holzman first pitched me on an in-depth article concerning Irv Gordon’s three-million-mile Volvo a few months ago. Most of online “journalism” consists of repeating existing online sources, usually with the aid of cut-and-paste, but David proposed to do something different; he’ll call and interview the critical people involved, despite the fact that all of them have already been quoted extensively online. Then he planned to assemble a completely new article with new and relevant information on the famous P1800.
To do this, he wanted more money than what we normally pay for articles. I was hesitant to do this, because the content didn’t promise to draw a lot of clicks. Don’t get me wrong; I am obsessed with putting high-quality, hype-and-PR-free, ethically outstanding articles on TTAC’s front page as often as possible. That doesn’t mean there’s a lot of money in the hopper to do so, however. More annoyingly, those articles almost never do the kind of numbers that you could show off to an advertising sales department or senior management. The readers want click-friendly content more than they want to be lectured or taught or even informed. Even if they say they dont. Even if individual readers truthfully don’t. As a group, they want an idealized article which could be summarized as
A Naked Playboy Playmate Drunk-Drove A Diesel Wagon Off A Giant Ramp While The LAPD Gave Chase. What Happened Next Will Touch Your Heart. (NSFW Photos Of Gorgeous Women And Diesel Wagons Inside.)
and if you don’t give it to them, the stats will sag and before you know it, you’re too insignificant for Alexa to rank you. And then, as Bill Paxton says in Aliens, IT’S GAME OVER, MAN!
Measured against that standard, Holzman’s article is yet another Sunday-in-the-NYT kind of piece, a snoozer full of facts and details about metallurgy and vehicle transport and that sort of thing. And sure enough, over the weekend it did the kind of traffic that you’d expect, which is to say, minimal.
“Oh well,” I told myself, “it’s a quality piece and we’re lucky to have it, even if the readers didn’t pounce.” Sometimes that happens. Luckily for us, however, Digg picked it up this morning and the story went through the ceiling, bringing us new readers on a day when we have a strong news and content lineup. As a consequence, our longest and most involved article of the past three or four days is also our biggest hit. How can you complain about a situation like that?