What’s Gone Horribly Wrong At the Oregonian? Internal Documents Shed Some Light

Oregonian Publisher N. Christian Anderson IIILast year, the Oregonian marked its lurch into the 21st Century by cutting delivery down to three (or is it four?) days a week, and laying off more than 100 staffers. Veteran journalists, each with decades of experience, were shown the door—later to be replaced by newbie reporters with little knowledge of their beat.

This was all part of the newspaper’s new “digital-first” approach, with efforts concentrated on delivering content through Oregonlive.com (and the unintentionally NSFW-sounding MyDigitialO.com).

In the months that have followed, online readers have started being inundated with post after post of surface-level click-bait: Instead of in-depth reporting or investigative journalism, we see a never-ending parade of “polls,” inflammatory questions designed to drive equally inflammatory online comments, and posts composed entirely of the most inflammatory comments from previous posts.

The results have been pretty clear—in many cases, reporters are often seen practically begging for comments on their articles.

Now, we have a better idea of why.

Internal Docs Paint a Bleak Picture

Willamette Week has gotten hold of some internal documents outlining the new compensation performance review structure at the Oregonian. It’s depressing.

Rather than being rewarded for the quality or relevance of their work, reporters will now be compensated based on how many posts they publish on a daily basis… and potentially how many comments and clicks they get.

The new policy, shown to the editorial staff in a PowerPoint presentation in late February, provides that as much as 75 percent of reporters’ job performance will be based on measurable web-based metrics, including how often they post to Oregonlive.com.

Beat reporters will be expected to post at least three times a day, and all reporters are expected to increase their average number of posts by 40 percent over the next year.

In addition, reporters have been told to stir up online conversations among readers.

“On any post of substance, reporter will post the first comment,” the policy says. “Beat reporters [are to] solicit ideas and feedback through posts, polls and comments on a daily basis.”

“’”Bummed out” wouldn’t begin to describe it,’ one reporter tells WW.”

In short: The newsroom has been transformed into a factory floor, cranking out blog posts like cheap trinkets. Even worse, the model specifically incentivizes reporters to troll their readers for comments. If you think the current Oregonlive comments section is a hotbed of anonymous, disrespectful trolls, what do you think will happen when a reporter’s pay is based on how much they can rile up these commenters?

If you want to see some clear examples of the Oregonian’s new policies in action, head on over to their PolitiFact arm. Reporter Dana Tims has been trying to drum up comments on his recent posts, asking for feedback on which “facts” should get “checked.”

In one case, he’s even asking for readers’ opinions on a fact that he hadn’t even checked yet: Whether public school students are allowed to skip math class in order to go to religious classes.

Instead of investigating real claims that matter, PolitiFact is now crowdsourcing opinions about facts they may check in the future.

It’s all part of the Oregonian’s brave new approach to journalism: Focus on clicks, quantity of comments, and web traffic. And if there’s time, think about reporting on the stories that actually matter to people’s lives.

For more on this story, check out Willamette Week‘s news story from this week’s paper.

3 Responses to “What’s Gone Horribly Wrong At the Oregonian? Internal Documents Shed Some Light”

  1. Exe

    Kate Brown has erected huge brriaers to grass-roots use of Oregon’s initiative process. Her adoption of ridiculous Mickey-Mouse and unnecessary clerical requirements means that her office discards a large portion of volunteer-collected signatures and over 40% of all voter signatures. Under her rules, with very few exceptions, only big corporations and unions have enough money (about $500,000) to put a measure on the Oregon ballot.The Result: In 2000-02, pre-Bradbury/Brown, there were 13 progressive measures on the Oregon ballot, including guaranteed school funding, banning profits on dead utility plants; elderly home health care services; background checks for buying guns at gun shows; single-payer health care system; nation’s highest minimum wage; and required labeling of GMO foods.In 2008-10, with the brriaers in place, there was a grand total of 1 progressive measure on the Oregon ballot (governing medical use of marijuana).While Kate Brown’s arbitrary directives result in throwing out nearly half of all voter signatures on statewide petitions in Oregon, the average signature validity rate over in Washington remains at about 85%. Is that because of fraud in the Washington system? No, it is because Kate Brown has discarded hundreds of thousands of valid Oregon voter signatures, making it very difficult to qualify measures for the ballot and thus enhancing the power of the lobbyists and her other big funders.Kate Brown claims the highest grade from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which is a private, union-funded organization, the same unions that fund Kate Brown’s campaigns.

  2. Daniel

    What a great article on the FRONT page of the Oregonian! Tracy you are aaywls in our prayers and on our minds! You are amazing and Dan you are totally awesome! The postings make us feel like we are there with you and your family. We hope to see the Ellerbroek family sometime in the near future. Take Care and stay strong! Roger & Debbie

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