Does Gawker have it right? Performance pay in action

April 2, 2012

Katie O'Brien

Listen to A.J. Daulerio and Karen Cates talk performance pay


 

What’s the fairest way to pay employees? Seniority? Commission? Productivity?

In the world of Web journalism, pageviews are king. So what better way to show a writers worth than to pay them based on exactly how much worth they're delivering a website?

For years, gossip news Goliath Gawker has been persuading peepers to visit the site with clever headlines, dancing cat videos and snarky banter. The media company valued traffic so much that for a while, writers were paid based on the number of page views a story received. 

In January, new Gawker editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio initiated an exercise wherein a staff writer was assigned to “traffic-whoring” duty each day. The writer was challenged to strategically post stories that would bring in unique viewers. In other words, more mugshots and prank videos, less hard-hitting journalism. The success of Daulerio's experiment was detailed in an extensive piece by Andrew Phelps for Nieman Journalism Lab entitled "I can’t stop reading this analysis of Gawker’s editorial strategy."

But as Eight Forty-Eight found out, pageviews aren’t the only thing Daulerio cares about—the former Deadspin writer hopes for a healthy balance of traffic-whoring and thoughtful, original content. We talked with Daulerio, as well as Karen Cates from the Kellogg School of Management, to figure out exactly how performance pay works -- and whether its worth it.

Daulerio said he thinks a traditional model where a blogger gets paid a set rate every month to do a certain number of articles is "a little antiquated."

"It really wears you down, after a while. Because there is tedium," he said, for writers trying to hit a quota of stories when they aren't inspired to write that many.

"I’m going to pay the person who spends two weeks really reporting out a story," Daulerio said. "And that story may not have yielded the same results as the cat video one, but you know, I just want people to know that they’re going to be paid for their effort more than they’re going to be paid for their results."