Separating the Big Stories From the Little

May 28, 2008 at 10:01 pm

In an interesting piece of candid self admittance, John Harris from the Politico, provides an interesting glimpse of how the media operates.

Politico’s editors are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build this traffic is to get links from other websites.

The way to get links from other sites is to be first with the news that drives the day’s conversation.

As my friend who works in the industry explains it, you generate linkbait.

Linkbait, in nice terms, is content that is interesting enough to grab someone’s attention. Often, in the political arena, this is something that generates controversy.


  • The Reverend Wright’s comments
  • Hillary Clinton mentioning Bobby Kennedy’s assassination
  • HRC and the “sniper fire” Bosnia story

Meanwhile, major stories such as the War in Iraq draw disproportionately small coverage because they require much work by investigative reporters and may not generate the “buzz” in links.

For example, the recent story about $15 billion of unaccounted for funds in the Iraq War that received nowhere near the coverage as Hillary’s Bobby Kennedy comment.

In the book How to Lie With Statistics, Darrell Huff talks about proportionality. By changing the scale on a graph, you can make a little change seem like a lot.

Likewise, if our media gives more attention to the trivial, they can make it seem bigger than it really is.

If the news media is not going to make this separation, what used to be their job, we need to work harder to separate the big stories from the trivial.