Lindsay Lohan Cocaine Stories Don’t Pay

For newspapers online, unemployment, Gulf spill coverage worth more, study says

Lindsay Lohan’s drug troubles may make for sexier headlines, but stories about the unemployment crisis and Gulf spill recovery were worth more for newspapers on the Web.

This, according to an analysis by Perfect Market, a company that helps publishers — including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle — maximize online revenue.

According to its Vault Index, released Monday, here were the “most valuable news topics” for the company's clients this summer:

1.    Unemployment Benefits
2.    Gulf Recovery Jobs
3.    Egg Recall
4.    Gulf Oil Spill
5.    Mortgage Rates
6.    Jobs
7.    Obama
8.    Social Security
9.    Immigration Reform
10.    Proposition 8

“This data proves that serious journalism does pay,” Perfect Market CEO Julie Schoenfeld, said in a release. “The great insight [here] is stories with real revenue opportunity for news organizations today are not always, as it turns out, celebrity scandals but difficult subjects that affect people’s lives.”

To come up with the “value” ranking, the company considered a combination of traffic and advertising revenue data to estimate the top-earning news topics, based on advertising revenue per thousand page views, between June 22 and September 21. Stories about mortgage rates, for instance, delivered RPMs of $93, according to the study. Immigration reform ($26), egg recall ($20) also came in above Ms. Lohan, whose articles netted $2.50.

A few things to note here: TMZ, Perez Hilton and other sites that would likely have increased the value of Lohan coverage were not included among the 21 clients Perfect Market tracked. But it is interesting to note that for newspaper publishers tempted to chase page views with pop culture and scandal stories, the stuff that actually paid more was higher brow fare.

So why don't more online publishers push "hard news" if the "soft" stories like Lohan don't pay? Tim Ruder of Perfect Market tries to explain:

Most news sites aren’t set up to capture the full value that’s out there with respect to immigration (and other very specific news stories) because they rely on sales efforts and strategies that are too broad for individual story targeting – they either sell against a geographic audience (local), broad demographics (men, 18-24) or they sell into broad content categories (national news, sports, etc). And any unsold page views get remnant rate ads at bargain-basement rates. Because none of these approaches captures reader interest or advertiser demand at a more granular level, the value is locked up at that level, inaccessible to publishers. The larger point is that news publishers in particular are not making this revenue calculation of immigration vs. Lohan to begin with, anyway — and they likely won't, from a journalistic ethics The larger point is that news publishers in particular are not making this revenue calculation of immigration vs. Lohan to begin with, anyway — and they likely won't, from a journalistic ethics perspective. So it's news that the topics they see it as their mission to cover are actually producing revenue, as opposed to a common assumption that these stories are loss leaders. There ARE advertisers for these topics, especially when you factor in search advertising.