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Miley vs Syria: how far should websites go to attract more traffic?


It was a refreshing breath of honesty. Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN.com, explained in a blog why they had made Miley Cyrus’s racy performance at the VMAs the website’s top story. It was not, she said, because Miley’s suggestive dancing was the most important story in the world that day, but rather because they thought it would drive more traffic to the website.

Her honesty was very much appreciated. Within days the blog notched up more than 375,000 likes on Facebook.

Unfortunately, her candid blog was not only original, but also, well, untrue. It was penned by satirical website the Onion and Artley quickly denied on Twitter that she was the author of the text.

Still, it raises important questions about how far a website should go to attract visitors. Is it ever justified to dumb down your content to get more people to discover what you have to offer? Was CNN right to highlight Miley’s performance rather than the situation in Syria? Should the European Parliament be writing more about the antics of former child stars?

I don’t think Parliament will be going down the celebrity route just yet. A stunt like that might work once, for all the wrong reasons. If visitors are interested in twerking, they will not stick around to find out more about the intricacies of the multi-annual framework.

Rather than pandering to some trivial interests, websites are better off focussing on what they want to tell and aiming to tell it well. It should be about pulling people up, not dragging them down.

Photo copyright Jeremiah Vandermeer


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