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How Many People Really Read Wonkette?

Things are looking way up at Wonkette, this according to Wonkette. If you’re familiar with the site, then you probably already know where this story is going.

In a recent profile of Wonkette’s publisher Rebecca Schoenkopf, Politico’s Patrick Gavin wrote that Schoenkopf told him Wonkette has “done just great” over the last year, her first as owner and publisher. “‘Things are awesome,’ said Schoenkopf, who puts her traffic based on internal metrics at around a half-million unique visitors a month,” Gavin wrote.

But in reality, you might not think things are so awesome, considering that’s a 50 percent drop from what she was telling Dame Magazine just two months earlier. “‘Since Schoenkopf took over Wonkette in March 2012, all the important numbers are up – ‘traffic’s up 65% on last year, we’re getting a million unique visitors a month, and 3.7 million page views,’” Dame’s Sanjiv Bhattacharya wrote in April, quoting Schoenkopf.

We don’t have access to Wonkette’s internal metrics, but we do have access to publicly-available real ones. Wonkette uses Quantcast, a direct audience-measurement firm for websites that advertisers sometimes rely on when they want accurate and unbiased traffic stats instead of wildly inflated ones seemingly plucked from the air by wayward publishers. The site’s numbers—again, directly measured by a snippet of code pasted into the pages of Wonkette—paint a far different picture than the one Schoenkopf has sold to two different reporters.

According to Quantcast, Wonkette has breached the half-million unique visitors mark just a handful of months since the firm began measuring the site’s traffic almost four-and-a-half years ago. Two of those times, predictably, were during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. June 2010 saw another notable spike at around 800,000 unique visitors, almost two years before Schoenkopf purchased the site and became its publisher. Wonkette has not, according to Quantcast, reached the 1,000,000 unique visitors mark Schoenkopf told Dame it was getting just this April and there’s no apparent large uptick in year-over-year traffic, at least not the 65 percent Schoenkopf has claimed. Even if the site had seen such a rise in the last 12 months, the previous 12 were marked by a steady decline in visitors (and, according to what Schoenkopf told Politico, revenue) that began with a widely-decried post in April 2011 about Trig Palin. So, if anything, at best, the site is bouncing back to its usual levels pre-2011. This year so far, Quantcast says Wonkette has averaged about 400,000 unique visitors per month.

There are some innocent explanations for the discrepancies in Schoenkopf’s numbers (though not any that could explain an apparent 50 percent drop as “awesome”). Quantcast data is pretty strict—it cuts out things like visits from web crawlers (Google and Bing, for example) and it doesn’t rely on IP addresses to count visitors. That technique tends to overstate unique traffic because IP addresses can change frequently, leading to duplication. Another possibility is that Wonkette’s Quantcast tags are malfunctioning or inserted into the site improperly. That could explain the most recent month’s data, which shows an almost inexplicable 95 percent drop in web-based traffic.

Wonkette’s Managing Editor, Doktor Zoom, told FishbowlDC that Wonkette relies on Google Analytics for traffic stats and that they had around 750,000 unique visitors in May. He said Schoenkopf is traveling in Chicago and couldn’t respond herself, but that he was able to talk to her on the phone. “She wanted to let you know that she told Dame that it was ‘half a million’ unique visitors, and that they got the number wrong — no decline in traffic,” he said. “Rebecca also asked me to pass on that you are cordially invited to go fuck yourself.”

No one at Wonkette, apparently, felt the need to ask Dame for a correction if Schoenkopf was misquoted. She commented on the article around the time it was published, saying it was “lovely.” We mentioned this in a follow-up email to Wonkette, and about an hour later, Doktor Zoom said he’d spoken to Schoenkopf again. “Rebecca says that yes, she could have corrected Dame and did not, and regrets the lack of a good textual device for indicating that she is rolling her eyes.” He also included a link to an animated, cartoon unicorn with a very sad face. We assume searching for that GIF is what took so long to admit the obvious.

Dame publisher Jennifer Reitman told FishbowlDC she couldn’t immediately get in touch with the editor who wrote the piece, but that she would be very surprised if he misquoted Schoenkopf. She said she planned to update the piece with the lower number, nonetheless.

We’re not all that convinced, though, that accuracy about the site’s traffic is a huge concern for Schoenkopf or most of Wonkette’s previous owners anyway. In a prominent spot above Wonkette’s masthead, there’s a link for advertisers that leads to a page detailing the site’s demographics and visitor stats. The timestamp on it says it hasn’t been updated for more than nine years.

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