Best Column

Google's threat to serious journalism

Google has revolutionized the way we read the news, says Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post. But it's up to journalists to keep the keywords from taking over

The "future of serious journalism" is in jeopardy, says Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz. With people now finding their news by searching online "for subjects, and people, in which they're interested" — no longer "patiently turning from national news to Metro to Style to the sports section" — journalists have become slaves to "the Google gods," who demand "the right keywords" be attached to every story. If a headline connects with popular search terms, likely involving celebrities and/or sex scandals, you are likely to enjoy a flood of readers. That is, of course, a primary goal of any publication. But this chase for "hits" is a short-term game with disturbing implications, says Kurtz. An excerpt:

The dilemma goes well beyond headlines to what content to post on your site, and people like me are hardly exempt. If I write about Radar revealing Mel Gibson's abusive calls to his girlfriend, or the coverage of Tiger Woods' multiple mistresses, my traffic will undoubtedly soar above that for a sober report on how nonprofit groups are pursuing investigative reporting. Like most of my colleagues, I try not to let that affect my judgment, but it hangs in the ether...

On a recent Wednesday morning, some Post editors were frustrated that the primary election results weren't garnering many hits -- despite the fact that John McCain had just won his party's nomination and Lisa Murkowski was on the verge of losing hers. What was hot, the traffic directors said, was Elin Nordegren telling People that her life had been "hell" since her husband's sex scandal.

Read the full article at the Washington Post.

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