Category: News

SEO: Changing the way we write?

Are the SEO experts of the world killing the witty headline?

The Poynter Institute certainly seems to think so. In a review of an article from The Atlantic, Jim Romanesko talks about how copy editors are fighting back.

You might file this one under “things only journalists (and newspaper junkies) care about,” but there is something to be said for a clever headline in some situations. Features and second-day stories might even benefit from interesting headlines.

But for routine news, SEO headlines may be not only good for the Google Bot, but also for readers. While it’s true that “(name) dead at (age)” is not the most attractive headline, it does give the user a good idea of what the article is going to tell them, something not all newspaper headlines can claim.

As a news consumer, there is nothing more frustrating than clicking on an interesting headline only to read a totally uninteresting story, or clicking on a headline that promises one thing only to get a story that delivers something entirely different.

The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten eulogized the end of the clever head, claiming that the Post’s SEO policy was taking away the only creativity that copy editors had left. (This might not be such a problem anymore, given that the Post and other papers have eliminated a lot of copy editing positions in the past few years).

Love it or hate it, SEO is here to stay. Outspoken Media would like journalists to just stop whining already and embrace the power of Google’s algorithm over our lives. And the Neiman Lab reported that journalists are increasingly being asked to include search engine optimized terms in their lede paragraph, so it’s not only the headline that’s suffering.

For print journalists, it may be hard to let go of the puns and innuendo that populated headlines past, but in a world where the most coveted position in the newsroom is at the top of the Google search results, it seems it’s a necessary sacrifice.

At least until the Google Bot gets a sense of humor.

Why didn’t I think of that?

From the students at the Columbia School of Journalism comes this insightful and interesting project on the future of journalism. Fast Forward News is the culmination of an idea dreamed up by 18 graduate students in a video journalism class and features interviews with industry leaders of the past and future.

I’m loving this project for three reasons. One, I, too am a graduate journalism student, although one at that other J-school. Two, I’m looking pretty carefully at the future of news since I’m soon-to-be over-educated and unemployed and because I subscribe to the notion that journalism is not slowly dying, but instead is in a period of great transition.

Which leads us to the third reason: This is something we should be doing at Medill. Yes, it’s self-serving and self-promoting. No one likes videos about journalists more than… other journalists. But it’s also an important look at how the industry is changing. And it’s an important message about how the great divisions between newspapers, magazines, broadcast, and online journalism are falling away.

In my classes this quarter, we’re talking a lot about how the audience is changing both how much news they consume and how they consume it. We’re even talking about how previous ideas on audience are themselves changing. But what we’re lacking is a full discussion of what we can be doing to change with our audience, and that is where this Columbia project comes in. An innovative and easily accessible look at the changing world of media is just what I need to round it out. And it wouldn’t hurt to get picked up by Romanesko.

The most important news of the century, brought to you by Twitter

This post was adapted from a news analysis assignment in a class called “Building Networked Audiences”

When news started to slip out around 9pm ET on Sunday night that the President was making a big announcement regarding National Security, speculation was the game of the hour.  At first, people were assuming the big speech was to be on Libya, given that, about 24 hours earlier, the U.S. had announced that they killed Ghaddafi’s son in a mortar attack on the compound.

As the minutes wore on, key White House staff began to leak small details.  “Not on Libya” was the first word from journalists inside the press room.  Speculation then turned towards the “other war,” a war we used to call “the forgotten war” at internal meetings at my old job.  Could it be Afghanistan?

And then, like so many key aides before him, the leak came.  Donald Rumsfeld’s current chief of staff, Keith Urbahn, confirmed that he had heard “from a reputable source” that Osama Bin Laden was dead.

Nothing about this story, from the earliest speculation to the final, crucial leak, is unusual in Washington circles, except that all of this unfolded primarily on Twitter.

As the television networks scrambled to get a signal from the White House, reporters and producers tweeted out details they were hearing.  The TV networks, with the anchors in newsrooms in New York or Washington, then repeated the tweets, fueling the cycle.  The frenzy was aided by the fact that the Presidential announcement, originally intended for 10:30pm ET, actually took place closer to midnight on the East Coast, and so, network anchors had some time to fill.

On Monday, a poll asked readers “Where did you find out?” The response was clear.  Over 53 percent of the 19,900 responses were social media sources Facebook, Twitter, and Instant Messaging. created a nifty interactive timeline of the some significant tweets last night, showing how the information spread from one key source through major news and opinion sites.  Twitter today reported that Sunday night’s announcement was the highest sustained activity ever seen on the micro-blogging site.

I was one of the people who found out on Twitter.  Because I used to work in Washington, I follow many of the DC Journalists that were at the White House last night when things began to stir.  In the coming days and weeks, I expect to hear many stories about where people were and what they were doing when they found out.  I expect many of those stories to include the social media that we all increasingly rely on for up-to-the minute developing stories.

I, for one, did my part, retweeting and posting to facebook as much information from as many reputable sources as I could gather.   The real news here is how one man, Keith Urbahn, who has less than 7,000 followers can become a celebrity overnight through reblogging and retweeting from his followers to their much larger networks.

Canadians’ tweets could violate 1930s law

This post was adapted from a news analysis assignment in a class called “Building Networked Audiences”

Elections Canada, the non-partisan agency that conducts Canadian elections, has announced that it plans to enforce a ban on tweets about election results based on a provision in a 1930s election law designed to prevent news agencies from announcing results before all polls are closed.

The penalty for the 140-character offense? Up to $25,000 or 5 years in prison, according to The original intent of the law was to prevent radio stations on the east coast from influencing voter turnout on the west coast, where polls close up to 4 and a half hours later.

Ottawa Citizen’s political commentator Kathryn Marshall questions the necessity of characterizing tweets and Facebook statuses as broadcasts. Does it matter, she asks, if the Facebook poster in question has 10 friends or 1,000? She notes that the “twitterverse” is planning a “tweet-in” of election results in protest.

Of course, in the U.S., with our First Amendment protections, no such law could hold water. And, yet, major broadcasters have long had a gentlemen’s agreement not to “call” a race until after all of the polls are closed. In presidential races, this has the effect of there being no clear winner until sometime after 9 p.m. Eastern Time. The idea is that if a news network in New York starts telling people in California that one candidate has won quite a few eastern states, those voters in California may be less interested in voting.

I’m not sure that me tweeting out 140-characters about voter turnout in Chillicothe, Ohio, has the same effect.

Besides the obvious free speech argument, Elections Canada has admitted that it is impossible to uniformly enforce this law with the resources that they have. Not being particularly familiar with the Canadian election system, it is hard for me to imagine that anyone would have any reliable information about winners and losers that doesn’t have access to a massive polling organization, like the Associated Press does here in the United States during our elections. Assuming that Canadian journalists work within the same ethical framework as American journalists, what exactly are they afraid people will announce?

Unfortunately, I can imagine that there are political strategists out there trying to figure out how and what to tweet on May 2nd to either encourage or discourage western province voters from going to the polls.

The issue of Twitter and the Canadian election may seem like a parody of the web age, but it does bring important questions to mind. Who is controlling the news now, and to what end?

In an age before twitter and Facebook, mainstream news organizations could collude together to keep a story out of the press. This was sometimes used for political reasons, but more often was used for valid reasons, such as the safety of journalists in war zones. Now that the mainstream media has lost this option, there are conceivably things that will get out that maybe shouldn’t have. Is this a necessary evil of a democratic World Wide Web? What are the alternatives?