It’s probably too soon to call time-of-death for online journalism. But the obsession with writing for search engines in mind has destructive implications for the industry.
In traditional newsrooms, reporters were judged on their ability to come up with compelling and important stories — stuff that may have been niche, but deemed crucial for the audience.
In many of today’s online newsrooms, writing “niche” without a broader sensitivity to search trends and page views could kill your career. How effective are you if you’re not producing, say, 50,000 page views a day?
If it’s not good enough for search engines, it’s not good enough for your career. Ouch. If you’re a freelance writer trying to make a name for yourself, the odds are even higher as you compete with every man and his dog (oddly enough, there are the occasional pets who ghost-write for their owners!). If success is spelled out in page views and SEO, does it matter if you’re producing something of real value?
So is there a way around this? Former FT journo Tom Foremski writes:
The dirty little secret of journalism’s focus on pageviews is that the value of each page view is decreasing, because there is so much competition for views. This means its a strategy that will likely lead to failure. Media organizations need to adopt a multi-revenue business model, or what I call a Heinz 57 model.
But let’s ask the right question here: Do online consumers care?