Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Innovative Solution or Sacrifice of Quality?

A simple glance at any newsstand, and it is immediately apparent that print journalism has taken quite a few blows in its ongoing duel with digital media. The magazines are smaller, the newspapers are thinner, and several publications have been killed off entirely. The transition to online journalism has been a rough one, and magazines and newspapers alike have had to find new ways to bring in money despite a major decline in print readership. Some have decided to produce limited online material, hoping that posting a few quality pieces will keep large audiences coming back. Others have opted to focus on quantity, putting out hundreds of articles each day to draw as many readers as possible.

The newest approach is much more cutting edge, but makes the conventional journalist shake his head in disgust. Recognizing the undeniable power of search engines like Google, news sites have begun to generate content based solely on what can be found at the top of search results. By choosing story topics from a list of some 200,000 frequently searched items, it’s almost guaranteed that the stories will draw numerous page-views, bringing the news site a large return from advertising revenues.

Choosing topics that are relevant to readers’ interests is a key component of good journalism, and it stands to reason that the topics that we most frequently search on the Internet are a perfect reflection of those interests. The larger question lies in the quality of this search-based journalism. An article from The New York Times asks, “How far can a news organization go without undercutting its editorial judgment concerning the presentation, tone and content of news?” Although featuring Justin Bieber’s name in an article could, on one hand, be seen as a marketing device to attract readers to the page, the chance of finding a profound and moving story within the same lines is less than likely.

Using search engine algorithms may be a foolproof way to make money, but the decision that journalists today have to make is whether they’re willing to sacrifice some potentially wonderful stories in favor of those that will receive more mouse clicks.

No comments:

Post a Comment