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Horrible Bosses in Atlantis: How Google governs the news

Coming soon to FCW: An article about how Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers won't have opportunity to defend his home run contest record, in which he sent balls nearly the size of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches into orbit like a shuttle launch, to be lost in the abyss like horrible bosses drowned in Atlantis near Aruba -- where Warren Buffett vacations -- but far from south Sudan.

OK, not really. But this is what headline writers and editors have to think about these days, as search engine optimization becomes an increasingly important aspect of online journalism.

The lead paragraph of this entry weaves together the top trending terms on Google for today. The terms change daily, and every morning editors check them to see if there are any they can incorporate into the day's coverage. Some publications have more flexibility than others -- the Washington Post can justify writing an article about the movie "Horrible Bosses" more easily than FCW can -- but, candidly, we're all concerned about it.

Of course, journalism has always had an element of crowd-pleasing to it. Celebrity magazines and tabloid TV existed long before IT made it easier to measure the degree of interest in various topics. But ideally, journalism is more directly driven by editorial judgment about the information that people actually need, information that's important and relevant.

It's an ideal that too often seems very far from reality, especially when purportedly serious news outlets such as CNN are preoccupied with a sensational trial or the peccadilloes of a drug-addled actor. The nightly partisan shouting matches that dominate some of the cable "news" channels are theater, not journalism. And yet it's an ideal that most of us in the profession still strive to fulfill.

Our reality dictates that we must pay attention to Google's trending topics, while at the same time, we try to stay true to our mission of delivering news that's important and relevant to our audience -- the federal IT community and, more broadly, the federal workforce. We're interested in your thoughts on how we're doing and where we could improve, or any other comments you have on journalism as it's practiced today. Tell us what you think.

Posted on Jul 08, 2011 at 12:18 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Jul 15, 2011 Dave

So, did the post get more hits than your average short article? That would help determine whether those "trending" terms alone make a difference. In my own blog, I've been very surprised what has driven hits. One of my biggest was about an obituary (if you searched for Reginald Augustine, my blog was #2). The other respondent today obviously missed the point!

Fri, Jul 15, 2011 Dave

So did you get more clicks on this with all the trending terms or was it about average? That might tell us whether it's true or not. (Todays other respondent obviously missed the point.)

Fri, Jul 15, 2011

I think you've discovered the difference between white-hat and black-hat SEO. You traded on a respected name (FCW) but used nefarious tactics (a headline that has nothing to do with the article). Now that I associate FCW with this sort of rubbish, I'll be less likely to click on your articles.

Tue, Jul 12, 2011 Raymond

It seems to me that trending search terms are irrelevant to journalism, for what trends also tends to be the current news. Admittedly, sometimes trending produces weird results (as you just mentioned) but usually, the current news topics are indeed what trend. What concerns me most is to keep on track, whether I've a realistic chance at Gov't contracts or not (my business is so tiny it's useless to even speculate about chances most of the time) but I keep

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