This commentary was originally posted at CauseCast.org.
If you Google the "demise of journalism," some 718,000 results will appear detailing the transition of consumers to the Internet, the decline of advertising revenue, the hacking of newsroom editorial staffs, the artificial knowledge of crowd-sourced information, and the collective threat to intellectualism and civic responsibility. Usually fingers are pointed at culprits from spineless newspaper publishers to free community classifieds on Craigslist to aggregator sites like The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post. What doesn't get enough attention in these conversations, however, is the component that will have the greatest impact on whether the imperative concept of "news judgment" survives the New Media Revolution: search engine optimization.
Last Wednesday marked a major milestone in the future of journalism when two critical events shook up the status quo in the world of search. First, Microsoft and Yahoo! announced a partnership deal that will make the former's new search engine, Bing, the official search function for all Yahoo! sites. Second, and more subtly, Twitter launched a redesign of its home page (be logged out to view) that prominently features search functionality, encouraging users to "share and discover what's happening right now, anywhere in the world" in its new tag line. The emergence of Bing and Twitter mark the first formidable competitors to Google, which until now has monopolized the market on search, and thus the diversity of thought in journalism's Internet era.
If thoughtful citizens used to seek out essential news prioritized for them by experienced editors on the front page of a paper or the home page of a web site or the lead segment of a broadcast, that process has now become more haphazard. The Internet's artificial intelligence does that for us, with and without our input. As personally-compiled RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, selective link surfing and search queries have replaced the traditional entry points to consuming news, the onus of deciding what's important now falls on the individual himself, or in many cases is thrown to the wisdom of the crowd on Digg and Google trends. This means we've all become reliant on Google's algorithm that pulls up search results and determines a story's popularity, and if our favorite, most reliable news outlets aren't up to snuff on 2009's hottest SEO tactics we're likely not going to encounter their important work. It will be lost, buried on the 50th page of search results behind whatever messages an expert in metadata (the keyword language the algorithm speaks) has designed for us.
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