This Boring Headline Is Written for Google

The first thing that struck me about Steve Lohr’s article “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google” is the irony inherent in the title.  The headline is anything but boring and if someone were to search for articles about Google’s effect on journalism, it comes up pretty quickly – I would know since I searched those terms.  That alone somewhat undermines the author’s point that search indexing has changed what sort of headlines get pushed up in search engines.

I think it’s interesting to read an article from 2006 about how Google and other search engines are shaping how news is consumed.  There’s no mention of social media but the whole idea that algorithms would shape how large swaths of people read the news rather than individual preferences is definitely there. Sometimes I feel as though search engine optimization has been taken to its logical extreme in the form of clickbait that inundates our newsfeeds.

I’m curious about how valid you think some of the author’s concerns are as search engines have become more sophisticated.  At one point, Lohr writes that headlines, which have traditionally been driven by brevity and wit are becoming more route and indexical in nature.  Have you noticed this at all in the articles you read?  Or do you think the advent of social media has pushed against this paradigm?

The author also questions whether search engines will influence the body of an article.  Rather than search engines affecting the content of articles, I think that our shrinking attention spans have.  In my experience, there’s some truth to this.  At the Daily, we’re often told to write in short paragraphs so we don’t lose the attention of the reader.  However, I don’t think we can solely attribute our shorter attention spans to the plethora of information available.  Smartphones constant drawing our attention away from our work has contributed as well.  Do you know of any other effects that Google has had on how we present information?  Also, do you feel as though the author goes into enough detail about how search engine optimization has affected a journalist’s writing?  Finally, if this article were written today, what do you think the author’s main concerns would be and how would you like to see multimedia incorporated into it?

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9 Responses to “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google”

  1. This article is very important to touch upon, especially in the heat of the election. With alt-right conservative newspapers and websites publishing fake news, it brings to light the relationship between the media, the consumer, and click-bait headlines.

    Catalyzed by Google’s search engine optimization, algorithms to produce the best content are also being used through other online streams. Facebook, for instance, encountered many problems with fake news when they got rid of human editors and relied solely on the algorithm. Google’s ideas have spread to various corners of the Internet, and while useful, can also be dangerous.

    Steve Lohr, a technology reporter at NYT, tends to write for audiences who understand these companies and products. He brought up a variety of stakeholders and background information on search engine optimization, but I feel that he did not come to a solid conclusion at the end of the article.

    In 2006, reporters were focusing on the transition from print to digital. Now, they are focusing on maintaining real and factual journalism in the midst of fake news and media scandals. While this article may be outdated, it relates well to current issues.

  2. I have noticed that many websites are using two headlines, one tailored towards humans and one towards search engines. I think that the Detroit Free Press actually touched on this idea during our class trip to their headquarters. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, it’s just another example of how journalists are adapting to the changing news platforms. This is a consequence of rapid advances in technology, and I think other industries besides news agencies are facing similar problems.

    I do wish that Lohr had expanded more on the otherwise that journalists are subjected to the pressures associated with search optimization and such. I wonder if journalists have also changed their writing styles to further enhance their online presence. Additionally, while this article was written in 2006, I think that it still remains extremely relevant. Sure, search engines have improved algorithms, but news agencies still need to think about how to maximize online exposure. The only other thing I have to say is that this article may have benefitted from some graphs rooted in statistics. I just think that might have been interesting and informative.

  3. I have not noticed the transition from concise and clever to more direct in the title of articles. I think that social media strives to shorten titles because they know their users aren’t accustomed to lengthy readings, know what sorts of words will attract readers, and have limited character space. If this article were written today, it would most likely contain the influence of social media as media platforms.

    Google’s strength of having plentiful information accessible in one location has influenced the way journalists write today. In many articles, there are links to other articles and explanations and journalists usually provide brief summaries of definitions that are essential to understand the stories. In this way, Google and journalism are similar because they both attempt to aggregate the necessary information in a single location to make it convenient for readers and also to ensure that the audience continues using their sites.

  4. I completely agree that although the article was published in 2006, it is still extremely relevant today. Although I haven’t noticed it myself, I will definitely be on the lookout now. I think it’s especially interesting that articles will often have two headlines now. I think the author, Steve Lohr, went into the perfect amount of detail explaining the impact of how Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has impact journalists’ writing. The article is published in the New York Times, which has a fairly broad readership base, and I think if he explained too much about how this sort of algorithm works, it would confuse readers. Additionally, I agree with your statement that although SEO has not had a huge impact on the body of articles, modern times that come with major technological changes have shrunken the attention span and focus of readers, leading to new forms of news delivery.

    It would be interesting if Lohr were to write a follow-up article to this now. Perhaps this “headline” phenomenon has gotten even worse since 2006, especially as news continues to move more and more to online as opposed to print platforms. Perhaps he has some insight into how this has continued to evolve over the past decade, some unforeseen consequences, or what is next to come!

  5. I definitely agree that it’s interesting to look back on an article from 10 years ago and see how it still carries a lot of relevance today. Until reading this article, I’d never really thought about news organizations putting two different titles on to articles, and never connected the dots that the more concise, less imaginative title may be made to turn up on a search engine.

    Especially as print journalism gives way to digital outlets it will be interesting to watch how news outlets continue to adjust their marketing strategies to try and grasp online users. I wonder if different social media sights have different algorithms, and if news outlets have to be conscious of how well different headlines will work on various websites. Do you have to think differently about how article with perform on Facebook versus on a search engine?

    I agree with Jenny that it would be interesting to have Lohr write a follow up article to see how he thinks that state of journalism has changed as social media has become such a prominent force.

  6. I think this quote at the end from Larry Kramer is really interesting:

    “And there’s nothing wrong with search engine optimization as long as it doesn’t interfere with news judgment. It shouldn’t, and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t.”

    It resonates with me because it does not make a lot of sense to critique the forced adaptation of journalists to the ways of the internet. The benefits are beyond what a wordy/intellectual title could do to attract readers. I think thats really important to acknowledge. What is interesting though, is that this quote summarizes the huge issue of today, decreased “news judgement,” but is predicting it 10 years ago. Its so relevant that I was actually reading an article yesterday where a more credible news source made a really exciting, click-bait title. The article was actually a lesson on how to be a better consumer of news.

    Does this mean for the past 10 years, news and consumers have failed to adapt sufficiently to the internet in news field? I think we have in some way, considering the recent events of our messy, horrible presidential election.

  7. This is such an interesting and relevant article even though it was written ten years ago. Personally, I have not been able to notice the change in the way headlines are written, however this may be because I haven’t been paying close attention to them. Additionally, I think our generation has grown up reading these shorter, more direct headlines, so perhaps we have become used to them. I also thought it was very interesting that some articles use two headlines-one for readers and one for search bots. This was something that I had seen sometimes, but had never thought anything of.

    This article definitely quotes various leading experts in the field, however I think it would have been interesting if the author included quotes from consumers of the news. This would have provided a better-rounded argument because both the producer and consumer would have been included.

  8. In addition to being relevant to today’s role of news and media, this article made me reflect on the significance of interest and engagement on news and the dispersement of information. While reading I found myself thinking about the times where I’ve seen this exemplified in the news I consume. I was also reminded of our tour to the Free Press. While showing us their program that displays and reveals the traffic and interest in the published works, we learned of their process to run the same article under two titles to aggregate information on what phrasing and syntax is most appealing to the reader. It makes sense that when trying to gather the biggest audience for an article or editorial, using the title to attract an audience is crucial.

    I liked that the article touched on the impact (or lack thereof) that search engines will have on the content of the articles. It’s interesting to consider that the role that search engines play on journalism is mostly concentrated on the headlines and “whether search engines will influence journalism below the headline is uncertain.”

  9. This article still remains relevant today, especially with the rise of algorithms in various websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I recall seeing a TedTalk on how Facebook algorithms work and how “filter bubbles” can form – I think this article would benefit from showing the math and reasoning behind the algorithms. It is incredibly interesting and I would have loved to see more information on that in this article.
    Overall, I have not noticed a shift in headlines, but I can’t say I paid very close attention in past years. I can imagine if this article was written today that it would discuss the online system used at the Free Press to see which headlines/stories are doing better than others. I found the part where LOHR wrote that websites will put up two headlines – one for the “humans” and one for the sites – I can imagine that plays a large part in how companies market and track their story’s success today.

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