Experts Cite Google's SEO Rivalries As Consumer Issue

The major competitive struggle affecting consumers this decade is for supremacy in the Internet search industry, according to an expert speaking at a unique conference on the topic in Washington, DC. “Google has more advertising revenue than all the U.S. newspapers Gerard Waldroncombined,” said Gerard Waldon, a partner at Covington and Burling representing Microsoft Networks, a portal that includes Google's smaller rival, Bing. “And yet Google doesn’t generate a word of its own,” Waldron continued at the Dec. 5 conference on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) sponsored by the Media Access Project (MAP).

Our Justice Integrity Project normally reports investigative findings, not conference panels. But this session, entitled, “The business of search: How algorithms effect the bottom line,” is vital to any journalist, whether blogger or major corporation. In the same spirit, we’ll report below troubling new developments that MAP flagged today: How the IRS may be stalling on awarding tax-exempt status to non-profit news sites that are filling a national void created by downsized traditional papers and broadcasters.

Andrew Jay SchwartzmanThe forum moderator was Andrew Jay Schwartzman, right, senior vice president and senior policy director of the pro-consumer advocacy group that he led for many years. He introduced the forum as follows:

Search has a profound impact on the journalism industry and all content creators including citizen journalists and bloggers. Algorithms have an important effect on page views, advertising rates and the diversion of revenue with the news room. For online news readers, search technology is changing the news we receive, at times offering us news that may strengthen our biases.

Waldron’s co-panelist was Jim Brady, editor-in-chief for Digital First Media, which is managing content for the Journal Register chain that includes 75 dallies. Brady, former vice president executive editor for Washington Post.com, focused primarily in his remarks on sharing practical insights. He said that newspapers, like too many other organizations, focus too much on drawing readers to their sites -- and far too little time in getting readers involved so that readers want to return. He advised news website managers to “Sell the site, not the story.”  Most specifically, his tip to website designers was, “Get them [readers] involved” by comment sections, polls and otherwise.

Other expert journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Politico described how their newsrooms are adapting to a near continuous 24/7 news cycle and the impact on the public. Although Google did not appear at this specific conference, it is an ongoing sponsor of MAP’s series. Waldron praised Google for creating a SEO tool that’s achieved by his estimate 60 to 80% of market share, depending on calculations. But his larger point was that the public needs to be aware that great market power carries risks for consumers as well as benefits.

SpikedI’ve admired Schwartzman’s efforts since the mid-1980s. He kindly provided advice gratis on a legal issue involving the cover of my first book, Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America’s Oldest Newspaper, a case history revealing hidden factors affecting news coverage in major news stories. These days, I recommend his organization MAP and his daily blog RoadMAP on notable developments in the communications industries. The Dec. 6 edition of the blog, for example, focused on a recent column in the Columbia Journalism Review, entitled: Will the IRS Derail Nonprofit Journalism? The article by former FCC staffer Steven Waldman reported:

In an era of newspaper closings and reporter layoffs, there has been one significant bright spot: an explosion of local, nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism enterprises focused on the kinds of accountability reporting that protects taxpayers and enriches democracy.  So it is beyond baffling that, according to CJR and other press reports, the Internal Revenue Service appears be slowing down or blocking approvals of tax-exempt status for nonprofit news start-ups.

Bottom line: Yes, let's keep shining a light in dim corners. But it doesn't do much good  if we don't pay attention to whether people are watching.

 


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Listed here are excerpts of relevant columns

Columbia Journalism Review /The News Frontier, Will the IRS Derail Nonprofit Journalism? Steven Waldman, Nov. 21, 2011. In an era of newspaper closings and reporter layoffs, there has been one significant bright spot: an explosion of local, nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism enterprises focused on the kinds of accountability reporting that protects taxpayers and enriches democracy.  So it is beyond baffling that, according to CJR and other press reports, the Internal Revenue Service appears be slowing down or blocking approvals of tax-exempt status for nonprofit news startups.


Jim BradyDigital Man: Jim Brady on the present and future of media, Investing in Investigative, Jim Brady, Nov 28, 2011. For some time now, there's been buzz that going "digital first" and producing quality journalism were mutually exclusive goals. I assume part of that is because companies that have gone "digital first" -- and few have done it as all-out as the Journal Register Company -- have been forced to reduce staff as part of making that move toward the future. Then again, so has just about every other newspaper in the United States, regardless of whether they've gone "digital first" or not. Reducing staff is not part of going digital; it's part of a natural re-sizing of newsrooms that's been made necessary by the new economics of media. That's why I'm so excited about the re-organization of our newsroom at The New Haven Register: because it shows that you can address the needs of traditional journalism while still reorienting your newsroom toward the future. Among the key elements of this re-organization are the creation of an investigative and in-depth reporting team, led by accomplished Register staffers Michelle Tuccitto Sullo and Mary O'Leary. This is the first time in 20 years that the Register will have a dedicated investigative reporting team. Additionally, we'll create new beats to better cover Yale University and issues relating to the Long Island Sound.  At the same time, we're still pushing to fundamentally change the way the Register newsroom operates.

Journal Register Company, New Haven Register Newsroom Reorganization Focuses on In-Depth, Investigative and Digital, Press Release, Nov. 28, 2011. Journal Register Company, a leading local news and information company managed by Digital First Media, announced today that The New Haven Register has formed an investigative team and engagement team as part of the Digital First newsroom reorganization. “Quality journalism and digital journalism are not mutually exclusive,” said Jim Brady, Editor-in-Chief of Digital First Media. “Our audiences demand quality stories and they expect to be able to consume those stories on the device and platform of their choosing. The structure we are putting in place in New Haven is one that will allow us to react to breaking news, dedicate journalists to in-depth reporting and to deepen the relationship with our audience.”