Great piece from the American Journalism Review on how the news media are gaming the system to drive traffic to their Websites. According to Paul Farhi, who writes for the Washington Post, “[o]n an ordinary weekday in August, the following stories and videos were prominently displayed on the Web sites of some of the nation’s most respected news organizations:
–CBSNews.com‘s “recommended” videos included “Miss Transvestite South America,” “Shark Swims Ashore Caught on Tape” [sic] and “Newlyweds Pay for Wedding by Recycling.” Its “most popular” list featured “Diary of a Showgirl,” “Smoking Baby is Real,” “Fired for Being Too Sexy” and “Alligator Feeding Frenzy Caught on Tape.”
–ABCNews.com had “How to Guide Your Dreams,” “Sharks Scare East Coast Swimmers,” “Lindsay Lohan Heads to Rehab” and ” ‘The View’: Lady Gaga’s Vagina Monologue.”
–NBCNews.com‘s top-of-the-site display box included links to MSN.com stories such as “50 Stars from 50 States,” “11 Telltale Signs He May be Having an Affair” and “6 Diet Trends You Should Never Try.” Some of the site’s own video news features were “Volunteers Drive into Russian Blaze” and “Falling Ice Kills Girl, 11.”
–HuffingtonPost.com had such headlines as “Sex Tape Pics…,” “Kardashian Visits Cowboys,” “Killer Bat Fungus,” “World’s Worst Urinal” and “Naked Lady Gaga Talks Drugs and Celibacy.”
Farhi goes on to observe that traffic counts are what matter in the news business today, and that search engine optimization (SEO) rules when it comes to attracting online readers and advertising dollars.
What’s considered “news” is driven more by what people are looking for and less by what constitutes actual information that people need to know. One could argue that without readers, the legitimate journalists would have no audience and therefore be out of work. (Which seems to be happening anyway.)
As far as the PR business is concerned, smart marketers such as Southwest Airlines have been optimizing their news releases for months in an effort to generate greater readership and even to drive sales of special fares and deals.
But in the spirit of the new world order where SEO rules, I’ve re-written the headlines for some [fictional] clients’ news releases and submit them for your approval (emphasis added):
“O Bama! Manufacturer Opens New Plant in Birmingham”
“Lady Gaga Over Gentleman’s New Cologne”
“Developer Wins High Stakes Gamble Despite Holding Lohand” (get it?)
“You Can’t Spell Bill Patterson without BP“
“Paris Hilton Unveils Redesigned Ballroom for Banquet Events”
“Tiger, Woods Added to Jungle Habitat in Effort to Boost Attendance at Walla Walla Zoo”
There. THAT should get us some pick-up.
Suggestions welcome. PR folks, what headline have you been dying to write? (extra credit if it’s for an actual client.)