Google's Agricultural Counter-Revolution, What TBD's Demise Doesn't Mean and Hope for Great Headlines

It's the Best Media Writing of the Week

By Published on .

You can talk all the trash you want about Google. Sneer that's it a one-trick pony, that it's never had a hit beyond search, that it's gotten too big and too slow, that it doesn't get social. But at least it has some values, none more appreciated by your author than a good old-fashioned respect for quality. That was on display this week when Google's Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts delivered on a recent promise to change its algorithm to penalize chintzy content of the sort that's created by content farms and clogging up search results.

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking -- a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries -- and we wanted to let people know what's going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites -- sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites -- sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

Predictably, Danny Sullivan has the best and fullest piece on the Google announcement, adding plenty of color and emphasizing that the recent algorithm changes also punish content scrapers -- another of traditional, expensive media's online demons.

"Scraper" sites are those widely defined as not having original content but instead pulling content in from other sources. Some do this through legitimate means, such as using RSS files with permission. Others may aggregate small amounts of content under fair use guidelines. Some simply "scrape" or copy content from other sites using automated means -- hence the "scraper" nickname.

In short, Google said it was going after sites that had low-levels of original content in January and delivered a week later.

I'd not come across the compellingly raw blog kept by John Paton, CEO of Journal-Register, one of the largest newspaper companies still kicking around, until his take on this week's evisceration of TBD, you'll recall, is the lazily-named hyperlocal journalism project launched by Allbritton, keen to the duplicate the success of Allbritton's Politico. Designed as a hybrid of original reporting done by a bunch of reporters and aggregation of local blogs, TBD was launched by Jim Brady, who once oversaw the Washington Post's website.

Late last year, however, Mr. Brady quit. And now Allbritton has basically fired most of the staff, setting up TBD as a sign that hyperlocal journalism isn't a business. Mr. Paton didn't like this, nor did he favor a Poynter analysis of the move. He gives them the what-for on "Digital First," a blog that, let's just say, isn't overly-designed:

If they had backed the Brady strategy they would have worked it. That may have included downsizing or even removing Brady if they felt they had to as they tried new and different tactics to fulfill the strategy. That's any company's prerogative.

What Allbritton did was "back" a high-profile strategy that got them lots of positive press. It hit some bumps in the road and then they simply stopped because they never understood what they were "backing" and it was costing money. Perhaps more than they first thought. Well, welcome to the business jungle. That's how it goes.

And now we have Poynter's "analyst" calling it a failure and lauding the owner for trying. That's crap.

The inevitable negative fallout from the "told-you-so" analysts is that hyperlocal doesn't work even for bold Allbritton Communications. Again, crap.

It's hard to explain why, but I loved this geeky little post on Annoyed that The Daily, the new tablet-based news operation from Rupert Murdoch, didn't have all its stories indexed online, Andy Baio made his own index and then explained how. Refreshingly, News Corp. didn't freak out about the project, as Mr. Baio explains:

I'm surprised and grateful that The Daily executive and legal team never tried to shut it down. On the contrary, when asked directly about it, publisher Greg Clayman said, "If people like our content enough to put it together in a blog and share it with folks, that's great! It drives people back to us." They seem like a nice bunch of folks, and I hope they succeed with their big publishing experiment.


Much like video killed the radio stars, SEO is bleeding the life out of headline writing. In these days of matter-of-fact, keyword-laden, pun-free heds -- as we call them in the biz -- I rarely see one worth calling out. This week, however, an artful little bugger caught my eye. I'm not necessarily going to recommend you wade too deeply into the New York Observer article it tops, given that it's about the shoddy state that Harper's is in, which seems to have something to do with the guy who runs it not liking the internet and saying as much to people. (There are definitely times I HATE the internet, but I always keep it to myself or punch a wall or scream into a pillow.) Anyway, here's the headline:

'Harper's' Bizarre: How the House of Twain Became a House of Pain

Most Popular
In this article: