What Is Wrong With News These Days? Me. I am the problem.
Confessions of an SEO writer, yes, we know how evil we are.
By Tony Sokol
A lot of people look at the news and say, what is this shit? I googled Kim Novak and Lando Kalrissian and two million headlines come up about Kim Kardashian’s fucking baby bump. They are all pretty much exactly the same headline in different configurations of the words. That’s SEO. It’s designed to stick you at the top of a google search and get you hits on your news site. Most places that do it aren’t even news outlets, they just want to drive traffic to their site.
One of my gigs is as an SEO trending reporter. It’s for a niche music publication and I happen to like the people I work with so I’m not going to name them. This is on me. When they were training me for SEO, I’d write a headline and it would have to have something in it like Miley Cyrus VMAs Performance 2013, some phrase, something that people let autocomplete change for them. I was taught to put the phrase in three times in the opening paragraph. When I thought that sounded ridiculous enough, I was taught to put the person’s name four more times in the opening paragraph. I felt like I was writing for Robby the Robot, but I needed the cash. And it worked. Hits went up.
On top of that SEO writers are given daily topics. This is where it gets dicey. Eminem, who was mine for a month, doesn’t put out news every day, so you find yourself scrambling on news sites for anything you can quote and you put your own spin on it. And it’s just not out there. Really, I’ve looked. I leaked my own false playlist just to give myself something to write about, but you’re only getting what other trending reporters are writing.
But then I changed the online trending news dialogue and I felt shitty. I have been on Jodi Arias watch since July. I didn’t follow the trial when it came out, so most of my early stuff was what everyone else was writing. But nothing new was happening. There was one other writer who was working away at Jodi Arias Trial Update Today daily headlines, a woman from Latin Times, I think. I felt for her. I connected with her on LinkedIn but haven’t actually emailed her. So after a month of nothing new about Jodi Arias, I ran out of things to say and went into the transcripts to write up new shit. The transcripts were old so, I tied in anything remotely newsworthy, for a few days usually, with things from the transcripts no one else reported. I thought that the prosecution was sexist. Because of the way they talked to Arias' lawyer, the woman lawyer. They really talked down to her, even made a reference to her being on the rag. So, I framed quotes into an op-ed and the next day Latin Times rewrote the quotes as news. At the end of the week HuffPo rewrote the two stories and put it out as news. The next week another trending writer tied it into a death row study. All the other Jodi Arias daily writer re-wrote that. At the end of the week, the trending reporter from Huffington Post, who probably doesn’t get paid, rewrote what we’d all written.
But the entire online news dialogue changed. And it made me feel bad, I’m not a legal writer. I don’t what the hell I’m talking about. I just found some good quotes and went with it.
Trending news reporting is all very cannibalistic, but it scared me, because then it gets reported as real news on TV and it's not. I mean, it’s more news than you’ll find on Fox, but really it’s the same news as the week before that’s just being re-written to death with a new pic someone found. I single-handedly - kinda - made Tila Tequila a trending topic for a day. She didn't do anything really. She quit Facebook and opened up her own social network. But I was tired of trending, you hit a wall, and wrote it up. It got posted it on social sites and her fans and the people who hate her went on and commented and put it around so much that it caught on and came up on yahoo and google trending. If you did a google search, the only story about her for like a year was the one I wrote. Of course, I was immediately assigned her as a daily topic, but really there was nothing to say. Same thing with the Human Barbie, who contacted me after I rewrote a Vice documentary piece three times and almost did an interview, but our conversations were all in google translate and I think I inadvertently pissed her off.
So, ignore what you see at the top of you google news search. You probably didn’t even want to read it in the first place. An autocomplete made you think you wanted to, just like it made some poor fuck think they wanted to write about it. It probably never even happened. The irony is I get more hits from articles I don’t SEO.
So, next time you go looking for news on google and all you see is the same shit. Blame me. I am the devil and I control your information.
Published December 8th, 2013
Tony Sokol is a writer, playwright and musician. He writes for Den of Geek, The Chiseler, KpopStarz.com and wrote for Altvariety, Coed.com, Daily Offbeat. Dark Media Press, Wicked Mystic and other magazines. He has had over 20 plays produced in NYC, including Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera "AssassiNation: We Killed JFK." He appeared on the Joan Rivers (TV) Show, Strange Universe and Britain's "The Girlie Show."