Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Should Search Engine Results Drive Media Coverage

While the shift to online-only news has been a big shift, there are implications for PR functions beyond the diminishing number of print outlets.

The degree to which people access news by search engine is significant. And the rise of pay walls, limiting content to actual paying subscribers, will be see news by search engine (nbse) help boost the users of smaller news sites that have lower brand recognition but offer the value of not (yet) charging readers.

According to a New York Times article, "At Yahoo, Using Searches to Steer News Coverage," Yahoo's blog, The Upshot, which launches today, will "create content based on common words, phrases and tpics that are popular among users across its vast online network." In other words, content based on what people are searching about. By way of example, the Times cited a lot of questions asked about why Olympic divers shower after their dives (to keep their muscles warm and limber), and that Yahoo developed a story that no one else was covering based on readers' queries. And that that story got lots of hits.

Upshot is designed to fill in the gaps in the coverage of other media outlets. The Upshot is not trying to focus on breadth of coverage but on developing a niche.

Traditional journalists are concerned that Yahoo's approach will mean that what gets covered may be popular but will prevent news outlets from covering important news.

That's a claim that broadcast news has been dealing with for years -- with it "If it bleeds, it leads" approach, in which a local car accident shutting down a major artery gets more prominent coverage than economic news or some international development.

Yahoo says its search engine algorithm will be used to supplement coverage, not drive it. On the other hand, at some point, the question will be, according to Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get, "Why produce all this stuff that doesn't make money. Just produce the stuff that sells."

So PR functions should look at what sort of content the Upshot is reporting on, and develop story angles that play off those concerns. News by Search Engine is definitely going to impact editorial decisions.

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