Reluctant Media Critic Writes Internet's Best Headline

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"Sarah Palin rips non-Muslim Obama over mosque while Lady Gaga remains silent." Is this the best way to juice a newspaper headline to get Google's mysterious algorithm to notice? Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post's media columnist, isn't sure. But he does find such headline-goosing an unfortunate reality of the way online journalism has evolved: anything goes in order to get search engines to notice.

The sentiment isn't particularly new—it's been espoused by the Post's own Gene Weingarten (who actually titled his piece "Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga") and has been discussed by numerous journalists since Google became an online juggernaut. But Kurtz goes further than simply wondering if journalism has become a "popularity contest" where publications heap on generous servings of Huff-Po style headlines in order to reap the rewards of clicks: organizations such as The Post and the Times have brands to protect. They can't simply abandon serious news in favor of the latest wardrobe malfunction without alienating some of their longtime readers. What they gain in short-term hits would cost them in long-term reputation.

And he's actually optimistic about the survival of "serious" journalism:

The cynical view would be that Senate primaries are out and animal videos are in. But the track record suggests that enough people have an appetite for good reporting that the feral cats can be kept to a minimum.

But, yeah, he'll still be trying to pander to algorithms:

Now let's see, what sizzling search terms can I enter for this column? Tiger Woods, multiple mistresses, Sarah Palin, Elizabeth Hurley, Katy Perry...

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.