Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lindsay Lohan Loves Smart Grid; Tiger Ponders Climate Change

If you are trying to attract attention to a serious issue - say, climate change or the electrical smart grid - and finding it harder than ever, Howard Kurtz tells you why. His column in the Washington Post today describes one of the game-changers taking place in the media - the drive to maximize readership by emphasizing what on-line viewers are already searching for, often at the expense of what we old journalists would consider real "news."
Even at the Post, which is struggling against the tide of triviality as much as any publication, reporters have to fill out a box when they file an article on any subject. Kurtz explains: "The box is supposed to contain words and phrases that will help me reel you in," via Google and other search engines. That box no doubt reminds every reporter, on every filing, that the goal is, as the Post's executive editor acknowledges, "connecting our journalism to the greatest number of eyeballs possible."

And we all know what grabs eyeballs. One day recently, the Post was juggling several stories that would be seen as big by traditional journalists - McCain winning in Arizona, Murkowski being upset in Alaska. But the paper's "traffic directors" were reporting that the hot stories of the morning were "Elin Nordegren telling People that her life had been 'hell' since her husband's sex scandal, a photo of an alligator in the Chicago River, and a video on Gawker of a British woman throwing a feral cat into a dumpster."

The Post, the New York Times and a handful of other publications are working hard to protect their reputation for seriousness and credibility. But even they have to compete with the growing obsession - of the media and the public - with celebrities and self-help. More serious subjects, no matter how important, have to get over that hurdle.

That's the challenge we grapple with every day - how to compete, for media attention, with Lady Gaga, White House gate-crashers and the next miracle diet. Based on what Kurtz says, real journalists couldn't be any happier about all this than we are. And that may be the key to the puzzle . . . at least as long as there are real journalists.

- Potomac Communications Group

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