The meanest streets this side of the Mississippi — Twitterville, U.S.A. — exploded on Wednesday. What was the source of the furor? All hell broke loose when the “locals” discovered that Google had attributed Twitter as the first site discovered in a Google search for Scott Brooks after the former OKC coach was fired. Folks were mostly upset over the idea that Twitter was being given credit over Woj’s platform of Yahoo!, or other actual websites.
My colleague Matt Zemek published a piece on that idea for Awful Announcing. It is good. You should read it. You will find it here. Yes, I do totally get some of the points many people are making against giving Twitter, which is not ESPN or Yahoo!, the tippy-top slot on the Google machine. Still, I think those people are missing some points here.
Before I continue, let me also make note of the fact that I do not want this to read as strictly a counterpoint to Matt’s Awful Announcing column. We discussed this, and wanted to flesh out the different and equally valid viewpoints on both sides of the debate.
Now, let’s dive into that debate.
Most objected to the idea of attributing Twitter for a tweet-based news report because it can hurt platforms, publishers, and the employers of those who break news. This may very well be true. However, the other options are not as ideal. At least not in my opinion.
Would you rather:
Keep it the way it was… which was mostly someone like Woj breaking news, after which many other sites (many site aggregators as well) using his hard work while manipulating Google to climb higher on the search engines, generally leaving Wojo without credit or Yahoo! without the clicks anyway? Basically, this continued the popular trend of having high-volume sites manipulate the system, thereby diminishing the great work of tremendous reporters.
At least let the person reporting the news gets credited. The “Twitter” option on that Scott Brooks search simply redirected back to Adrian Wojnarowski. Theoretically, it would just give Yahoo! more indirect traffic than the traditional method, as many sites have — unfortunately and unethically — gone away from crediting original reports. It seems like the lesser of two evils.
I could also be oversimplifying the situation. There is obviously a more nuanced way to look at it. I haven’t heard it yet, though. We can’t continue to complain about “hating” sites with no original content, who ride on the backs of those who do all the hard work, but scoff at a solution when it comes up, even if it isn’t ideal… right?
Some have also suggested that reporters will now be forced to write up their news before breaking it on Twitter. This will not happen. Not under any circumstance. There is no way a person can realistically imagine a reporter being told to hold off on time-sensitive news, so a story can be written up first, while they don’t know if someone else will break it on Twitter first. We would essentially be asking reporters to stop reporting and, in turn, become another set of slaves to the SEO engines most of us writers have grown to hate.
Attributing Twitter on Google isn’t perfect. I get that. It also stinks that the idea of breaking news being less breaking because it needs to be written in story form first is disheartening. However, I feel we have these similar conversations too often. A new technology advancement happens, we hate it, everyone attempts to adjust, some bad comes from it, some good, and everyone moves on at some point. The cream always rises to the top.
I should actually be against this, too. I come from the world of SEO-heavy work — specifically, a place where a keyword, URL, and placing of tags can all help my work be seen more widely. Yet, I also joined this business because I wanted my work to be original, and did not intend to be subservient to some secret code in the Google offices. It is my belief, and I am in no way echoing anyone else’s thoughts, that original columns and reporting in general should be rewarded over a team of SEO specialists Google-whoring the system.
That is where I feel this debate is. I could be wrong. Maybe Twitter being allowed to be considered a “news” function on Google isn’t the battle of SEO vs. individual reporting as I make it seem to be. At the same time, though, I don’t see why this alternative is worse than the one we currently use, which makes websites put horrid headlines out there because they are Google friendly.
Nevertheless, this is just one part of a much bigger dynamic. No one with a brain will ever confuse Woj with Twitter, a site which refuses to credit him, or any other website. He is as synonymous with Yahoo! as Hulk Hogan is with yellow breakaway tank-tops… maybe not to the average reader or casual observer of sports, but with the alternative being to let SEO, Metta, and other ghastly under-the-hood functions dictate online writing as they are now, give me the choice of letting casual fans see who the original reporter was over whoever an algorithm decided to give a top spot to.
Author’s note: We have SEO functions on our website and its publishing system. I refused to use them for this article.