NYT Journalists over the years have assumed they were writing their headlines and articles for two audiences — fickle readers and nitpicking editors.
Since when do journalists write headlines? I thought they were always written by editors. Few book authors even find the titles they planned for their books remain intact by the time the book is published.Today, there is a third important arbiter of their work: the software programs that scour the Web, analyzing and ranking online news articles on behalf of Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN.
Technology marches on.The search-engine "bots" that crawl the Web are increasingly influential, delivering 30 percent or more of the traffic on some newspaper, magazine or television news Web sites. And traffic means readers and advertisers, at a time when the mainstream media is desperately trying to make a living on the Web.
So news organizations large and small have begun experimenting with tweaking their Web sites for better search engine results. But software bots are not your ordinary readers: They are blazingly fast yet numbingly literal-minded. There are no algorithms for wit, irony, humor or stylish writing. The software is a logical, sequential, left-brain reader, while humans are often right brain.
In newspapers and magazines, for example, section titles and headlines are distilled nuggets of human brainwork, tapping context and culture. "Part of the craft of journalism for more than a century has been to think up clever titles and headlines,
And often distort what the article actually says.and Google comes along and says, 'The heck with that,' " observed Ed Canale, vice president for strategy and new media at The Sacramento Bee.
Moves to accommodate the technology are tricky. How far can a news organization go without undercutting its editorial judgment concerning the presentation, tone and content of news?
How about somethng really strange -- tell the truth about what the article covers..... Some news sites offer two headlines. One headline, often on the first Web page, is clever, meant to attract human readers. Then, one click to a second Web page, a more quotidian, factual headline appears with the article itself.
That proves my point. The second headline is FACTUALThe popular BBC News Web site does this routinely on longer articles.