There’s provocative story today in Online Journalism Review by Robert Niles in which he argues that learning search engine optimization is more important than learning Associated Press style.

For years now, we’ve seen the erosion of quality journalism through staff layoffs and buyouts, the shrinking of physical newsprint, the reduction in the number of beats covered, significant budget cuts, a growing emphasis on “alternative story forms” that often do little to tell a better story and an industry-wide emphasis on speed over accuracy.

But suggesting that AP style — which is a standardized writing style to make copy an easier read for broad audiences — should take a back seat to awkwardly worded headlines designed to pump up your Google results, indicates that something is very wrong. You’ve seen the headlines, I’m sure. You’ll have a popularly-searched term (they call it a “keyword”), followed by a colon, followed by a sentence that often (but not always) repeats that search term.

I’ll give you an example. I covered the death of Anna Nicole Smith, since it was a local story in Fort Lauderdale. A “well-done” SEO headline might read:

Anna Nicole Smith dies: Anna Nicole Smith found dead at Hard Rock hotel

That’s a keyword-heavy headline that should excite Google’s robots to no end. To the human though? Not very exciting. Here’s the headline and subhead we did run:

Mystery surrounds celebrity’s death
Anna Nicole Smith, 39, collapses at Hard Rock in Hollywood

I’d argue the second is far more intriguing and powerful than the first. Subsequent stories had even better headlines that would lose oomph with SEO techniques: “Smith tragedy may be jackpot for Hard Rock/ Coverage will likely increase hotel’s profile”, “Smith’s death still `a medical puzzle’/ No illegal drugs are found in her suite at Hard Rock hotel.”

Here’s why I’m not bingeing on “Google juice”:
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The situation in Haiti is dire and relief money is desperately needed. But already there are stories of dubious and outright fraudulent charities trying to cash in on the tragedy.

With that in mind, here are some tools that I use as a journalist to get a sense of how a charity is performing. They should provide more than enough for donors looking to protect themselves from scams.

Charity Navigator(may require a free registration)

Better Business Bureau Charity Reviews

Florida Gift Giver Guide

Foundation Center

Most of the links are pretty self-explanatory; Search for your charity of choice. If your charity’s not there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s illegitimate. But is it worth risking your hard-earned money?

So how do you use these tools?
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I’m late to the party

January 16, 2010

Starting something I should have done years ago: my own website. Sure, it’s just a template blog for now, but it’s a beginning.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to do this. Perhaps it just seemed vain. Who would want to read about me? I guess we’ll see.

For now it will simply stand as a place-holder for my career materials. My bio, resume and, hopefully, some of my stories sometime in the future. That would be both journalism and fiction, once I have some fiction that is publishable.

Like I said, it’s not much. But it’s a beginning.