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Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

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Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

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Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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February 20, 2005

A Little Detail in the Sale of to the New York Times

I couldn't tell you if this page has the proper meta-data-- or any. My method of search engine optimization is to get a lot of links by writing something original and useful that people will elect to recommend at their own sites. It works. But only because links to PressThink don't expire.

“Frankly, they bring a lot of competencies to us. They’re the leaders in search-engine optimization.”

That’s from an interview with Martin Nisenholtz, Senior Vice President for Digital Operations at the New York Times, who spoke with Staci Kramer of Paid Content about his company’s recent acquisition of for $410 million. In a conference call with stock analysts, Nisenholtz again mentioned search. He talked about “some very useful synergies such as cross marketing and search optimization expertise.”

Why is the New York Times Company interested in acquiring this expertise with search engines that is said to have? Ordinarily, I leave the analysis of deals to those who know the market, but the logic of this portion of the transaction intrigued me. They know how to show up in search; we don’t. Let’s buy them. Then we’ll know too. “We own you now. Tell us what you know.” is a network of about 500 mini-sites where people who know a lot about a subject—they’re called “guides,” but they could also be called bloggers—write columns and offer links and resources about specialty topics from personal finance to parenting to fly-fishing. The mini-sites are surrounded by ads—including “cost-per-click” advertising—and sponsored links; that’s where the money comes from. Everyone I asked about the “search engine optimization” told me it was a minor part of the deal. They’re right, from the business point of view.

I’m looking at it from a blogger’s point of view.

Search engine optimization means the business of getting your site noticed by Google, Yahoo and other engines. Some firms claim to know how it works and will “boost” your site for a price. But is not in that business (a very shady business.) What, and it’s competitor, iVillage, know how to do is design pages that find their way into search engines, and thus have a second life.

Say you write the definitive guide piece on “Is Your Sick Kid Too Ill To Attend School?” Naturally you want it to show up when Web users query for information on that subject. And putting keywords “sick child stay home school” into Google brings up that page from in the top ten results.

According to Susan Mernit, a majority of’s readers find the company’s content this way. They aren’t subscribers, members or regular visitors. They get there through what is called “natural” search. By contrast:

The New York Times, like most media sites, uses a content management system and a dynamic, cookied URL structure that means that only some landing pages and the home page get the presence in search results—and of course, the URLs for the news stories expire and move into the archive where they are walled off.

You rarely find New York Times articles in the top ten results of any Google search. The reason is simple: Search works by counting the quantity and quality of links to a page. In most cases, links to the New York Times expire after a week, the url’s (web addresses) change, and the content moves behind a pay wall. Bye-bye Google. Bye-bye Google AdSense.

The second life of content, made possible by search, is of critical importance to journalists whose work is on the Web. (That’s almost all journalists.) The very phrase “on” the Web tells us that things may land on the surface of the network and not get woven into it. These stand a very poor chance of surviving and having a second life, where there are probably more readers available than in the first.

A PressThink reader, Jakob Nielsen, is a PhD, an engineer, and a student of Web usability; he writes a column on the Web. “Most columns get about 200,000 readers,” he observes. “Of these, about 40,000 readers see the column while it’s new and featured on the homepage. In other words, most articles get 80% of their total readership after they’re archived.” This, he points out, is “a compelling argument for maintaining content archives.” (Here’s a BBC report about Nielsen.)

In “The Importance of Being Permanent,” a previous piece at PressThink, Simon Waldman, head of The Guardian online, wrote: “Web permanence is, I’d argue, one of the main things that journalists can learn from the more successful bloggers. The whole concept of the permalink allows blog posts to become part of the Web in the way that very few traditional media owners stories do. This is why they get linked to and why they often come to the top of search results.”

I have direct experience with this as a blogger. In the beginning, I was writing “on” the Web— meaning on its surface. Over time, as PressThink has embedded itself more into the Web, and become inter-linked with other sites, it has gained more and more traffic from “natural search,” visitors who went to Google and found PressThink because when they looked up, say… Ted Koppel, there it was: my post from May 1, 2004, after Sinclair Broadcasting refused to run “The Fallen.” (The number two result on Google when I wrote this. For Eason Jordan, PressThink was number three when I wrote this.) You can generate significant traffic that way.

Martin Nisenholtz spoke of it as a competence his firm was buying (and knew how to value): getting your content found by search engines and then ranked so that users find it. It’s given more users than the Times has online— 22 million monthly compared to Nisenholtz’s base of 13 million. I e-mailed him for more details about the search knowledge at About that he found valuable enough to mention in a conference call with analysts. This is what he told me: has built a long standing institutional knowledge in building pages that are easily read by the spiders the search engines use to build their databases. These techniques evolve over time, but include accurately titling pages, use of metadata, proper syntax of key content, providing machine-readable links, page formatting that doesn’t interfere with machine automation and other like details which allow spiders to be able to accurately understand the content of the article.

Additionally, maintains long-term relationships with the major search engines to ensure compatibility and accessibility to their databases as they undergo constant change. All of this ensures that the content is read and placed into the databases, but in the end, it is the quality of the content and the relevancy of the article that is most important in search.

In addition, because the guides are solely writing for the Internet consumer, they write in a style that is focused on the medium (links, lists, images, forums, etc.) Of course, most print and broadcast media companies do not do this, as the content is created primarily for offline use.

Indeed. That last line puts it well. Times journalism, like the content of other Big Media firms, is created primarily for offline use, and then re-purposed on the Web. (When that cycle is reversed, the Web era in journalism truly begins.) To be fair, the Times site has been getting more “Web purposeful” of late. More links—and more varied links—have started to show up in articles, for example. On the down side, “e-mail this article” was just reduced from full text to a link. A link that expires.

In acquiring, the Times is buying into an advertising category it had been missing from. It’s also absorbing the Webbies who work there, the guides who are “writing for the Internet consumer… in a style that is focused on the medium,” meaning they take advantage of what the Web can do.

And one thing the Web can do is cater to advertisers who want to reach only those people interested in specific things. Here, ads tied to search are the way to go. But if you are not in the search engines to begin with, you’re leaving money for others to grab. The paid archive generates revenue too, of course. But more than the future of ads tied to search? No one knows because no one knows the future.

Being caught unprepared for the surge in online spending is part of what’s behind the deal the New York Times struck, the purchase of by Dow Jones, publishers of the Wall Street Journal, and the acquisition of Slate by the Washington Post Company. In each case, a national newspaper company realized it would be leaving ad money on the table if it didn’t act.

“Indeed, demand for Internet advertising has grown so quickly that many media companies are finding themselves without enough Web pages on which to sell ads,” wrote James Bandler of the Wall Street Journal Friday.

And they’re finding themselves without much knowledge of how to show up in search. I’m a blogger, not a company. I couldn’t tell you if this page has the proper meta-data— or any. My search engine optimization method is to get a lot of links by writing something original and useful that people will elect to recommend at their own sites. It works (sometimes.) But only because my links don’t expire.

On January 19, I wrote “Bloggers Are Missing in Action as Ketchum Tests the Conscience of PR.” Much of it was based on facts and impressions in Stuart Elliot’s Advertising column, published the same day in the New York Times (“Public Relations Industry Debates Payments to Commentator”) which I linked to and discussed.

Today if you put Ketchum “Armstrong Williams” payments into Google, Elliot’s column is not there at all. Nowhere on the first ten pages. PressThink was the number 2 result on the first page when I tried it, Editor & Publisher number one. Change it to Ketchum payments “Armstrong Williams”—switching only the order of two terms—and the Washington Post story is the first result, and again Stuart Elliot’s column is nowhere to be found.

The Post’s links don’t expire, you see; links to the New York Times do. The Elliot column couldn’t embed itself in the Web, and sink proper roots. It’s effectively “gone.” From Elliot’s point of view, he loses a potentially huge readership for his work. Can he afford it?

Right now there is little in the way of “search engine optimization” at the New York Times. For Stuart Elliot’s colleagues, the reporters and writers at the flagship of the American fleet, this means that, in the main, their work is lost to Google, lost to online forums and conversation, lost to the long tail where value is built up— and in many ways lost to cultural memory.

Do they know this? Do they care about all the lost readers, and the lack of stickiness even their best work has on the Web? What, if anything, do they plan to do about these losses? To me it is one of the mysteries about the editorial staff at that great institution.

Try this thought experiment. Suppose Jakob Nielsen is on the right track when he says that 80 percent of an article’s total readership, on the Web, will be from archive users. For realism’s sake, let’s knock it down to 50. If you close your archive, and charge to enter, and competitors not only open theirs but learn to make it easy-to-use and valuable to as many users as possible, how are you going to compete for reputation and influence when they have twice as many readers in the long run and get linked and cited all over the place?

More and more, we hear about a big battle that is either here or coming inside the Times over whether to charge users for online access, as the Wall Street Journal currently does. If that happens and the Washington Post remains free, the paths of those two great news organizations will, I believe, diverge.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

UPDATE: Katherine Seelye, Can Papers End the Free Ride Online? (March 14):

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said of relying on advertising as the sole revenue stream: “My main concern is that, however we distribute our work, we have to generate the money to pay for it. The advertising model looks appealing now, but do we want our future to depend on that single source of revenue? What happens if advertising goes flat? What happens when somebody develops software to filter out advertising - TiVo for the Web?”

New post: Two Letters in Reply to “A Little Detail in the Sale of”. (Feb. 23)

Important detail: The New York Times struck a deal with bloggers and created a way to generate links that don’t expire. (I use this page.) But very few are created and it hasn’t stopped Times content from slipping off the search engines.

Still, the decision to make permalinks possible is one for which I am grateful, grateful. And it is also in your interest, interest, New York Times.

John Battelle’s Search Blog on the deal: “The Times saw About as an opportunity to get into the search game, certainly - lord knows news is not a very profitable business when it comes to paid search. But there’s more. About provides the Times a platform to explore microcontent without having to—necessarily—extend the Times’ brand to everything.” Read the whole thing.

It’s good to follow on a story like this. They keep on top of it. See part two of Staci Kramer’s interview with Martin Nisenholtz.

Simon Waldman has a most useful analysis of the deal. Here’s part:

There are two content models for the net: lets call them ‘open’ and ‘closed’.

The open model is the one that the net loves best: no registration or payment, permanent links - you know the score. The aim here is all about maximum reach and eyeballs and pay-per-click advertising against relevant content. This is all very hot right now - but it’s an anathema to most traditional publishers. is this writ large.

The closed model is - unsurprisingly - the opposite. Registration and subscription. Paid archives. Sometimes it’s because it’s in the best interests of the web business (especially in high value B2B areas). Sometimes it’s because it’s the best way to protect a parent business. It makes more sense by traditional publishing standards - but it leaves you in a much smaller corner of the net than the open model.

Neither is absolutely better or worse. They both have their plusses and minuses. They’re just different ways of publishing.

Now - where’s the NYT at the moment? Well, while they’re net-savvy enough to see the stand-alone benefits of the open publishing model; but they also have the responsibilities of being the web arm of a newspaper. And all the noise that’s been coming from them recently is that at least partly as a result of these responsibilities they’re getting ever more closed.

So what do they do?

They buy into

Earlier: Simon Waldman, The Importance of Being Permanent: “Without permanence you slip off the search engines. Without permanence, bold ideas like “news as conversation” fall away, because you’re shutting down the conversation before it has barely started. Without permanence, you might be on the web, but you’re certainly not part of it.”

“About is a platform and a company with the resources of The New York Times can expand and exploit that platform in many ways,” said Jeff Jarvis in an e-mail to me. “I would not assume that as you see it today is going to stay that way.” Jarvis, among other hats, is president of, the Newhouse empire’s online division.

Don’t miss the exchange of letters between Jarvis and Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. “Dear Mr. Jarvis: Thank you for your open letter. I admire the initiative you have shown in appointing yourself the representative of tens of thousands of bloggers in what you call ‘the citizens’ media.’”

Susan Mernit e-mails:

If I were at the Times, I would want to apply the About principals to some of my sections—travel, entetainment and the magazine, for example. When I just googled “Broadway show guide” an page was the 10th listing that came up. It’s essentially a landing page with content way inferior to what the Times has. Think about how the Times can both insert their content onto these pages and create new pages so they can get both referrals.

Mernit at her weblog: “This was a very shrewd move.”

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson: “This was a very smart buy.”

Mark Glaser, columnist for Online Journalism Review, who interviewed Nisenholtz for this article on newspaper archives, “Pay or free? Newspaper archives not ready for open Web… yet.”

I think Martin’s very smart. What he’s saying is that NYT gains knowledge in how to design their pages for maximum search spidering, they also gain better relations with the search companies via About, and basically get all-around better search engine optimization with About— which explains About’s huge traffic advantage over NYT. The archives are a separate matter. NYT might eventually come up with a way to do well in search results even if the link goes to a wall at NYT— or a partial story.

Jakob Nielsen e-mails:

The real secret of is that they have figured out a way to get 500 domain experts to work for peanuts, in return for the exalted status as “guides.” But the NY Times could probably have done that on its own by throwing a little prestige and a few thousand dollars at the top bloggers in each of the targeted areas they wanted to cover.

Somebody who already has a prestigious brand could duplicate in a year for less than $50M. And anybody could do it in two years for $150M.

Giann Trotta in the comments: “I was a founding editor at back in 1997, and I agree wholeheartedly with Neilsen’s take on this.”

Josh Koenig in the comments: “Being smart about how to use the web shouldn’t cost anyone 400 million dollars.”

Business Week cover story, The Future Of The New York Times. (Jan. 17, 2005)

Frank Ahrens in the Washington Post on the newspaper industry’s woes: (Feb. 19)

For the first nine months of 2004, The Post booked $433 million in ad revenue. For the same period, reported $45 million in revenue, hardly enough to support a newsgathering staff the size of The Post’s.

Ads on a newspaper’s Web site actually can be worth more to advertisers than ads in the paper, said David D. Hiller, vice president of publishing for Tribune Co. Reason: Unlike a newspaper ad, which provides no feedback, Internet ads can tell advertisers how many times the ad has been seen, and, with Web site registration, the demographics and location of the viewer.

Ellen Gamerman and Stephen Kiehl of the Baltimore Sun, “News is bad all around for journalists: In the courts of law and public opinion, media under siege these days.” (Feb. 20)

“It’s starting to feel a little bit like a judicial rout, and that’s very worrisome,” said Tom Kunkel, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland. “The common thread here is that people who don’t have a lot of use for the press clearly are seizing what they see as their moment… The problem is the public does not see the press as its surrogate,” he said. “We see ourselves as the voice of the people, the surrogate for the people. But to the public, we’re just another institution that they don’t have a lot of use for.”

John McIntyre, copy editor of the Baltimore Sun, gives his reflections on The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age by Philip Meyer of the University of North Carolina: “His deepest question is whether newspaper journalists will be willing to abandon habits of thought to risk moving into the areas of technology, economics and demographics in which the larger society is moving ahead of them.”

The key words are: “habits of thought.”

For more depth, I recommend Tim Porter’s fantastic summary and commentary on Meyer’s book at First Draft. (He’s doing every chapter.)

Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia J-School, in the New Yorker: “Why is everyone mad at the mainstream media?”

Journalism that is inquisitive and intellectually honest, that surprises and unsettles, didn’t always exist. There is no law saying that it must exist forever, and there are political and business interests that would be better off if it didn’t exist and that have worked hard to undermine it. This is what journalists in the mainstream media are starting to worry about: what if people don’t believe in us, don’t want us, anymore?

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 20, 2005 10:20 AM   Print


In the last sentence of the story, you mention "a big battle inside the Times over whether to charge users for online access, as the Washington Post does." I presume you mean the Wall Street Journal?

By the way, I was previously a Guide on Based on my experience I think their expertise in search is overrated. They do a good job, but nothing that other large sites don't also do well. Their success has to do with their large amount of well focused content and lots of links more than anything else.

Posted by: Ed Bott [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 20, 2005 12:15 PM | Permalink

I absolutley f----- hate About.Com because they still insist on framing content they link to. I'm surprised people think About.Com is especially good at SEO -- I rarely see an About.Com page show up in any of my Google searches.

Posted by: Brian Carnell at February 20, 2005 12:25 PM | Permalink

I don't have the competence to address the larger question of whether is a good purchase, but you said this:

I couldn't tell you if this page has the proper meta-data-- or any.

Based on a "view source" of this page, you have no meta-tags or meta-keywords at all. Whether you want them or not is your choice.

Posted by: Linkmeister at February 20, 2005 12:56 PM | Permalink

My first thought when I heard about the NY Times buying was: "Oh no, it's the Internet bubble all over again."

What a sad waste of money. What the NYT could have done instead, at a much lower cost, was to BUILD itself as an Internet brand... hire bloggers to work for them, outsource bloggers in foreign countries as foreign correspondents, and gain lots of cred for reinventing itself.

But no. Instead the NYT paid a colossal sum of money for a brand that's LESS known than the NY Times itself.

Learning is hard when you won't learn...


Posted by: A.R.Yngve at February 20, 2005 4:55 PM | Permalink

Have to admit, this was one hell of a sales job by Primedia. Two words for NYT. Due Diligence.

Posted by: Randy Charles Morin at February 20, 2005 5:38 PM | Permalink

Meta data is basically ignored by search spiders. Certainly by Google. It is useless because it allows authors to describe a page by something other than its content, which of course lends itself to abuse. (I developed a site for a guy who insisted on putting rougly 300 words in meta tags, despite my repeated insistence that this is junk that only serves to drive up his bandwidth costs.)

I avoid because of the aforementioned framing of content (which is annoying and needless), its historical abuse of popup ads (now not so much a factor since everyone blocks them), but most importantly because their site tends to be dog slow and the sections often lack organization. However I do know people who write good stuff for them; I feel it's sad that some of this content gets stuck in the ghetto.

If New York Times was buying search engine optimization, than this was the greatest con job since the AOL-Time Warner deal. For starters if you have to train people how to link to you, that's a huge issue right there. But most people have figured out the major factors in Google ranking already--meaningful words in the URL, PageRank of linking sites, use of header tags to structure the document, terms inside anchor tags, etc.

I would have charged a mere $4 mil to the NYTimes for this highly top secret information.

Posted by: Brian at February 20, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink

"We see ourselves as the voice of the people, the surrogate for the people. But to the public, we're just another institution that they don't have a lot of use for."

Trouble is, many papers are not surrogates for the people; instead they're surrogates for the advertisers, for the owners, for the powerful, for their own image.

How can the "for the people" papers make it clear to a new reader that this really is their priority, and not just their marketing slogan?

Daily Kos has a thread (diary, I guess) today asking how to get the press to shape up, here. One person says, "I've worked at five mainstream newspapers and visited the offices of about a hundred. It would have been encouraging in all that time to have encountered a code of ethics taped to the newsroom wall, included in an orientation manual or mentioned in any way whatsoever by any muckety-muck editor. I never did."

Also - does "the press" include the editorial page(s)?

Posted by: Anna at February 21, 2005 12:00 AM | Permalink

Your own approach to optimization is the only one that will work consistently over time.

Regarding permanent links - they are an essential part of the Web infrastructure, check Tim Berners-Lee's old design note Coll URIs don't change. But the term "permalink" is an ugly redundant notion that arose thanks to certain individual in the RSS community taking no notice of first principles. Clearly the NYT doesn't get it either.

Posted by: Danny at February 21, 2005 4:22 AM | Permalink

[Off-Topic] Hunter S. Thompson is dead.

See: The Savage Journey:

Thompson's articles in "Rolling Stone", viciously illustrated by Ralph Steadman, did more to rid a generation of the numbing, poisonous, no-minded prudery lingering from the 1950s and represented by a docile press and the politics and practices of President Richard Milhous Nixon with his CREEP cronies.

Posted by: sbw at February 21, 2005 10:13 AM | Permalink

I wouldn't underestimate the money-making aspect of this - SEO is the hot topic in internet advertising... that's partly because, to flip the Wash Post ad revenue quote above, it may be that internet advertising is not worth more than ODT advertising, but in fact, worth less. Click throughs remain unconscionably low for many advertisers, and ultimate results - purchases, acquisitions - are not what many advertisers hoped. Determining the overall worth of online advertising is still, to some degree more than many anticipated, still a moving target. I don't think the The Times' aquisition was necessaily that smart - is a very different enterprise from the Times, and integrating even the elements they're hoping to gain in SEO will not be obvious fits to what they already have. I think it looks sexy to Wall St. now, but I'll be curious to see how integrated their efforts are six-nine months from now, and I think the amount of revenue Seach Engine Optimization is generating will be one of the significant metrics...

Posted by: weboy at February 21, 2005 11:16 AM | Permalink

SEO was a "hot topic" years ago, now it is mainly the preserve of hucksters and people who would be sending out MLM emails if they didn't have search engine shills to con. Click-through rates are also a somewhat naive measure of the worth of online advertising, as with all advertising there is more to it than closing the next deal/selling amother widget. What this deal really says is that NYTimes is still a rank newbie when it comes to the online world...but then we already knew that.

Posted by: Brian at February 21, 2005 12:36 PM | Permalink

A small bit of evidence to back up the contention of the importance of permanence and search: I recently changed blogging software and, for a while, had no archives of posts. My traffic (as small as it is to begin with) dropped like a stone. One some days, there was not a single Google-driven visit to the site. As I've added to archives to the new site, a month at a time, the traffic has climbed and the Google hits have returned.

Posted by: mark at February 21, 2005 12:57 PM | Permalink

Jay, you have two different posts here---one about and the other about the observations of Ahrens-Gammerman-Kuhl-McIntyre-Porter-Lemann. Hey Nick! 70% of the public think media/press lies---deal with it!(or become irrevelant)

Posted by: paladin at February 21, 2005 5:54 PM | Permalink

Exactly, Mark. If traffic counts, then having an open and stable archive counts. It's that simple.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 21, 2005 6:00 PM | Permalink

Interesting point, paladin. You may be right.

I feel there is a common thread. But I didn't put it in the post. Waldman said it, though: there are open and closed paths to be chosen by Big Journalism and its business minds, except closed sounds bad, so let's call it gated and ungated.

They generate trust and authority in different ways.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at February 21, 2005 6:08 PM | Permalink

Newspapers are losing readership not only because of the Internet, talk radio and other diversions, but also because most newspapers lack integrity.

This lack of integrity is reflected in the characters of the people that publishers hire as editors, columnists and reporters. No longer do readers worry about left versus right, liberal versus conservative.

What readers are abandoning are editorial writers and columnists who oppose enforcement of immigration laws, drug laws, copyright laws and varioius nuisance laws and regulations. Everyone runs stop lights and everyone lies, cheats and steals, and that seems to be ok to the columnists and reporters writing for many of our leading newspapers.

Worse, newspapers' editorial pages and news pages lack intellectual integrity. The shrillness of the N.Y. Times' editorials and many of its columnists echos arround the world, telling all that journalists are not only C students but also dishonest ones.

Thus, the Times' acquisition of won't solve its basic problem—unreliable and often unbelieveable editorial content. And as anyone who follows mergers and acquisitions knows, the the chances that the Times' acquisition of will succeed are only about 30%.

And the chances that newspapers will save their failing franchises are about zero, unless the owners fire their publishers and editors and hire people who can spell integrity.

Posted by: Donald E. L. Johnson at February 21, 2005 8:52 PM | Permalink

The strategy for search engine placement is really quite simple: put up permanent sections of a medium amount of content that that is easily available for people who are writing about the subject on the internet. Once a few people start linking, it provides a virtuous circle for which makes their ranking rise.

Wikipedia pages are often ranked high as well because they follow the same model. My current endeavor,, also is another good example of this as well. We're the first result that comes up in Google when one searches for Dan Rather.

Jakob Nielsen is right on the money to state that someone could've duplicated the strategy of quite readily. Whether or not that approach will work for a news site is something quite different, however.

If the Times Company is smart, they'll try to keep the site mostly unchanged while integrating their existing content into it. For the and its web siblings, the best route would be to integrate data into the news content through reference links, etc., turning into sort of a commercial version of Wikipedia.

Posted by: Matthew Sheffield at February 21, 2005 10:28 PM | Permalink

In acquiring, the Times is buying into an advertising category it had been missing from. It's also absorbing the Webbies who work there, the guides who are "writing for the Internet consumer... in a style that is focused on the medium," meaning they take advantage of what the Web can do.

A bit off topic for your blog, Jay, but I'll make the point all the same. This deal exemplifies exactly what drives me insane about the technology business: give me (and a few friends) 10% of the buying price for (or less) and 3 years to roll out (or less) and we could deliver well over more than 10x (or more) the ROI the NYT will get on this acquisition.

Smart moenty says the "webbies" behind About start loosing some of their edge now that they've sold out, concentrating on integration with existing NYT systems rather than further innovation. In 18 months the NYT/about conglomorate is lapped (again) by a bunch of nobodies and (36 months after that) they drop another couple hundred mil to start delivering content effectively to cellphones or something.

I'm not knocking; good for them for hitting the money, though somehow I doubt many of the writers will see much of it. I'm just tired of seeing enormous sums of cash thrown at solving problems a little bit of foresight would have avoided.

It's the inner utilitarian in me. Can't stand the waste of it all. Being smart about how to use the web shouldn't cost anyone 400 million dollars.

Posted by: Josh Koenig at February 21, 2005 11:36 PM | Permalink

The primary issue for newspapers (and other media companies, for that matter) getting involved with the web is REVENUE. If the main source of revenue is believed to come from advertising, then the goal should be to maximize the number and quality of visits to the site. This goal then supports the arguments for permanent links and free access. If, however, the newspaper intends to seek substantial revenue from subscriptions and other fee-for-content methods (e.g., payment for access to archives), and from secondary marketing of other material through e-mail, telephone and traditional mail (demanding the gathering of such information through a registration process), permanent links and free access will not be pursued even though web traffic may never live up to potential.

Now as we all know, Internet visitors have demonstrated great reluctance to pay for content and great distaste for providing contact information. Advertising looks like it will be sole revenue stream for most sites. But so long as some publishers continue to wish for other sources of revenue, they will continue to avoid "giving away" anything they think might represent a non-advertising source of income.

Posted by: Michael Meckler at February 22, 2005 9:56 AM | Permalink

I was a founding editor at back in 1997, and I agree wholeheartedly with Neilsen's take on this:

Somebody who already has a prestigious brand could duplicate in a year for less than $50M. And anybody could do it in two years for $150M.

Has anyone looked at lately? Always considered them light:)

Another company's whose SEO performance complemented the get 'em to write for peanuts approach was -- enter any product name, and odds are they'll come up in the top three. They've since been bought by in a very shrewd move.

Posted by: Gian Trotta at February 22, 2005 10:01 AM | Permalink is what DMOZ tried to be. I view the purchase by the NYTimes as one small step towards modernization.

Prior to the elections I wrote and asked that they find ways to incoporate more content into their on-line presentations, such as links to full speeches when they are being quoted, maps and links to related cultural information.

They wrote back immediately and thanked me and said that they intended to pursue my suggestion further. I'm not sure if this is what they say to everyone but it was nice to know they appreciated the feedback.

Posted by: brendan at February 22, 2005 1:08 PM | Permalink

One aspect that has been ignored in this thread is the NYTimes Co. tax avoidance strategy in buying Allen Sloan covers this angle in today's WaPo. Of course, the NYTimes editorial page denounces this sort of corporate greed and perfidy, while NYTimes Co. bellies up to the feed trough and chows down!

Posted by: paladin at February 23, 2005 2:22 PM | Permalink

From the Intro