Longform or shortform? Why sites like the SEO chasing Bleacher Report don’t mean the death of journalism

The Bleacher Report may not exactly be the bastion of hard-hitting journalism but it is successful at what it does, and SF Insider’s in-depth report into the sport site’s tactics is thought-provoking for anybody running a website, especially if the aim is to make money and a lot of page views. An awful lot of page views.

Using SEO to drive the editorial agenda is nothing new. Any good news site should at least be taking this into account. Many already do.

Witness the large number of tech blogs that fill up weeks before an Apple announcement with nothing more than speculation, but cleverly designed to hook in the Googlers. Gawker and others employ somebody to look for trending memes and virals with the intention of publishing them on a mainstream site before anyone else.

Then there’s the Mail Online, probably the best mainstream media proponent of SEO. For all the “but that’s not news” cries, the Mail are incredibly successful in their SEO friendly headline and content and it pays off majorly with page views. Never underestimate the power of a non-story of bikini shots with an SEO-friendly headline.

But does this, as the journalist who originally Tweeted, spell the death of sports journalism? It’s easy to see why journalists, especially those with strong notions of what comprises of journalism, might be uneasy with the rise of sites like the Bleacher Report. As for whether it spells the death of journalism. Probably not.

The Bleacher Report does what it does well. It uses techniques that a lot of journalists and bloggers would do well to look at and if the community didn’t at least like some part of it, they wouldn’t return.

But it doesn’t mean that all reportage has to reach the lowest-common denominator SEO-influenced page view chasing articles.

Indeed, if there’s a race to the bottom, it means there’s a space at the top of the market – and when there’s a space, someone will eventually fill it. That may be a current website or media organisation, or it may be a site that doesn’t exist yet.

The Bleacher Report is more like a shot of cheap espresso, while long-form journalism is more like a good quality coffee to be savoured. Granted, it may not shift as many units as a quick fix, but it will always have a market for what it does. But then the popularity of the Blizzard and blogs such as twohundredpercent show that there is a market for longform or alternative commentary that doesn’t just regurgitate the more mainstream publications.

There’s a large part of me that feels that at some point in the future we’re going to see a slight split between platforms for short-form SEO friendly content and longform journalism and reportage (the type that costs, or at least is time consuming to produce). And I suspect tablets – be they iPads, Samsung Galaxys or Kindles – will play a large part in this.

Research from Pew already suggests that tablet owners are reading more longform content and spending significant amounts of time doing so. Unless you want to better (if that’s the right word) or replicate the Bleacher Report’s methods, then there’s no reason why the two can’t live happily side-side-by-side, with one mastering the web and the other the tablet.

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