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Dangers of Joining a Media Feeding Frenzy

Media feeding frenzyEvery so often the press (and public) are drawn to a Big Story with a fervor like sharks at a feeding frenzy. As night follows day, bloggers and some SEO purveyors join in, trying to present their own topics in a way that ties them into the Big Story in sometimes awkward ways. (Witness the many blog posts along the lines of: “What (the Big Story) can teach us about (the blogger’s unrelated topic).” Sometimes this helps the blogger draw attention and builds some SEO benefit. Other times, however, it can go way too far, damaging the blogger’s reputation and alienating readers.

An Article is Published

Over the weekend, Search Engine Journal (a collection of search-related articles) published an editorial related to the recent tragedy in Newtown CT. The author pointed out that it seemed way too easy to find mail-order guns via Google and Bing, and suggested that the search engines should filter out those results in the same manner it did so for pornography. This raised a firestorm of commentary, with both pro- and anti-gun supporters weighing in heavily.

So here’s where the problem started. The author included many inaccuracies in the post, such as suggesting how easy it was to find one-stop purchasing vendors who would ship guns directly to you. *False* – These vendors will ship to an authorized gun dealer, to whom you’d need to physically visit and fill out all necessary paperwork/qualifications etc. to get your purchase. Also, the article had several images of automatic weapons when the Newtown incident did not involve any such weapons. In short, the “editorial” seemed to represent a thinly veiled call on the search engines to censor their results to eliminate gun vendors.

Comment Feeding Frenzy

The primary argument against the article, championed in the blog comments by Kris Roadruck, pegged it as an anti-gun editorial that had no business in Search Engine Journal. (IMHO If not for the factual inaccuracies Kris pointed out, it probably would have been appropriate for a regular news outlet – certainly not for a search engine news forum.) Opponents proceeded to lash out at Kris as a reactionary, aggressive gun lover, resorting to name calling while ignoring his factual and general objections to the article. Other SEO industry regulars like Alan Bleiweiss and Alysson Fergison weighed in as well – Alysson in defense of Kris’ objections, and Alan on the general failure of the SEJ editorial staff for posting the article in the first place. On the other side were accusations of everything from unprofessionalism to overaggression to racism, from other readers and (occasionally) a note from the editor in question.

When the dust cleared, Kris’¬†factual inaccuracies were never addressed by his detractors so after repeated attempts at engagement he finally gave up fighting. (What’s that saying about “never argue with a fool” again?) Many readers declared in the comments or over on Twitter that they’d lost all respect for SEJ and would no longer be reading it. The article in question? Gone – vanished without a trace or explanation. The editors? Resigned without comment or apology.

Epilogue

The moral of this story? Media feeding frenzies can be useful for getting exposure for your blog or business IF you act appropriately. Search Engine Journal sure got a lot of exposure in this one, but I think they’ll find their readership has suffered because of it. Their decision to run the article, or at the very least the decision to allow those editors to run it, should be re-examined before it leads to a catastrophic loss of readership.

Don’t make this mistake yourself. Think twice about whether you really have something to contribute to a story before jumping into media feeding frenzy. Like the animal form for which it’s named, you could suddenly find yourself on the menu…

(P.S. One of my Twitter compatriots located a cached version of the article as of 10pm ET, several hours prior to deletion. It won’t have all the commentary, but you’ll get the idea.)

(Image courtesy of John Cooke.)

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