I’ve written from time to time about The Atlantic, which has done a number of things toincrease both its visibility and its value over the last few years.
The magazine’s online presence was profiled earlier this week by Mashable’s Lauren Indvik, who covered their ability “to capitalize on the growing importance of social networks, rather than search engines, as sources of traffic.” Bob Cohn, editor the digital side of The Atlantic, characterized the situation this way:
“Before, it seemed Demand Media was going to own the Internet by assigning stories based on search returns. It was a cynical approach to journalism… We’re no longer writing to get the attention of Google algorithms. We’re writing to get you to share it, to digg it.”
Or as Scott Havens, their SVP of finance and digital operations, described it: “Now it’s about how we can spin a story so that it goes viral.”
I’m no fan of content farms liked Demand Media, and certainly The Atlantic needs to find a model that lets it earn some money. But substituting the tyranny of a game you were losing (SEO) for the tyranny of a game you can win (going viral) doesn’t seem like a breakthrough.
There’s an intrinsic appeal to “writing for humans”, as Cohn describes it. But if people are looking for a quick fix or some form of validation, those humans are not necessarily the best barometer of good journalism.