Today, my Reinventing the News class got a tour of the Christian Science Monitor. Founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor has a reputation for being an impartial source of news, especially on national and international issues. Earlier in the semester, Mary Knox Merrill came to our class and told us many stories of her experiences as a staff photographer for the Monitor traveling around the world.
What’s especially interesting about the Monitor is that two years ago they switched to an almost entirely online model. Instead of publishing a printed product five days a week, now the organization posts the majority of their news on their website and publishes an additional weekly edition. According to the Monitor’s editor, John Yemma, since switching to their current model, web traffic has increased from 5 million hits per month to 30 million hits per month.
In addition to a tour of the newsroom, we were lucky enough to sit in on the daily budget meeting among the editors, where editors discussed what articles were going to be published that day. In addition to going over the articles, the editors also talked about what “multipliers” they could add to which stories. Multipliers, one editor explained, are what the Monitor calls add-ons to an article that help multiply the amount of hits and page clicks the Monitor gets. Some popular multipliers that go with articles are lists, photo galleries and quizzes.
One of the most interesting things I learned was while the editors answered our questions. They have learned to embrace search engine optimization (SEO), a term that can make some reporters and news organizations cringe.
Obviously, since the Monitor now focuses about two-thirds of their energy online (according to Yemma), it’s important to get your headline right when competing with big, national news organizations for that top spot on a Google search. Yet the editors stressed that they had worked hard to understand SEO and go beyond just regurgitating a catch phrase as a headline. They want to be able to have the content to back up their headline, and to go in-depth in their articles beyond just the facts to answer the “Why?” readers might have while reading.
I hadn’t thought of SEO in this way before. As an aspiring reporter, what made the most impact on me was what National News Editor Cheryl Sullivan said:
If an article isn’t searchable, then reporters have labored in vain for 600 people to read it, not the tens of thousands that could be reading it.