It was fully nineteen months ago that I told you about the Washington Post writer who lost his job because his blog wasn’t getting read enough. In Internet time, nineteen months is an eternity. So with suggestions that USA Today is about to start paying their writers more if they get lots of page views on the Internet versions of their columns starting to circulate, it’s time to re-examine the way Internet traffic drives business change.

When the Washington Post story broke, I was mostly critical of the firing. My objection wasn’t a high-and-mighty, pro-labor stance; if anything I went out of my way to chalk it up as business change running its natural course. But because the writer A) probably wasn’t trained in or employing Search Engine Optimization techniques and B) was at the mercy of the Washington Post (not) having done SEO to help determine how much traffic his work received, the firing struck me as unfair.

Nineteen months. An eternity.

USA Today’s plan, a carrot rather than a stick, is a great idea. In general, writers who get read more should get paid more, right? It’s no different than TV News anchors with high ratings getting more money than their lower-ranked brethren or popular movie stars getting the big bucks. But it still raises the question: just how important is SEO?

You already know the answer, but let’s take a look at some recent examples of the impact Search Engine Optimization has on business and business change:

But the question is this: if journalists spend a big chunk of their time concentrating on SEO techniques, what impact does it have on the quality of their work as journalists?

The answer may be that it doesn’t matter. But if it doesn’t, the debate about journalism versus blogging needs to end. And both The Washington Post’s firing for lack of traffic and USA Today’s bonuses in the event of high traffic are hastening that business change.

Odd how the very people who want us to think that journalists are special are the ones making them less so, don’t you think?

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