This month in Pursuit: lies and deception, and a confession.
In December, we’re looking into lies, malfeasance, fraud, and deceit. Leading off the month is an excellent and well-researched piece by new Pursuit contributor Kevin Goodman about the latest behavioral research on deception detection. Later in December, look for more deception-related stories, including a Q&A with Diana Henriques, the NYTimes financial writer whose new Bernie Madoff biography delves into the psychology of the biggest Ponzi schemer in history.
As we explore fraud and malfeasance in the virtual pages of Pursuit, we’re also doing a little soul searching. We try to be forthright and transparent, and in that spirit, we offer the following confession.
Last month, we celebrated our one-year anniversary as Pursuit Magazine’s new owners and editors. Frankly, we’re still learning how to manage an online publication.
We are professional investigators, writers, journalists, and businesspeople. We are not SEO masterminds. We are not savvy to the myriad ways the interwebs for computers are manipulated to generate traffic, for the sake of traffic. Clicks gained through outrageous headlines, keyword-rich content, and click farms are clicks. They drive up stats.
But we believe that clicks like that are inherently misleading and, thus, deceptive. Fraudulent, even. And if you’ve been following the news of Google’s recent Panda updates, you’ll no doubt conclude that the search engine king agrees with our assessment.
We get submissions, to the tune of three or four a day, from “content providers”…black-hat SEO practicioners with an unfirm grasp of English.
We get submissions, to the tune of three or four a day, from “content providers.” Some are clearly from overseas black-hat SEO practicioners with an unfirm grasp of English. Others come from “real people” who address us by name. If we ask for editorial changes, they usually comply.
We’ve been on the other side of the editorial fence. We’re willing to give new writers a chance to hone their chops.
But the majority of these submissions aren’t by new writers looking for a chance to hone their chops. They’re by link farmers, and their submissions are riddled with hyperlinks and awkward phrases, crafted specifically to include as many keywords as possible. Even when competently written, they are generic in tone and offer no real insight into the investigative industry. Some of the articles have been “spun”—run through a software tool that changes a few words and phrases, and tricks Google into indexing the content as “original.”
We’ve fallen for a few of them, put them in our pages.
We’ve fallen for the occasional infograph of suspect click-bank origin. I love a good infograph, the way information is conveyed visually and succinctly, but many of them are problematic. Ruben Roel, our talented and trusted webmaster, pointed out that the last infograph we posted was from a dubious source. We investigated, followed the links, and deleted the post.
The Pursuit editorial team will no longer post material from guest bloggers we do not know. We will entertain content from experts in the investigative business. We will continue to encourage professional investigators to write for us. We will welcome submissions from real writers and industry leaders who have good stories and wisdom to share.
We will not, however, post click-bait from people who ” … plan to write a unique article just for your site about a subject of your choosing which will not be published anywhere else.” We’re been burned, lesson learned.
At Pursuit, we don’t believe in short cuts. We’re in this for the long haul, and we don’t see deceptive SEO practices and spammy, low-quality link-bait as a long-term strategy. We will never post paid links, nor will we publish paid content or advertisement that is not clearly labeled as such.
Deception takes many forms. There are outright lies, and then there are the more subtle forms: feints omissions, and misdirection — the tools of magicians, politicians, and fashion magazines. (Think Photoshop.) To our minds, selling something under the guise of offering information is a form of deception. It is a lie. And it undermines the trust we seek to build.
We believe that becoming an industry thought leader is a long, arduous process. It’s not about “generating content.” It’s about relationships — gaining the trust of our small community of investigators by providing useful, interesting articles about the investigations field.
Real fans can’t be stolen or bought; they must be earned. And the only way to earn them is to offer something of quality, day after day, for as long as it takes. That’s what we signed on for, and that’s what we plan to do. —THH