Is Googling a new journalist’s name fair?

March 28 2011

Curiously, I’ve read several articles recently by editors looking to employ journalists full time or freelance who’ve said that the first thing they do is search for the applicant’s name and ‘journalist’, and if they aren’t the first link that Google throws up, they’ll delete the application. It came up in the Guardian’s recent web chat about freelance writing, for example. The point is about the importance of SEO in writing today – something I find quite sad but, as an ex-editor, can understand.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as ‘good’ SEO, which is when writing is crafted to maximise search engine visibility without affecting the quality of the work or the message of what you have to say, although I do tend to practice it where nowadays whether a commission for a website specifically asks for it or not. At least I do where it’s relevant – in things like reviews and short news stories, not so much the long form stuff.

It’s just a fact of writing online now.

I find it the editors in question (I won’t link to them here) attitude a bit disheartening though. After all, what if you have a surname like, oh, I don’t know, say… ‘Oxford’. All the SEO skills in the world are going to struggle against the might of the University Press when it comes to getting top links, especially given all the authors in history whose works get listed as “Surname, Adam (Oxford)”. Google doesn’t really recognise brackets you see, but an editor looking to carve through CVs isn’t going to think of that.

It’s only because I have a very large and well established portfolio of writing that I tend to float to the top when googling my name these days. It took years for that to happen.

If I was just starting out my name would, apparently, hamper my ability to get hired. I’d like to think that that would be a bit short sighted of a potential employer.

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