SEO: Unethical or Essential?

In a world where you answer most questions by typing them into google, search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial. A work’s title, key words, and tags are what connect it with an audience; successful SEO means making your work accessible.

But how far should we take it?

It’s a journalist’s job to get the word out there, so naturally it makes sense for us to consider SEO. The “Ground Zero Mosque” saga, however, is indicative of a modern ethical struggle in the journalism world. Where do we draw the line? Is it unethical to repeatedly use the phrase “ground zero mosque” because you know it will have a considerable impact on your online visibility?

Even though we have a story to tell to as many people as possible, we also have a responsibility to our audience to present them with factual, unbiased information. “Ground zero mosque,” is a false label. The establishment is an Islamic center, not a mosque. The center is two blocks away from ground zero. Even if we correct it in the context of the story, is it ok to promote the use of that term?

The AP says no, and they’ve held to their word. It’s admirable, but is it practical? If someone hears a friend say in passing, “it’s ironic like a mosque at ground zero is ironic,” and they want to know more about it, they are most likely to type “ground zero mosque” into the search engine. To refuse to use the phrase in the context of the article means that the right audience might not reach your information.

It’s a dilemma. It’s important to stay true to your morals, but you may be sitting on your high horse all by yourself because no one’s reading your work.

If we get technical about it, the use of quotation marks puts into question whether or not the words are yours. Any subsequent article on the topic is newsworthy because someone said the words “ground zero mosque.” It’s not perpetuating a falsehood to write a story about how the “ground zero mosque” does not exist. It is your duty as a journalist to relate the newsworthiness to your content; the reader should know why the information is relevant. To exclude the term is equal to not using a quote because you disagree with it.



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