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LeBron James Goes Gonzaga Over Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 — or How the Internet Dumbs Down Creative Writing

The headline for this blog is an amalgam of trending internet search terms (at least they were trending on Sunday). It was prompted by an opinion piece in the New York Times’s Sunday Review, in which staff editor Margaret Sullivan wrote about how internet search results have changed the way journalists craft headlines for their stories.

“A venerable art adapts to meet digital demands,” reads the pull quote, although it would have been more precise to say “surrenders” or “caves” instead of “adapts.” Sullivan describes how determining an accurate and still engaging headline, an art that originally evolved to entice readers, is now subject to digital influences such as updated news reports and viewership. Since information for stories—such as police shootings—continues to come in, it often changes known facts, and therefore the headlines must be changed to match.

But more important to the Times as an organization, is the number of people who actually read the article. Readership drives advertising, which drives revenue, which drives everything else in our culture. Times researchers discovered that “search engines—particularly Google—were not serving up Times journalism prominently because however clever the headlines may have been, a lot of them lacked keywords.”

The Times’s strategy for coping with lower ranking search returns was, according to Sullivan, to include more identifiable keywords in headlines. That’s the wrong response if you ask me.

Keyword popularity is a function of current search trends. Take a look at what’s trending on Google as we speak, and you’ll see that the vast majority of it is about celebrities and sports, cocktails, cars, DJs and similar trivia. Even the in most popular searches for books, three of the top five terms were Dr. Seuss, Patch Adams, and L. Ron Hubbard. Seriously?

Journalism may not be the pinnacle of literary creativity, but when it starts to kowtow to the dregs of popular culture, you know its end as an unbiased and useful resource of knowledge is imminent. Just look at USA Today.

Can literature be far behind? One of the things I tell writers who wish to submit stories to our literary journal is the importance to me of language. But if language becomes a function of mass culture search inquiries, the entire field may decline.

A good example of this regards a woman I met several months ago at a writers’ group. She said she had written dozens of novels and had sold more than a half million copies of them on Amazon. Of course we all wanted to know how. And of course it had little to do with the quality of the writing (as verified by me when I perused some of her titles) and everything to do with the trending topics, as well as the ability of her computer guy to parse the algorithms Amazon’s uses to rank, and therefore promote, titles. In other words she made up stuff about whatever was popular, just to increase sales. She admitted that she wrote whatever came into her head and never revised her work. It’s a free country and she can do that, but maybe we should reclassify what she does from “writing” to “typing” or even “brain diarrhea,” I might sleep better at night knowing she was no longer considered a writer.

But who am I to buck successful trends? Let me close by saying Lilly for Target may have Ebola but will still compete in NBA Playoffs. That ought to bring in the readers.

BTW my novel, Curtain Calls, will be a featured review in the May 1 issue of Kirkus Reviews’ print magazine. Why not purchase a copy?

Morning News

3/31/15: Tahoma Literary Review Volume 2, Issue 1 is now available. Great poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as always. You can purchase a copy on Amazon, or download an e-file on our site.

11/2/14: Tahoma Literary Review co-Publisher Kelly Davio and I will present "The Literary Magazine Goes Digital" at the Northwest Bookfest in Kirkland, WA on Sunday, Nov. 2. There's still time to attend the conference, which runs Nov. 1-2 and includes two days of intense workshops (and lunch is included). You can register on their web site.

09/23/14: My story "How to Live at a Hotel" received an Honorable Mention in the Stoneslide Corrective Fiction Contest. Publisher Christopher Wachlin said he would also like to run it in an upcoming issue of Stoneslide .

08/19/14: Minneapolis, here we come. My friend Lori A. May's panel proposal for The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference has been accepted, so she and I and three other writers will present "Literary Citizenship: It’s Not About You," in April, 2015.

03/31/14: My story, "Plunge," is live at Stoneslide Corrective. They're a cool new journal and book publisher. I used a pseudonym for this one, for future marketing considerations, as they say.

02/28/14: I'll be moderating a panel titled "Stoking the Fire," about finding the writing life that's best for you, at the annual AWP conference on Feb. 28.

10/03/13: Here come da judge! I've been named final judge for the Adult Fiction category of the Detroit Working Writers 2014 conference. I'm excited, because judging the Poetry category will be US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey! Just being mentioned in the same sentence with her is an honor.

9/24/13: Woodward Press co-publisher Dora Badger and I will present a discussion on Self Publishing Options at the annual Rochester Writers Conference on Saturday, October 5 at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Registration is still open for the event, so if you're in the area please join us.

8/1/13: The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) has accepted my panel proposal for the 2014 annual conference in Seattle. "Stoking the Fire: Maintaining the Passion for Writing When Success Eludes" will feature co-presenters Kobbie Alamo, Teri Carter and Q. Lindsey Barrett.

“Curtain Calls,” Available Now

Curtain Calls: A Novel of The Great War is my new book released through Woodward Press. The novel follows three American performers who travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, where they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of war. Separated by events, they fall in with factions for and against the conflict, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues.

The Face Maker and other stories of obsession is my collection of short stories out now from Woodward Press. Kelly Davio, author of Burn This House, says. "In stories that range effortlessly across time period and place, Joe Ponepinto delivers the kind of masculine character we crave in literary fiction; these characters wrestle with the most essential questions of morality, and they bare-knuckle box with their human frailties." Find it on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Want a signed copy? Email me at jpon (at) thirdreader (dot) com.

For the editing and tutoring services I offer, please see my companion site at Third Reader.

I am the co-Publisher and Fiction Editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a literary journal.

For links to some published stories, go to my Publications page.

Tahoma Literary Review Now Open for Submissions

TLR is officially open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. To find out more about this new (paying) literary journal, please visit us at Tahoma Literary Review.

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