CNET Expunged My Byline–and I Don’t Feel Fine

I made a rather startling discovery yesterday while looking for one of my old CNET News stories: My byline has been removed and changed to Staff. Not on just the one, but all. That ends any historical record reporting for the early tech website—from 1999-2003. While others sites I wrote for during 2003-2009 have vanished, CNET remained and my name as author of record on thousands of stories. It was a repository I could rely on. No longer.

The discovery came while searching for “Mac Cube: Is it all it’s cracked up to be?” The analysis sought to answer a question I had as a G4 Cube owner—as did others, many of whom were regular readers. The dek captures the story’s spirit: “Apple Computer is fending off criticism its stylish Power Mac G4 Cube is marred by cracks. But are the hair-thin lines the defects they appear to be?” 

Coincidental timing made the analysis bigger than its reporting. The same day the story published, after the stock market closed, Apple issued a profit warning—citing in part slow Cube sales as contributor. The beautiful, translucent computer flopped.

Be Smarter Than Me
The CNET News byline purge is all the more reason for content creators to heed my Dec. 30, 2014 post: “Writers, Own Your Content!” You can’t trust that the website you write for today will be tomorrow—or if it is, your byline or stories will remain with it.

Nut graph from my commentary:

If you produce online content—particularly the kind of evergreen stuff with long shelf life—you cannot trust publishers to keep it or for them to simply stay in business. Related, if audience rather than search-engine optimization is your primary objective, your content should post across contextual online venues. You maximize its value through ownership rather than ceding rights to a third party.

Context is King
In the decade 2010, I cross-post to this blog anything written for someplace else. Stories are preserved here, and I don’t give a frak if Google search penalizes me for doing so. Nor should you, because context—not content—is king. As I explain from the same two year-old post:

Context is the lifeblood that beats Internet journalism—or any online content, for that matter. What you produce should follow the audience wherever, whenever, on whatever it may be. Restating what you should already know, at the least, extend your content’s reach by way of contextual service accounts, rather than just rely on the branded media outlet that employs you or for which you contract or freelance—your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, and whichever other socials used. Break off nimbles from your prepared feast, and use them to extend your content’s reach and draw people to the main meal.

You worked hard in the kitchen, and with little extra effort could produce tasty leftovers. Meaning: Your main body of work, not just social sharing samples, should be reheated for other publishing venues and audiences. My contrarian advice: Cross-post blogs or news stories.

Search-engine optimization consultants, and also Google, will tell you to avoid such practice because search penalty will be imposed. Frak `em, I say. You are the brand, not the site where you work or post. You need to be able to preserve content and maximize its audience value over time.

Don’t be Dimmed
None of these contextual tools existed when I reported for CNET News—not even comments. Readers emailed the writers. The first commercial news blogs started during my last year with the company—the tech news pioneer, which adopted strict journalistic standards for reporting, writing, and editing inherited from newspapers.

Sigh, now the only preservation of what I wrote remains in my dimmed memory. I recall but a few stories out of thousands. Don’t be expunged like me. Own your content. Extend its relevance contextually. Take it to wherever you audience is.

Photo Credit: Stefan Lins