Village Voice Media, the struggling owner of the Seattle Weekly, is "running an organized reciprocal Digg campaign using staff at their network of alt-weekly newspapers across the United States," according Ed Kohler's media website The Deets. In plain English, that means VVM staffers have systematically submitted VVM stories to Digg, a social-media web site that allows people to submit and vote for ("Digg") stories that they consider especially interesting or noteworthy, and voted them to the top of Digg's front page. Sites with a lot of "Diggs" generally have very high web traffic, as Digg users click on Digg's front-page stories.

Kohler noticed, first, that the vast majority of VVM's Diggs came from VVM staffers. "What kind of people read essentially every local alt-weekly owned by Village Voice Media and submits stories from those sites to Digg on a frequent basis? Clearly, people with a financial interest in seeing VVM properties get dugg." Because Digg users' submissions carry more weight if they're from a variety of sources, rather than just one web site, many VVM staffers Digg stories at other VVM properties. According to Kohler's analysis, two users alone, both VVM staffers, have generated between 3.8 and 19.4 million visits to VVM papers. One, Kevin Plocek, has the title "social media manager."

Why does this matter? Although Digg users are free to Digg anything they want, falsely driving up traffic via Digg artificially inflates the value of VVM's web sites to advertisers. The amount advertisers pay to advertise online is based on how many individual eyeballs are landing on a site. But Digg users—who typically don't click through to ads—are more or less worthless to advertisers, something Kohler has also written about here. Claiming massive traffic based on Diggs is like saying my newspaper has a million readers when most of those people are just picking it up and throwing it in the trash. Paying employees drive up traffic to drive up ad rates, like paying ad salespeople to create fake "buzz" around advertisers on their own social-networking site—is a shell game, and a bizarre one at that. But it may be the only game VVM has left.