These days, however, news articles — be they about war, voting rights, the arts or immigration policy — increasingly inhabit social media feeds like thefrighteningly dominant one that Facebook runs. They are competing for attention against zany kitchen experiments; your friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah; and that wild video of a train whipping through a ridiculously narrow alleyway in India.
After watching the fruiticide, I noticed a Twitter post by the freelance journalist Erik Malinowski that read, “the watermelon … is us,” and sighed. Seemed about right.
THE NEWS WAS ALWAYS COMPETING WITH THAT SHIT. It was always competing with entertainment, with sports, with car sales ads. It was always paid for by travel puff pieces, and that travel puff pieces don’t pay like they used to is not Grumpy Cat’s fucking fault.
Acting like this is some new problem just encourages the sentimental fatalism that says that people are just dumb now, and we the Old Guard are just too precious and wonderful for this rude new world, and sigh, moan, bitch, repeat. Which, I don’t have a problem with you feeling sorry for yourself, I guess, but let’s not confuse it with forward motion. Whining about a watermelon isn’t actually a contribution to the conversation.
Then, sweet relief (or was it?): The Financial Times reported that BuzzFeed — which is best known for hits like the watermelon video, though its news team wins awards — missed its financial targets last year and was revising this year’s projections downward. BuzzFeed, which does not disclose its finances, denied the report, saying this year will meet expectations. But traditional newsrooms everywhere were reveling in the schadenfreude just the same.
Again, this isn’t work. It’s therapy. In the first place, missing your financial targets doesn’t mean you’re not doing just fine, and in the second place, if BuzzFeed has figured out that watermelon videos pay for award-winning journalism then CONGRATULATIONS TO BUZZFEED for figuring out what newspapers used to know a hundred years ago, when they reported on the achievements of the local White Stockings Base-Ball Troupe as well as whatever President Taft was up to.
I’ve said for a long time that the problem with newspaper companies isn’t that they don’t know how the Internet works. It’s that they don’t know how newspapers work.
You wanna know how bad this story is? Jim VandeHei (of Politico and “Bush gets a do-over for Katrina” fame) comes off sounding like the voice of reason:
It starts with Mr. VandeHei’s admittedly provocative proposition that “journalists are killing journalism.” They’re doing this, he says, by “stubbornly clinging to the old ways.” That’s defined as producing 50 competing but nearly identical stories about a presidential candidate’s latest speech, or 700-word updates on the transportation budget negotiations.
Survival, Mr. VandeHei says, depends on giving readers what they really want, how they want it, when they want it, and on not spending too much money producing what they don’t want.
It’s not only about creating big audiences for advertisers, he and Mr. Allen said. It’s about convincing already-inundated audiences that they want what you’re producing, and they want it so badly that they will pay for it through subscriptions.
I would argue that newspaper companies are killing newspapers, not that journalists are killing journalism, actually. But the larger point — do good shit and people will pay for it — is something lots of smart people have been saying while newspaper company executives yelled about the hyperlocal paywall data journalism citizen video whatever and gave consultants money to teach them how to use Facebook.
I am just so sick of crabbing about the Internet. I really am. Go do good work. Go do good stuff and put some money into promoting it and yourself, and stop whining about somebody somewhere doing something you didn’t do that was more popular than what you did. Twas ever thus, and complaining about a watermelon may make you feel better but it doesn’t pay your damn rent. Watermelon ain’t going nowhere. Shut the fuck up about it and get to work.