Results tagged “journalism”

One Simple Trick Worked to Improve Headlines, and You Won't Believe What Happened Next

January 27, 2014

Upworthy is barely over two years old, and it's among the top 50 most visited sites in the United States. But its perception among the self-involved media discussion class is entirely defined by its headlines.

Those headlines typically reference a provocative issue, tease an unexpected revelation about the topic, and are oriented toward encouraging people to click through to the Upworthy site more than to understand the story without having clicked. And those headlines work

Interestingly, though, the media industry's reaction to a site having found a formula that actually breaks through the clutter online and makes aggregated content seem distinct hasn't been enthusiasm, but open disdain.

Horrible CNN Tweet

This trend reached its apotheosis recently when a misguided social media manager at CNN used (what they thought was) the Upworthy formula in a completely inappropriate way. There was almost as much opprobrium for Upworthy in the wake of the incident as for CNN itself. Having been the source of the format, Upworthy got some of the blame when it got misused.

It seems the folks over at Upworthy are aware of the perception issue here; They've shared statistics about how infrequently they've actually used the most-parodied tropes, and how their use of these tactics has changed in recent months.

Obviously, if you broaden the terms a bit, you get a few more headlines which evoke this trope, though they still comprise a fairly small percentage of all their stories:

The reaction has built to the point where people are responding in interesting and creative ways. Alison Gianotto (of noise) created Downworthy as a programmatic way of modifying "hyperbolic viral headlines" and it's been greeted with delight by people frustrated with the pervasiveness of this style of writing.

I'm not so sure this argument is as clear as the anti-hyped-headlines narrative would presume, though. Writing evocative headlines is a good thing if it gets people to see content of substance. Sure, it can be manipulative if misused, and frustrating if key information is omitted for no good reason. But part of what makes this style of headline so remarkable is that it is a distinctive voice. There are media outlets that are a century old which don't have a personality that's distinctive enough to be parodied without context to a large audience; Upworthy (and the lesser sites aping its style) have gotten there in two years.

Ultimately, many of the objections to this style of content are from people who feel like good stories should be able to find an audience without such "tricks". And of course, they're right — stories should be able to find an audience. But they don't. So good narratives have to be marketed, and innovations that discover new ways to be effective in attracting audiences are a useful, and necessary, part of making media succeed online. It was only a few decades ago that USA Today adding color to its newspaper was seen as somehow "undignified", or beneath the level of seriousness appropriate for a journalistic endeavor. Certainly we don't have to be quite so puritanical about the ways content aggregators market their content. Great headlines are a wonderful art; I maintained a link blog for years primarily because of how much fun it was to write "better" (to my mind) headlines for existing articles or stories. The fundamental identity of many tabloids is about the way they construct their headlines. There's no reason that can't be true online as well.

And while I'm always loath to extend the biological metaphors over "virality" in content, there is obviously a precedent in the realm of biology of viruses which are overly aggressive and have extreme short-term success at the expense of their long-term success. In those cases, we see evolutions that lead to much more sustainable behaviors. I have no doubt we'll see that happen in the media ecosystem.

[Disclosurebrag: Upworthy is a customer of ThinkUp. I felt Upworthy's headlines were interesting and useful as a strategy before that was true.]

Beacon of Bloviation and Links

September 6, 2012

Oh, there's been lots of chatter on the Internet this week! Where all did our conversations show up? Well, I'll tell you.

  • Pegged to the release of Jessica Valenti's new book Why Have Kids, I (somewhat inexplicably!) participated in an NY Daily News Roundtable via Google Hangout, discussing the vagaries of parenthood and career with Jessica, Lenore Skenazy and Karen "Duff" Duffy. You know you'd like to watch my first time interacting with the former VJ, right?

  • Over on MetaFilter, Larry Roberts wrote about Privately-Owned Public Spaces, a topic we just visited a few months ago. I like the breadth of the resources he wrapped up in the discussion.
  • I was a judge for the Online News Association's Online Journalism Awards this year. The slate of entrants was extraordinary, and the selected honorees even more so. Do go check them out.
  • How the hell did Reddit manage to grow and thrive after being left for dead by the Diggosphere and snapped up by Condé Nast? David Carr explored that topic in the New York Times, and naturally I couldn't shut up about it.
  • Our beloved animated gifs are a central part of fan culture. (Indeed, where would LiveJournal or Tumblr fanfic be without them?) and Charles Kenny has the story. I read the fanfic for the articles.
  • We reached our $5000 goal (and then some!) for the charity: water campaign I launched yesterday. Not only did we top $5000 in a little over 12 hours, we've vaulted to the top of the list of campaigns as ranked by number of donors. Won't you give $37 and become one, too?

That's all for now! Let me know if I've missed any of my blabbing elsewhere; I wouldn't want to deprive you.

There's No Such Thing as "Cyberbullying"

October 1, 2010

For more than a decade, an intellectually bankrupt habit of maligning new media has reared its head in traditional media outlets, perpetuating a false impression of technology being bad for society. Worse, this tendency masks the actual social ills that are to blame for these awful actions, by creating the facade that technology is to blame when it is more likely the fault of racism, homophobia, classism, or intolerance.

Some recent examples:

  • The Associated Press wrote about the suicide of Tyler Clementi after a dormroom hookup of his was broadcast by some of his acquaintances. Geoff Mulvihill and Samantha Henry wrote:
    The Associated Press found at least 12 cases in the U.S. since 2003 in which children and young adults between 11 and 18 killed themselves after falling victim to some form of "cyberbullying" — teasing, harassing or intimidating with pictures or words distributed online or via text message.
  • The New York Times extends the demonization even further, with a six-person debate on cyberbullying that never once questions the rhetorical premise of the word "cyberbullying" itself. Searching the New York Times archive generates no results for "bibliobullying" or even "telebullying", despite their own definition of "cyberbullying" including text messages sent from phones.

This isn't new territory; danah boyd covered the dishonesty of this term thoroughly on her own blog years ago. But the persistence of this descriptor demonstrates a consistent agenda focused on blaming these horrible displays of intolerance or inhuman unkindess on technology.

When I had my own nose broken by a bully who assaulted me when I was in the seventh grade, it took me some time to figure out the source of his enmity, since the attacker was a guy I barely knew. As it turned out, he had misheard a phone conversation that several kids had conference called in to. I've either forgotten or never knew most of the details of what the conversation was about, but at no time did the school administrators refer to the incident as telebullying, or blame the phone for causing it. They also didn't blame the locker that my nose was smashed in to, presumably because school lockers are a technology of sufficient vintage as to be immune from idiotic epithets.

Why They Made Up This Word

It's important to note that blaming technology for horrendous, violent displays of homophobia or racism or simple meanness lets adults like parents and teachers absolve themselves of the responsibility to raise kids free from these evils. By creating language like "cyberbullying", they abdicate their own role in the hateful actions, and blame the (presumably mysterious and unknowable) new technologies that their kids use for these awful situations. Somehow, when I was frequently cross-dressing or wearing makeup or identifying as queer as a high schooler, I was still able to be threatened with violence, even though my tormentors had no mobile phones or laptop computers. (I will point out, for nerd cred, that I was the first person in my school to bring a mobile phone or laptop to class.)

I was thinking of this obliquely when Jose Antonio Vargas asked me a bit about my perspective on Hollywood's take on social media as exemplified by the new Facebook film. Despite my own misgivings about many of Facebook's social impacts, I still think old media as exemplified by the Associated Press and the film industry has a concerted agenda to demonize new media and social media, and Facebook and its creators bear the brunt of that in The Social Network. There's also the ugly reality that coining bullshit words like "cyberbullying" will sell papers or page views. I put it more broadly in the Huffington Post piece:

The movie is written in the abstract, based on what they feel Facebook, and the social Web, represent. It's exoticism. It's the 1940s, when you had a white actor in yellow-face play a Chinese character, you know? Those foreigners talk like this, and it's why they're inscrutable and evil.

The truth of it is, calling the cruelty that kids show to one another, based on race or gender identity or class or any other imaginary difference, by a name like "cyberbullying" is a cop-out. It's a group of parents, school administrators and lazy reporters working together to shirk their own responsibility for the meanspirited, hateful, incomprehensible things their own kids do.

And it's a myth. There's no such thing as cyberbullying. There's only the cruelty in all of us, and the cowardice of making words to hide from it.

I Find It Bonkers, By The Way

May 14, 2009

If you don't follow me on Twitter, you've been missing out. But fear not! I take care of my loyal blog readers as well, by offering you the highlights of the interesting links I've been sharing there:

HAHA LOL

This world wide web thing, i think it's going to work out. I think it's gonna be good for the both of us. As always, "HAHA LOL" is courtesy of Alaina Browne.

All Over The Place

October 17, 2007

I've been doing a good bit of speaking lately, and have some more coming up, so let me share it with you if you're interested.

  • I was flattered to have my post about Gawker quoted in passing by Jim Romenesko while talking about Vanessa Grigoriadis. However, I was mortified at the context -- Page Six of the NY Post had published a thinly-veiled threat of sexual violence against Ms. Grigoriadis. Let's repeat: The traditional, mainstream, dead-tree media institution published a threat of sexual violence on newsprint. And those who objected? The folks typing away in Movable Type at Radar Online and Media Bistro. This is why we need blogs to help fix traditional media.
  • I got to spend an hour talking to John C. Havens over at Blog Talk Radio which was ostensibly about transparency, but ended up getting into a good bit of blog history and some more philosophical parts of blogging. That was a lot of fun, and I was glad to get to do it.
  • On Friday, I'll be speaking at the Online News Association Conference in Toronto. I'll only be in town for a few hours, unfortunately, even though I love Toronto, but the discussion about Journalism Next is right up my alley. And I'm especially looking forward to getting to meet the other folks on the panel.
  • And then on Saturday, I'll be at ConvergeSouth 2007 in Greensboro, North Carolina. It looks to be an absolutely amazing event, and I'll be joining in at 10am on Saturday for my panel. I'll also be hosting a dinner at 6:30 on Saturday, you can sign up on the wiki to join the table.

Phew! Can't wait to meet a bunch of new folks, and if you want to get in touch and will be at either event, my mobile number and email address are both right here on my blog.

Gawker Reckoning

October 15, 2007

I've had the chance to follow Gawker Media since before it launched, really, and so it's been interesting to see a couple of items pop up recently about the direction of some of its titles and practices. The big story, of course, is New York Magazine's piece, which is appropriately petty, self-indulgent, and honest, as any piece about Gawker should be.

A lot of the complaints in the article seem to boil down to "but they're not nice!" and I have to say -- I think that's a completely fair criticism. Not that media has to be nice, but because journalism in many of its forms aspires to having a sense of social responsibility. I've had enough friends or acquaintances who've had their day (or week, or reputation) ruined by one of the Gawker blogs that I've gotten a lot less willing to say "oh hey, they're just trying to drive traffic". I'm all for snarky-smart assed blogging, I just think that emulating traditional media's willingness to destroy people who aren't villains isn't a strategy for long-term success.

From the New York mag story:

It’s long been known to magazine journalists that there’s an audience out there that’s hungry to see the grasping and vainglorious and undeservedly successful (“douchebags” or “asshats,” in Gawker parlance) put in the tumbrel and taken to their doom. It’s not necessarily a pleasant job, but someone’s got to do it. Young writers have always had the option of making their name by meting out character assassinations—I have been guilty of taking this path myself—but Gawker’s ad hominem attacks and piss-on-a-baby humor far outstrip even Spy magazine’s. It’s an inevitable consequence of living in today’s New York: Youthful anxiety and generational angst about having been completely cheated out of ownership of Manhattan, and only sporadically gaining it in Brooklyn and Queens, has fostered a bloodlust for the heads of the douchebags who stole the city. It’s that old story of haves and have-nots, rewritten once again.

The problem with this conveniently simplified narrative about Gawker's sites, particularly its flagship namesake blog, is that it's always accompanied by assertions that this sort of sniping is what blogs are about. This isn't just inaccurate, it's the kind of assertion that is easily disproven both qualitatively and quantitatively. But whether it's Gawker in NYC, Wonkette in DC, or Valleywag in the Bay Area, people who have loud mouths want to believe that news about them must truly be all the news that matters. Therefore, if the blog that talks about me and my friends is snarky, all blogs are snarky. Which is, you know, kinda obviously horseshit.

This hoary-but-false chestnut makes its requisite appearance in the NYMag piece in reference to Elizabeth Spiers and Nick Denton: "They didn’t exactly invent the blog, but the tone they used for Gawker became the most important stylistic influence on the emerging field of blogging and has turned into the de facto voice of blogs today." (Personal note to those who follow in the steps of Vanessa Grigoriadis: This is false. Stop saying it.)

The misrepresentation of blogging is especially tragic because not even all Gawker blogs are snarky. Case in point is the excellent Lifehacker, the best-written of all Gawker blogs, helmed by Gina Trapani. Since they're public, I don't feel too wrong pointing to her recent Twitters, one in praise of a recent attempt by Gawker editors to object to advertising encroaching on editorial on the site, and one celebrating Lifehacker's omission from the recitation of snarky Gawker sites in the NYMag story.

I'm not sure one of the best editorial talents at a publishing company should be reduced to celebrating such small victories. Don't get me wrong: Gawker gets a lot right. There's absolutely a value in speaking truth to power, and there is truly something noble in deflating the self-importance of the various industries that the Gawker sites poke holes in. My contempt for those who insult journalism by pretending it shouldn't evolve remains as strong as ever. At the same time, there should be a sense of social responsibility to the community of bloggers, if not to the traditional media. And to my mind, that means highlighting the humor, incisiveness, and lack of favoritism that made sites like Gawker such a breath of fresh air when they started. Put more simply, tearing apart the innocent bystanders in these industries isn't just bad journalism, it's boring blogging.

And really, as long as print magazines like New York Magazine are still quoting the likes of Julia Allison as an authority on blogs, there will be no shortage of material to poke fun at. But these points of reckoning should serve as useful milestones for making sure we're not becoming the worst of the legacy cultures we're trying to criticize.

Disclaimers, such as they are: I've got a million little connections and biases about this story. I'm an unabashed blog promoter, even after all these years, so I'm protective of the medium. I don't read many posts from Gawker blogs, but still have an inexplicable affection for them, and am quite pleased that at one point years ago, I think I knew almost everybody in the Gawker organization. I like Nick Denton, both personally and professionally, even though he exasperates me regularly and antagonizes my friends almost constantly. (And I certainly admire Nick's diplomatic abilities, which allow him to maintain friendships with people even as he's paid others to publicly embarrass them.)

I've known Liz Spiers for a few years socially, and may even have introduced her at Nick, at a MetaFilter meetup, of all things, and think she's underrated as a blogger. I consider Gina Trapani a friend (which will now be particularly awkward if that's not mutual) and I think indirectly had a hand in her meeting Nick as well. Gina is perhaps the most underrated high-profile blogger in the world. I'm a fan of Gawker editor Choire Sicha, and have a genuine affection for both his talents and charm. I pitched a fit earlier this year at Valleywag editor Owen Thomas because I think some of his pieces on the company I work for were full of shit, though we've since sorta made up and Valleywag continues to publish wacky and wrong articles about our work. I also like New York Magazine, though I only read it when someone sends me a link to a story. And both Gawker and NY Mag use Movable Type for parts of their publishing, which I work on and means I probably indirectly get paid from some of these sites. Batteries not included, your mileage may vary, my name is Anil Dash and I endorse this message.

Update: Can't believe I missed linking to this one, but Nick Denton weighed in, going predictably meta with the absolutely accurate assessment that traditional media has to stop using "bile" to refer to bloggers. I always use "unkind" -- it feels satisfyingly quaint.

Mainstream Media is Really Hard

October 8, 2007

In his post this weekend, Rex Sorgatz points out that "mainstream media is hard". It's a truth I know firsthand -- I used to work both in the music industry and at a newspaper, and still get the chance to work directly with the people at the largest media companies in the world who are bringing them into the modern era.

newsvine logo The thing is, I want them to survive the changes, and to thrive. I detest that there's such an adversarial relationship; This weekend a conversation with a veteran of the book publishing industry reached something of a breakthrough when we agreed that framing the ebook conversation in terms of DRM was like picking which Barnes & Nobles to stock books in based on how much shoplifting they see at that location. It's not about stealing -- it's about making fans happy.

Similarly, news can be about making worthwhile journalism that respects both tradition and contemporary life. So I was really, really happy to see Rex and Mike Davidson announce that MSNBC has acquired Newsvine. We usually talk about big companies acquiring little ones in term of the survival of the smaller company, but this may well be one that boosts the longevity of both organizations.

And more to the point, I love the conversations that I have with (or pick up from the blogs of) Mike and Rex because, like me, they're part of a large, somewhat quiet, number of us who truly love both old and new media. It's been a failing of both parties that people still talk about giant media corporations as dinosaurs, or that the giant corporations see new media like blogs as a threat instead of an opportunity.

rising-from-ruin.png

As Mike points out in his post, MSNBC sites like Rising From Ruin really show off the potential for companies to combine the reach of traditional media with the emotional resonance of the best of social media. I've had the privilege of getting to watch the site mature from its launch the weekend that Katrina hit (it's a TypePad blog), and seeing how human the stories are on that site, compared to, for example, the manipulative and off-putting versions of similar stories that one might see on TV was really a gratifying example of how a big company can do social news right.

I'm hoping, too, that the new relationship will somehow mean I get to finally meet either Rex or Mike. Despite traveling in the same circles for years and having avidly followed their work for more than half a decade, somehow I haven't met either of these guys yet.

Free the Times

September 17, 2007

The New York Times is removing the payment barrier from its TimesSelect content. Hooray!

I pundified* incorrectly about this two years ago when they launched TimesSelect -- go look and marvel at my foolishness! Update: Andre points out that this is just a Hail Mary play to win a bet. The Long Bet is broken anyway, because it presumes a blogs-vs-Times model, which of course isn't accurate.

* "Pundify" is to pontificate without the burden of facts and in full embrace of intellectual dishonesty.

The LOL Street Journal

August 27, 2007

What makes lolcats appealing is that it's simultaneously obscure and accessible. It's an inside joke told in an online lingua franca, but with a bit of effort anyone can become an insider.

"An in-joke used to be constrained by geography and who you knew socially," says Anil Dash, occasional lolcat critic and vice president of Six Apart, which creates several popular blog-software programs. "This is a very large in-joke" that blurs the old distinction "between Net geeks and the normals," he says.

I've seen some bloggers put up media quotes on their sites as examples of their credibility and expertise. I've already got the ridiculous photo of myself at the microphone up there, but thanks to my most recent appearance in the Wall Street Journal, I am sorely tempted to put "occasional lolcat critic" on my sidebar. Whatcha think?

Evanescence of the Treekillers

August 24, 2007

I like PC Magazine, and I've been reading it for pretty much my whole life, but I still can't help but think that the homepage for opinion columns contains two different Editors-in-Chief's "goodbye" articles. I'm the kind of nerd who still enjoys reading computer magazines, and as often as not I'll grab a PC Mag or PC World or something like that before I hop on a plane, just as a reminder of how interesting it can be to see technology in that context. (Any news or reviews covered by the print issue have almost always been discussed to death online by the time the magazine comes out.)

It's interesting to see how this has played out across the tech magazine space. InfoWorld recently killed their print magazine entirely. And eWeek had a recent print redesign where the magazine now features a narrative-based lead section called "Upfront" that pretty openly apes the New Yorker's Talk of the Town, but in a nerdy context. Surprisingly, it works pretty well, and it makes me enjoy reading the content in print form, as opposed to just skimming online. I'm hoping at least a handful of these magazines find a way to make a go of it in print, now that their audiences aren't relying on print for any time-sensitive tech news.

Corey Spring and the Future of Journalism

June 29, 2007

Corey Spring has broken the details of a story that no one in traditional journalism had figured out yet. Wrestler Chris Benoit’s murder-suicide seemed to have been predicted by edits to his Wikipedia profile which mentioned the death of his wife.

But the edits were the work of a prankster, which Spring figured out using some fairly straightforward deductions about the IP address of the person who made the edits. This isn’t the first time that his knowledge of how the Internet works has helped Spring share a story; he posted a link to Netscape.com about the New York Times’ story on the AOL search history leak. And Spring’s earned recognition for his reporting on NewsVine before as well; he posted an interview with Dave Chappelle the day the site launched.

But what’s interesting to me here, as in a lot of the work of people who are at the intersection of tech and journalism, such as Andy Baio (more) and Adrian Holovaty (more), is not just the familiarity with how the web works.

What’s most impressive for this new style of journalism is the effortless switching between original reporting, editing, and curating content from other sources, all with the seamlessness of someone who’s a web native. Find a good story in the NY Times? Link to it on Digg or Netscape. Read an original story from the wire services that you can add something to? Start tracking down IP addresses yourself. Find something valuable enough to want to share? Post it on your blog or publish it on NewsVine and make a story out of it. And all of this at the speed that news happens, using a combination of original source material from traditional outlets and powerful tools for researching and publishing online, most of which are free or nearly so.

The most impressive part is that there’s even starting to be rewards for doing so. Sharing links on social services, publishing on the new breed of news sites, or running ads on one’s own blog can all be knitted together into steady enough income that, in a few years, there will be countless people making a living from the skills that Corey Spring is already putting to use.

How to be a bitchy sports writer

October 21, 2006

I'm not much of a sports fan, much less a student of sports journalism. But I know petty bitchiness when I see it, and I figure it's worth identifying its traits, even if only to help me decide whether I like it or hate it.

The immediate prompt for me was reading Tom Withers' fussy AP wire story about Mike Tyson's return to the ring. I've linked to the Sacramento Bee pickup of the story, but there are dozens of copies of the story out here.

In the story, Withers snipes at Tyson. Now, I don't know much about Mike Tyson, but I know that he's a predator who's consistently shown himself incapable of existing politely in civil society. I also know that he's a tragically exploited figure who is, at best, a has-been in the only realm where he's ever displayed any success. If you consider either of those facts, or especially if you consider both, there's a much more interesting angle to hang a story on than "Ha ha, let's make fun of this guy since he'll never get close enough to punch me!"

But then, the punchlines are so tempting.

  • "... [A] rousing ovation from about 4,000 fans in the 6,000-seat Chevrolet Centre, home of the Youngstown SteelHounds, a minor league hockey team." Double-slam! The show didn't sell out, and Tyson's reduced to a venue that's not even home to a major league hockey team. Zing!
  • "The arena, which will host a concert by Disney's Doodlebops on Saturday, erupted as Tyson made his way to the ring." Oh snap! It's not just a small arena, it's a small arena frequented by Disney's Doodlebops! (I don't have any kids, so I am not sure what Disney's Doodlebops are, but I am DEAD CERTAIN that they don't have any tribal warrior tattoos on their faces. Unless they do, in which case they're probably cute warrior facial tattoos.)
  • "The crowd ... first began a vulgar chant directed at Tyson and soon began to boo at what looked more like a pillow fight than a boxing match." So funny, it's not even accurate! The statement refers to Tyson not trying to knock down his opponent, which is of course standard behavior at an exhibition, since even a boxing ignoramus like me knows an exhibition is not a match. However, Mr. Withers, as much as I hate to fall into the cliched role of the blogger fact-checking the MSM (that's short for Evil Mainstream Media), I do have to point out that I've actually participated in pillow fights, at least as recently as 20 years ago. They may have changed in the past 20 years, but I am certain that even with the latest advances in Internet technology, a pillow fight is nothing like getting punched right in the goddamn face by Mike Fucking Tyson. I'm just sayin'.

The story continues, with another reference to the minor league hockey team and a couple other en passant jabs at the boxer. But I really don't care if Mike Tyson is annoyed by the boxing press, I'm more annoyed that the story couldn't commit to either being really snarky or to just telling the human story straight. Instead, this one random piece of sports journalism failed on both counts, and showed why straight journalism kind of ends up being boring a lot of the time when the writer ends up being too clever by half for either the enthusiast audience or for the casual reader, like me.

Plus, there's no mention of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince anywhere.

CNN, Your mother must be proud!

March 12, 2006

Sometimes I see things and assume that either someone has the same sick sense of humor that I do, or else people have completely lost their sense of the absurd. From the sidebar on this CNN news story today comes the following poll:

Who would you rather have overseeing operations at U.S. ports?

  • Arab-based ports company
  • U.S.-based mafia

Whoa, seriously? Somebody went to j-school for that? I am certain that your mother must be proud you're the guy who put that on CNN.com. ($10 via PayPal to the first person who can get me a definitive answer about who's responsible for this lunacy.)

And two thirds of people who voted are in favor of known criminals running our ports? (Technically, it's only 64% of the 55880 votes cast so far, but that's still amazing.) Jon Stewart is clearly being overpaid, because some anonymous web wizard at CNN is a lot funnier than anything Comedy Central has conjured up.

Check out the results for yourself, or just cast your own vote to see what everyone else thinks.

Alt Weeklies, San Francisco, Curiosity, and Bullshit

February 3, 2006

I was startled by this phenomenally wrong-headed editorial in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Tim Redmond exposes his insecurities by arguing that Craig Newmark's work in Craigslist doesn't build communities because it threatens the business models of alt weeklies. I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but this is a blatant example of scapegoating horseshit.

First, my credentials: I am a person who worked at the most venerated and well known of all alternative weeklies in the country. I worked for the online group within that organization, which derived the overwhelming majority of its revenues at the time from classified ads, and watched as those revenues were decimated by the arrival of Craigslist in that market. Part of the impact that had on the company was that I lost my job.

I am exactly the person Redmond is ostensibly arguing on behalf of, and so I can say with certainty that he's profoundly wrong. Craigslist builds communities in the cities where it has a presence by providing a home for the gift economy and information trading that is often difficult in contemporary urban society. In short, Craigslist lets people act like neighbors, offering up their items to swap or sell, letting them snipe at each other, helping them find a romantic connection, or just putting you in touch with someone who can find you a job. It builds the human connections that many newspapers aspired to (and a few still provide) and provides a context that real journalists still strive for.

Part of the problem here is the culture of alt weeklies: Despite having a reputation for being politically liberal, they're some of the most conservative organizations in journalism. Hamstrung by unreasonably overentitled union members on one side and underpaid, underappreciated freelancers on the other, it's impossible to create a newsroom where more than a handful of writers are even able to give a damn. And a business model predicated on nickel-and-diming for rent ads or charging brokers a premium price for ALL CAPS in a listing, combined with some edge-of-legality back pages full of ads for whores is certainly not contributing to a community.

Continue reading Alt Weeklies, San Francisco, Curiosity, and Bullshit.
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