I recently read a New York Times article on what was happening in the journalistic atmosphere. The article was about how since everything is primarily online these days, writers are being lightly nudged in the direction of how they could get more likes, shares, views, re-tweets, posts, whatever. This was happening for obvious reasons; more views translate into more attractive advertising dollars.
Before the internet, this didn't happen. With a newspaper, you know how many people received one, but you wouldn't know how many people read which article, and if they liked it or not. Maybe they would send a letter to the editor praising an article or two, but that was the extent of the communication. Regardless of how many people liked/disliked the article, the reporter or writer would still put out the best quality content that they could.
It looks like that consistent level of quality content is now in jeopardy. This is a listing of the top websites viewed on mobile devices: Quantcast. What is number 1? Buzzfeed. The whole purpose of buzzfeed is to get views with articles like, "Best foods you ate in your 20's that are now illegal." I'm not going to lie, I have been sucked in a few times.
What's happening now is that quality, well-written content, is being buried for flashy content. When Miley Cyrus twerked on stage, how many articles were written about her, trying to ride on her coattails of popularity? CNN just published a report saying how this missing plane boosted their viewership exponentially. Obviously, they're going to keep showing it, since that translates to more views, which makes them more money.
There's no stopping it, but we are potentially on a slow-moving runaway train to who has the flashiest headline gets the most views. And the quality work that isn't as interesting, or even boring, will translate into a jungle of the survival of the fittest. To adapt in that jungle, writers and reporters will have to sacrifice their writing for something that gets more views and likes.
We are living in a hero culture of unintended narcissism. Valuable relationships are being neglected for blog posts and Youtube videos. Articles like "What happened when I had sex every day for a year" are getting a lot more traffic than a beautiful piece of something less interesting, but undeniably more important.
It's not that we must take action, but let's just be aware of the subtle shift in the journalistic landscape. There is obviously quantity, but let's see if we can find some quality in the articles we read in the future. The person who has the most Twitter followers isn't the better person, but in our world it sure seems like it.
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