This Newspaper Editor Wrote an Editorial, And Now You're Reading It
Every once in a while, we have groups of kids come through the office for a tour. We enjoy hosting them, but there's always a moment before they arrive when I wonder, "What am I going to show them? The number of stain rings in my coffee cup?"
True, newsrooms aren't the cacophonous beehives they were 15 or so years ago, when I was a "copyboy" at a North Idaho daily. Noisy police scanners were our Twitter, we still used phone books and press releases were faxed, not emailed. If something needed covering, more often than not, we had to actually drive somewhere and cover it. If we needed to know some basic biographical information about a source, we had to call them, rather than search Facebook. The Web has conquered all.
It was jokingly suggested I tell visiting kids to remember their tours well, because by the time they're old enough to care, there won't be any newspapers (or newsrooms) anymore. That's going a little far down the fatalism hole--an excess to which our tribe is very prone--but it's obvious that the "news" of the 21st century is vastly different than it was even at the end of the 20th.
The Atlantic magazine put a finer point on the state of journalism in the Digital Age with a fascinating piece on the rise of Upworthy-style headlines--you know, those emotive, adjective-heavy links that seem to have sprung up across the mediaverse: "Watch a Man Who Saved 669 Children From Death Camps Get a Tearful Surprise on TV"; "Why Does Sarah Silverman Say Vaginas Really Really Scare People?"
It's called "clickbait" and it works. According to The Atlantic, Upworthy announced that it had pulled 87 million unique visitors--in November. Far more than The New York Times enjoys.
But, while clickbait is good at, well, baiting people into clicking, it's not very good at being informative, or even meaningful most of the time. "These Stephen King Connections Will Blow Your Mind." Really? I have my doubts. Will I click to find out? Sure. And with that, I have helped further enrich some Silicon Valley tech giant and--for a brief moment--been gratified to know that Stephen King sets pretty much all of his stories in Castle Rock, Maine. Mind. Blown.
What this bodes for the media consumption of the kids who tour BWHQ is up for debate. What's clear is that master clickbaiters Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed and Upworthy are poised--in name if not in deed--to dominate the media landscape for at least the first half of this century. If I'm wrong, look for my mea culpa in an e-memoir, to be published in 240-character increments sometime in 2050: These Awful Predictions Will Make Your Head Explode.