Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Of Summer Sloth, the Fourth Estate and Viral(ity).

First off, apologies for the slow posting schedule the past month. School's out, the family's home and I've been busy with various and sundry "stuff" around the house. The pace will pick up a bit as I get into a summer routine. I've got dogs to train, gunstocks to refinish, fish to catch and vegetables to grow.

And if past summers are any indication, I will more than likely fail miserably at all tasks, instead choosing to sit on the back porch all summer drinking beer and cursing (depending on conditions) either the heat, the wind, or the heat and the wind while drunkenly swearing that next year the family will "by gawd be in Montana and out of this miserable frikkin' hellhole!" Or something to that effect.

Second, there was an interesting article on Salon recently that explores something I and every other reporter who's ever schlepped a beat at a small to mid-market daily have realized for years (and I'll bastardize a famous Tip O'Neill quote to give you the nut of it), and that is: all democracy is local.

What does that mean? I'll use a tired old cliche to illustrate the point...If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who gives a shit, right? Well, if a civil liberty or Constitutional right is trampled upon, if a public or elected official violates the public trust for personal gain or for special interests and there's no one around to report it, is it really a violation?

Increasingly, (for a variety of reasons related to the general and terribly depressing state of awareness in this nation) it seems the answer would be no, and apparently no one really gives a shit. Otherwise they'd be paying a helluva lot more attention to the sorry (and getting sorrier by the minute) state of local and state journalism, because that, my friends, is where we get down to the true down-and-dirty nut-cuttin' of democracy.

Every time a minimum-wage beat reporter files a local or state-level open records request, every time they attend a county commission meeting, every time they question an elected official and every story they publish as a result of those questions, they're lubricating the engine of democracy at its most fundamental and important level, and the level that most acutely affects all of us. And it's all going away, very fucking quickly.

And when all the local small-circulation newspapers have folded or turned into weekly shoppers, when all the state newspapers have been downsized into toothless irrelevance? Well hell, at least we'll still have Facebook, right?

And on a completely, utterly, sadly related note, here's a fascinating story on niemanlab.com 
about what makes things go viral on the Internet.

From the story:

In March, I wrote about Gawker’s new quantity-over-quality experiment. Each day, one Gawker staffer was tasked with pageview-chasing duty, a quest to post enough cat videos, Miley Cyrus pics, and local news ephemera to keep the clicks coming en masse. That staffer’s work would free up others to work on longer, more involved pieces. Pageview duty rotated, because — who could stare too long into the Internet’s bright raw id and not go blind?
Neetzan Zimmerman, apparently. Editor A.J. Daulerio hired him two months ago to focus exclusively on viral content. Zimmerman’s title at Gawker is Editor, The Internet. He is assigned to cover the Internet.
This machine-like person has generated more than 300 bylines for Gawker since he started on April 9. These are not lengthy tomes, usually; nearly every post is just a funny photo or video, with body text barely longer than a caption. The average word count of a sampling of his recent stories is about 200.
Zimmerman sits comfortably atop Gawker’s leaderboard, garnering two to five times more pageviews than his highest-performing colleagues. Zimmerman is so prolific, his posts so magnetic, that Daulerio has now relieved all 10 full-time Gawker staffers of their pageview chores.

I just pasted the first few grafs, but really, the whole story is well worth a read. It is truly fascinating, and as someone who, for the past four years has derived a portion of my income from doing for F&S pretty much exactly what Zimmerman does for Gawker (and at about the same level of substance and gravitas, I might add...) it gives some insight into the mechanics of online information dissemination, as well as confirming my basic suspicion that most of us are happily, blissfully pissing our lives away watching other people being stupid.  Myself included, of course...

Well, I guess it's a helluva lot easier than reading a newspaper, right?


  1. The whole concept of SEO and traffic generation is strangely unsettling to me. I guess I'd rather get my news sitting on the porch drinking beer. It so hard to determine what's "real" in print anymore. The thought journalism is dead dying or worse yet partisan is equally disturbing. What happened to the "scoop," the rabble rouser, the dead broke reporter with an eye only onnthe truth, no matter where it lead them? I wish more journalist understood that they would get more readership if they would get to the truth and not try to take sides or fabricate an outcome.

  2. Btw, I moved to Sheridan, WY. I'm getting to the promised land than you ;0). Only twenty miles
    from the border of MT.

  3. I think that Zimmerman has an English counterpart or two at the Daily Mail — their news page is nothing but link bait.

    And I read it.

  4. Thank the good lord you don't live closer to me, seriously if I had your porch to sit on as well I'd get even less done

  5. Gary, I've driven through Sheridan a couple times. Seems like a really nice area. Jealous...

    Chas, yep, I peruse the DM website. A lot...

    SBW, just waiting for you to show up...