I’m all for a mix of stories, both serious and silly, on media sites (hence my willingness to write “Walrus Oral Sex” on the site of the Columbia Journalism Review). It’s just that the walrus video is a particularly inane example of diversity. While there’s nothing normatively problematic about it, it is the kind of video that, for better or for worse, is increasingly becoming associated with (sorry!) HuffPo. The subtext of the post, to my mind, wasn’t the fact that the video was wholesale inappropriate; it was the fact that you didn’t need to click the headline’s link to know where it would lead.
But as a very plain logical matter, how could there be any problem with an association between inanity and the Huffington Post unless there’s a problem with inanity? In other words, the mere fact of not needing to click to know where a link points simply cannot do the work you would ask of it.
Consider an example. Let’s say the title of your post was something like “Annals of National Security: Why Iraq Is Doomed.” I made up that title, but it’s not hard to imagine the association your readers would conjure up when you ask them, “Guess who?” They’d think, “Oh, there’s another awesome investigative piece by Sy Hersh. I’m so pumped!” They wouldn’t need to click the headline’s link to know where it would read. And that’s not at all a bad thing. Instead, it’s a good thing; that association is a positive one.
I’m not identifying as problematic the association between inanity and HuffPo. And I’m not saying that inanity mixed in with more serious news is normatively bad (and therefore not saying that the walrus video is normatively bad).
What the post was suggesting — though putting it this way is vastly, and fairly ridiculously, aggrandizing its wee pair of words — was the systemization of HuffPo’s inclusion of inanity in its newsmix. The outlet has developed a loose grammar of sensationalism for its post titles: “Something Sensational! (VIDEO),” “Something Sensational! (NSFW),” etc. (See, for example, this and this.) And it has implemented it with more systemic discipline than other major outlets…to the point where, yes, “Walrus Oral Sex: Pleasures Self In Sex Act At Aquarium (VIDEO) (NSFW)” implicitly bears the HuffPo brand.
Though the walrus video is, sure, a particularly inane example, that systemization isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing — hey, since the title alerts readers to precisely what they’re getting with their click, it’s probably a Good Thing. But either way it’s a Thing. That’s what I was saying.
Meanwhile, another reader weighed in to make the important connection:
Gene Weingarten (Washington Post) and Dave Barry have a running debate about who has the bigger oosik. You’ll see what I mean:
But How’s The Benefits Package?
Meanwhile, Garber’s Kicker post about a Craigslist ad for a freelance health writer who would be paid $4 for a 450-word story—that’s $0.0089 a word, with “no compensation if we are not happy with the finished product”—drew some understandably aggrieved comments. Here are a few:
How much is that an hour? And, didn’t there used to be something called “wage and hour laws?” Or “minimum wage law?” Or something like that?
—edward ericson jr.
I am guessing that, depending on what city this posting occurred in, they actually got tons of responses from writers and journalists who either desperately want a byline or, more likely, just want to be able to tell a potential employer that they actually have been doing some work while unemployed for the last 12 months from the LA Times. The New York Times. The Chicago Tribune. The Denver Post. The Washington Post. The…
I don’t take on writing assignments that pay less than I’d earn recycling soda cans.
Resolutions for 2010
Finally, this week’s “News Meeting” asked readers to make some New Year’s resolutions for the press. Here’s what you came up with:
I would dearly love to see an end to the practice of reporting on “the controversy” which lends credence to outrageous claims and distortions.
Please stop pretending that you can give away something online for free and charge people $2.00 for a stale, day-old paper copy of the same thing.
Please use proper citations which provide enough bibliographic information about the source cited that it would be possible to confidently identify it if it were in your hand. (No more references to an “a widely circulated industry report”). And while you are at it, how about a link?
When citing the results of scientific research, there are almost always two sources : a press release from the research institution and a published scientific paper. Please READ BOTH and cite them both (with links).