Earlier this week I directed my web browser to ProbablyBadNews.com, the website launched by the Cheezburger Network, those able purveyors of lolcats and related memery, last year to highlight different categories of journalistic error. I was shocked to see that the standalone site was gone and I was instead redirected to a subsection of the FAIL Blog. Probably Bad News is now nothing more than—gasp!—a tag on the FAIL Blog?!
Good lord, I thought, have things gotten so bad for the industry that we can’t even support a site dedicated to journalism’s failures? Can we really not compete with cats when it comes to success on the Internet?
Clearly, this was an important scoop. Headlines danced in my head: Can’t Haaz Media Fails? Bad News For Probably Bad News. Lolcats Deal Death Blow to News. This was going to be a big, linkbaiting expose.
I called Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network. I wanted answers. I wanted my Probably Bad News. I laid out the idea that the demise of the Probably Bad News site was a sign that journalism can’t compete in the age of lolcats. He began laughing hysterically.
“So,” he said after he had gathered himself, “the reason that we merged it [with FAIL blog] was our concept of the site was actually about mistakes in journalism—bad headlines, bad ad/editorial juxtaposition, and that kind of stuff. But what we were getting from the audience when we called it Probably Bad News was that people have a hard time telling advertising and editorial apart and they would just send in funny stories… the concept became broader and broader until there was enough overlap with the FAIL blog that we decided to merge the two.”
In fact, he said, the site was actually successful in terms of traffic. Journalism has a future!
“Traffic was actually growing when we merged them together, but conceptually we wanted to make sure there was a single point,” said Huh.
The merging is actually a homecoming; the journalism fails started as a sub-section of the FAIL Blog.
“It started on FAIL Blog and we were getting lot of these submissions,” said Huh. “I have a degree in journalism from Northwestern and so I’m pretty familiar with this stuff and that it happens all the time.”
In a sense, Probably Bad News failed as a standalone site because the universe of journalistic failure is so broad that it belongs in the all-encompassing FAIL Blog.
“People just wanted to point out any kind of journalistic failure,” Huh said. “Everybody was a critic … it was more social commentary. People would send us a story about a robber who did something stupid and got caught.”
As far as the current content goes, the most popular Probably Bad News submissions tend to be videos. “Live television is amazing fodder for probably bad news,” Huh said.
Overall, he said, the format’s popularity has to do with people’s expectations of journalists and the fact that we often, yes, fail to live up to them.
“They expect you to not get somebody’s name incorrect or to create horrendously bad headlines,” Huh said. “We have a higher standard of expectation from journalists, so when they don’t meet it it’s funny—like watching a monkey fall off a tree.”
While talking, Huh offered the tip to “triple check your spelling and grammar.”
“That’s advice from a man who named his company what?” I replied.
“There’s something to be said for being a little different,” Huh said, laughing. “I can call it ‘different,’ but when you do it it’s a spelling error because you’re a journalist.”
Correction of the Week
“IN The Goss column on May 25 we published an article ‘Fan saves Amy Winehouse from Russell Brand’s Dad’ in which it was stated that Ron Brand had made unwelcome and inappropriate advances to Amy Winehouse, as a result of which a fan had to intervene and slap him. On May 28, we repeated the allegation in the follow up article ‘Russell Brand’s call to Wino’.
“We accept that Ron Brand did not behave in such a disrespectful way towards Ms Winehouse, with whom he is good friends.