This article is written in words, which is a very scary thing for publishers nowadays. Yes, apparently “words” have had their time in the sun. They’re over now. Written words are cancelled. Apologies to Johannes Gutenberg.
First, it was Fox Sports, which eliminated every article from its home page in an effort to promote its conglomerate of frothy-mouthed jerks and their shows watched by three people who all lost their remote control and have given up hope of consuming anything other than FS1 content. MTV News followed suit. After months of putting out genuinely unique and engaging content, they too decided to shutter their longform in favor of more digestible, shorter, crappier content. Good stuff.
Here is the obligatory section about why this is happening financially. Thanks to 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominee Mark Zuckerberg, video is where the money is. If you don’t believe me, log into Facebook now and see what’s on your news feed. I promise it’ll be a bunch of short videos with some kind of corporate branding either tagged or intertwined in it.
The vast majority of any successful media group’s traffic comes through Facebook, and Facebook’s bizarre algorithm prioritizes video content. Their intrinsic measures falsely pump up how many people consume those videos. This makes video an easy target for advertisers to sink their hooks into. Mix that all together in a pot and combine the modern news ethos of money over stories and this is what you get. Good stuff.
It goes without saying that this is very bad. There’s a long list of established names, many of whom are probably your favorites, who will join previous layoffs at Yahoo, ESPN and many more in the job hunt. For me, the fact that Ezekiel Kweku is out of work is darn near a personal attack. But I’ll pick up on that thread in a bit.
First, as a consumer of news, it’s difficult to fully explain how frustrating this new pivot is. No one really likes the kind of videos that advertises salivate over. Anyone. Is anyone lining up for videos like this?
Cyber Humans vs Humans: The culture war no one is talking about, the culture war Humans are losing, the culture war tearing apart America. pic.twitter.com/67J9MRR8rY— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) September 23, 2016
I’m picking on Whitlock because the above is a freaking fever dream, but literally everyone does this.
The most I ever engage with this content is when I furiously try and figure out which tab its open in so I can shut off its audio.
It’s something that only advertisers and ad sales people find any value in. And due to that, the stories that we actually want to read, whether it’s about e-mails, LGBT issues, or basketball in Indiana are deemed unworthy by the only entities that have the resources to tell them. They’ve killed the poets in order to bring in the marketing executives.
It’s crazy that while actual companies are doing insane things on social media in order to try and fabricate some sense of relationship between consumer and company, news outlets are going the opposite direction: removing any sense of identity or kinship in order to shove some stupid autoplaying sponsored content into your Facebook feed. The Grey Goo apocalypse is upon is, it’s just starting in the content mines.
Here’s the next point, and I guess the main point, that I said I’d circle back to earlier. I honestly do not want this to come out as crass, because the people who have “Made It” storytelling for a living, whether it’s Kweku, Holly Anderson, Spencer Hall, or anyone who follows me back on Twitter, are genuinely important to me, even if I won’t meet any of them. But those people are not the ones you need to be going on tweetstorms about, extolling their virtues and begging for their future employment. Whether it’s in the Real World or at another journalism outlet, I’m really confident that those who have legions of followers and unbelievable resumes are going to probably be OK. It’d be a travesty if we lost their writing and they ended up at [insert giant PR firm here], and it would certainly be a travesty for them. Without question. It wouldn’t be fair.
But the real losers of this trend are all the great young journalists and journalists-to-be who have seen their dreams poisoned before they could even attempt to reach them. So many of the people I’ve worked with on this site, other sites, or even just went to school with have so much talent. I’m sure that a great handful of people could stroll into any newsroom in the country and not just be an asset but be one of the leading voices there. And it’s really messed up that there’s basically nowhere for them to go, and that so many people are going to miss out on the opportunity to see their stuff.
That isn’t even mentioning the hundreds of thousands of dollars they and their family spent on a journalism degree that becomes more and more extinct with every video that autoplays in your Facebook feed.
I don’t know if we have too many people in this industry or not. Chris Cillizza has a damn show on CNN, so there’s some talent gap that’s yet to be filled.
But I do know that stories are what makes life so exciting and beautiful. And those who can tell a really good story are treasures, not just to a giant media conglomerate, but to you. Storytelling is a special gift. From bedtime stories, to great novels, to whatever article you read in the bathroom stall at work, to your favorite comedian, those stories are the background music to life, and anyone who can make a really amazing story is someone you should know. You know it. I know it. It’d be great if the tastemakers could know it too.