Reading Rage: I’m Mad As Hell About Click Culture Journalism
(I am grieving as I write and edit this for the people in Orlando. I knew deep in my gut that something like this would come, born of hate and ignorance and fear and toxic masculinity. My love to Orlando’s LGBT+ community and my LGBT+ friends everywhere.)
It’s been awhile since I wrote a reading rage that was based in literal full-blown rage, but I had to take a minute after reading the terrible (now deleted) xoJane post by Amanda Lauren about how she was glad her mentally ill friend died. (That’s not a direct link, that is commentary.) I actually had to take several minutes.
xoJane issued an apology for that awful fucking post and I’m not here to take down Amanda Lauren’s writing (but since their first move was not to delete the post and apologize but actually make the writer anonymous, I want to make sure I call her by name). I’ve skimmed back through some of her other writing and, while I do think she’s probably a somewhat self-centered person who thinks she knows a hell of a lot more than she actually does know, I don’t even think she’s a terrible person overall; I’ve seen her admonish people for purposely using the wrong pronouns for trans folks and she loves her rescue dog. She tips her building’s maintenance man. I don’t think she can be all bad. So, no, I’m not here to rip her a new one; it’s been done already, besides. She’s young and wrote something very foolish and had the very bad luck to be writing for a site that actually published the damn thing.
That is what I want to talk about: not the shitty, insensitive thing that she wrote but how it came to be published in the first place.
Her piece barely skates by under the heading of “journalism”. Media sites publish a lot of these loose op-eds nowadays because everyone is willing to write their bullshit opinions about whatever (which means cheap fodder from people who barely can call themselves writers) and topics are often controversial; controversy gets page views and page views get ad revenue, so some editors become itchy to put out anything that might get attention or provoke people.
You might think that this practice is limited to sites like xoJane, which isn’t a hard news site, or The Huffington Post, which is basically a giant blog. News media falls prey to the race for click revenue too, though; they may not publish articles by barely-self-aware young writers, but think about the absolute feeding frenzies that happen during a huge news event. Remember when the Sandy Hook shootings happened and almost everything that was initially reported turned out to be wrong? While we’re on the subject of mass shooters, how about the media’s insistence on plastering the shooters’ faces everywhere despite the fact that heavy media coverage increases the odds of there being another mass shooter? (Source, source, source, source; it could go on.) Click-for-revenue practices demand that the media use the most eye-catching, most dramatic photos to get our attention, so who gives a rat’s ass about ethics, amirite?
As a consumer of media (like everyone else), I’m frustrated that the drive for maximum eyeball-to-page ratio has turned the internet into a noxious content swamp. Obviously some sites are still putting out quality content and banking on the fact that they do put out good content–and I’m not trying to suggest that I’m talking about this one(*cough*), though I think we might have a better editorial process than some other sites–but the overwhelming amount of truly awful, unsubstantiated, irresponsible media content feels like an assault on my senses. A day on the internet makes me want to curl into a fetal position and yell, “WHY WOULD YOU APPROVE THIS FOR PUBLICATION? WHY? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY?!” and “WHERE ARE THE GODDAMN EDITORS? DIDN’T SOMEONE READ THIS?”
Of course, I know the truth–the editors on those sites are there but they’re not being paid to maximize quality. They’re being paid to maximize clicks and, unfortunately, this is completely a legitimate business model. It pains me to admit that, but it’s absolutely true. While some practices do skirt the line of ethical more than they probably should, the practice of publishing garbage content to lure people in isn’t particularly new; it’s just easier and more pervasive when almost anybody can start a website. I don’t even find publishing half-baked opinions particularly immoral, except in cases where propaganda parades as news or in cases where people might be hurt; it’s annoying as hell and I wish it didn’t happen, but I don’t have the right to try to keep it from happening by force. Keeping the free press actually free is more important than quelling my annoyance.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s nothing I can do as a consumer. And I’m so fucking fed up with reading bullshit that I’m going to start making some changes in my media consumption.
Thing I’m Doing #1: Giving every website a three strikes rule. Websites want to push bullshit for clicks? Fine. You get three bullshit clicks from me before I unfollow you on all of my social media and never go to your site again–not for any reason. My mom could start writing for your site and I still wouldn’t go (I mean, I’m not heartless–I’d make her send me copies of her work so I could read it, but I wouldn’t go to your site). I implemented this rule after Salon kept breaking my heart; even though a rare few of their articles were outstanding, many more made me want to rip out my hair by the fistful as an interpretive dance to express my frustrations. I also unfollowed xoJane some time ago even though I know people who write for them and enjoy some parts of their site. I feel much more peaceful and my hair is growing back in nicely.
Thing I’m Doing #2: Returning to print media. You know what’s great about print media? Limited space means more curation and less bullshit; when you have to try to convince people to pay for your content, you don’t have as much luxury to push out half-assed, bratty, navel-gazing bullshit lacking anything that might pass for self-awareness. I’m not going full hipster or anything like that–especially since I don’t have All The Money to subscribe to all the print media–but I’m going to go back to buying newspapers and reading print journals. Or, you know, picking up used newspapers at Starbucks.
Thing I’m Doing #3: A self-imposed news delay and total restriction on certain topics. I use TweetDeck to access Twitter and I set it up to mute the following words: Hillary, Bernie, Cruz, and Trump. I couldn’t deal anymore with the news frenzy around this election, and let’s be real–the coverage isn’t helping our political process at all. (And it’s not like I don’t already know who I’m going to vote for, so.) I also muted certain mass shooters’ names; I now leave my computer when there’s a mass shooting so I can avoid being part of the ghoulish media race to get all of the information (whether it’s factual or not). If something happens that I think will cause a news frenzy, I give myself time before looking it up so I don’t get whiplash from the backtracking of false leads.
All of these strategies have a point besides making me feel less aggravated in my daily life: by reducing or eliminating consumption of bad practices, I’m cutting off that little bit of financial reward that I contribute to the pie. By subscribing to print journals and newspapers that I enjoy reading and that maintain some sort of editorial content standard, I’m financially supporting practices I agree with. It cycles back up to the thing I said about click-junkie standards being an unfortunately viable business practice; the other side of the coin is that, if we’re fed up with these standards, we can change them by refusing to give them our clicks and giving them to sites we like instead.
At least, I’m assuming I can’t be the only one who is fed the fuck up. I will scream if I have to read another thoughtless “think piece”.
Am I the only one who is fed up? Where do you go for responsible journalism and media consumption? Please tell me in the comments so I can make a list.