Peak social media
I read a [warning: spoilers] review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that was really just a takedown of some especially vapid Huffington Post clickbait called "40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens". It starts off like you might expect:
The Huffington Post has no idea what the fuck it’s talking about.
I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve grown exhausted with the horseshit, hater culture that online, millennial ‘journalists’ use to click-bait their way to some sort of self-perceived intellectual high ground. Hate first. Don’t bother asking questions later.
And proceeds to go point-by-point thru every one of the 40 points and question whether the author actually was even watching the same movie. Pretty satisfying.
But then I got to the end, which I will quote in its non-spoiler entirety:
That’s not journalism. It’s internet horseshit.
We are very close to reaching the end of social media’s usefulness. Anyone with a keyboard can write anything they want with little to no training or skill. More often than not, the articles don’t even need to be true or have any sort of back up research and sadly all it takes is a bold, contrarian statement to convince people who aren’t interested in doing research for themselves that something wildly incorrect is truth. This extends from simple movie reviews to horrifying humanitarian crises. Actual news has become a rare commodity and we are little more than targets for advertising and electoral votes. We are being fed stupid disinformation and tricked into thinking we have knowledge that we don’t actually have.
We have willingly grown stupid.
In the end, I had to look up who the twenty-something, hate-filled, millennial troll who wrote the Huffington Post article actually was. I imagined some smug, little bearded shit with horn-rimmed glasses and that typical douchebag air of millennial entitlement. At least then I could chalk it up to youth. However, what I found made this all the more disturbing. He isn’t a millennial at all.
The forty year old writer, Seth Abramson, is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and a graduate of Harvard Law School. What a shame. I guess when you’re hired to write click-bait articles for horseshit news-sites, your education comes after your pay-check and you do what you’re paid to do.
Nice work Seth. Wake me up when the war against fun is over.
He nailed something I've been feeling more and more lately. The entire concept of social media seemed awe-inspiring and revolutionary just a few years ago. Now it's looking more and more like a glorified dumpster fire where English professors roll around in the muck with every other shithead with an opinion and a keyboard. All that matters is how loud you yell on the biggest network you can find.
Remember 2005? When you discovered cool stuff on the Internet instead of being angry that the world was burning 24/7? When news was, bless its heart, something you could still read every day without feeling like civilization was ending if the wrong person got elected? When your entire life wasn't tied to every word you wrote online?
What the hell happened?
I truly believe we are at peak social media now. We're wallowing in the political and social dystopia we've built for ourselves. The pendulum has crested, the stink is getting unbearable, and folks smarter than us are going to start looking for the windows to open and doors to exit. I'm not saying it'll ever disappear. But remember when everyone thought the number of TV channels would just keep going up forever? TV didn't die. But no one cares how many channels your TV subscription has anymore, now do they? And some people say "screw this" and ditch it entirely. But you can't see that proverbial forest from the trees.
I've often wondered, especially in the last couple years, if indie sites like Icrontic and NewBuddhist were just inevitably doomed by the march of technology and social media. Bigger and bigger networks, unlimited pockets funding armies of network admins and developers building slicker and slicker ways of keeping your eyeballs tied to their piece of your screen, powered by server farms of increasingly complex technologies that no one but huge enterprises can manage.
Maybe it was stepping back for the holidays. Maybe I've just got a get-off-my-lawn bug up my ass. But man I wish my Icrontic feed was a little faster and my tweet stream a lot slower.
wow, that resonates pretty hard in me. lately ive been feeling a bit like stan marsh when he started "getting older." by that i mean ive been feeling like a pessimistic asshole, but occasionally i think maybe its not me.
i definitely think that Icrontic is better off for not being a giant site. its small tight knit community is what makes this a last safe place for me on the internet, and sometimes even from real life. i get that warm fuzzy feeling every time i see a possibly controversial remark go unpunished by a mass of trolls or idiots spouting crap from behind the safety of anonymity.
Thank you Icrontic. Dont change.
This is why I stopped writing for online magazines. After I lost the gig at TG, I tried for months to get another online news writing gig, but I was only finding two things. If the magazine had quality content of the type I would like to write, then they were not able to pay their writers. If the site was paying their writers, then they were paying them only for terrible click-bait content. I got offered several gigs writing listicles and rant pieces, but no one wanted to pay for actual journalism, or even real opinion pieces. Everything was formulas for getting people to share and click-thru on Facebook, that was the only important thing.
I ran into several really optimistic projects which were writing real news and looking to "eventually pay writers, when we get big enough", but those projects all either eventually switched over to click-bait or they still aren't paying their writers. I'm extremely lucky that I'm in a position (as one of those English Professors you're talking about) that I don't have to take a job writing crap to make ends meet. I had the freedom to say no to those jobs. Not everyone does.
I'm not going to assume I know who is to blame for this turn of society, but I know what it's doing to young people. I interact with a lot of college kids, and when we talk about current events (even though I'm not a history or politics teacher, I try to chat with my students about world events), I find them mostly lacking in any knowledge. They don't know what is going on in the world around them, and it's not their fault. The young people are the victims here, not the perpetrators.
You can be sure that when I talk about journalism and social media to my students, I try to impress on them the importance of not supporting bad journalism with their eye-balls. Maybe if we paid our English Professors better, more of them could spend time campaigning against bad journalism, rather than being forced to get a second job writing it.
My movie reviews would never get published. For example my review of TFA:
What I liked: All of it. Looked and felt like a real Star Wars movie. The entire cast nailed it.
What I didn't like: the wait for episode 8.
Will you like it: if you're a Star Wars fan, quite likely. If you're not, possibly. If you hate the series, I doubt it.
Why a "real" fan won't like it: you're a pretentious asshole looking for a reason not to. Or not.
tl;dr: I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. You probably will too.
And this is really part two of the same rant: the online financial model.
When Apple recently allowed ad blockers onto its platform, you'd think the Internet was ending from the media coverage it got. Suddenly everyone had a thinkpiece™ on whether the online economy was about to crash. To which I say, who cares? Did you seriously not see it was already a dumpster fire when you have to trick people into clicking your shit? The entire CPM economy has always been bankrupt; let's not ever pretend otherwise.
But what then is the answer, if there even is one? That's the question that has consumed me for years. How the heck can you fund a site like Icrontic, or hell, any newspaper (digital or print) that doesn't have a billionaire with money to blow behind it? Anyone who wants to opt out of the bullshit seems destined to whither and die.
The only bright spot in this state of affairs is The Deck, a narrow & tasteful ad network based on the caliber of the audience, not page impressions. I've also seen sites like Daring Fireball do feed and site sponsorships on a weekly basis, but I've never seen the implementation of either The Deck or single sponsorships that scales past an author or two / funding a company's side hobby. No one has a staff of 10 in actual news media crowing about revenue growth. How do you pay for a staff without CPM? Icrontic sure as hell failed at it, even with CPM and its shitty overlays and slow pageloads.
The only thing that seems even remotely sustainable is a member-funded effort, where readers contribute money for a "subscription" (for already-public content) or just the joy of knowing they're keeping the thing they enjoy alive. But what does that transaction look like? What are the economics necessary to add a staff person, and how do you keep enough transparency that folks don't turn on you for earning "too much" money? The sad economics of being YouTube famous says it all: the mob hates it when you are successful but is bewildered when you aren't.
This past year I started following Melody Joy Kramer as she asked a seemingly innocent but incredibly profound question: What is a public media? I mulled that over a while. And where I'm at right now is: I think if we can find the crossroads of forums and public media, we might just have a way forward.
Patreon. A number of content creators I enjoy make some or all of their living off it (Zak George, Jeph Jacques & Jupiter Broadcasting to name a few), but it's still a new thing and still getting traction.
I'm not putting this up as the solution, but I was hoping the disposable nature of Dogecoin (or small increments of any other cryptocurrency) would make micro-transactions and Patreon-like regular support easier to swallow. If I knew that x clicks = n¢, I might adjust my clicking rate. If I had an exchange rate between my ¢ and Ð, I personally won't bother with doing the math, and would be fine with my crypto account leaking a dollar here and there to sites I frequented.
I've looked at that. But I feel like it suffers the same inherent problem as the other examples I listed: it works for 1-2 people, not a staff. It also puts a layer between you and your members, which makes me extremely reticent. Do you really want to outsource the core component of your revenue generation? If Patreon gets bought out or closes its doors, that entire membership is just gone and now your business is gone too.
The answer is yes. There are 1000s (10,000s? more?) of content creators who can now get paid at very low entry cost to a much wider audience than if they each had to manage their own website and payment platform. You certainly run the risk of Patreon closing or otherwise making it untenable, but this was from people who almost certainly did not have the supporter base before or used ads, etc.
I'm experimenting with using Patreon as a solo author (plug). I can't imagine trying to use it for a business, especially if you are dealing with lots of money, like enough to pay a real staff, since Patreon takes a not insignificant cut.
I agree, and I don't think it's a bad service. I'm asking if it makes sense to stake the careers of non-partners on it, or if there is even anyone doing that. Every project I've seen on there is staffed entirely the owner(s) / partners. I don't see anything like "This Patreon is for my media company with a staff of 5". And I'm not convinced anyone on Patreon is looking to buy into that model.
That's definitely a model we've considered. I wonder tho if establishing a non-profit public media company would change the entire dynamic and end up with healthier revenue by establishing a level of public trust. I give NPR several times the cost of Reddit gold each year without batting an eye about it. Reddit gold is very transactional, and I'm not sure an indie site has the leverage to do a pure money-for-features purchase. When you're paying a for-profit company, the dynamic changes pretty quickly.
Reddit gold has less to do with 'supporting the site' in its typical incantation/use - it's more about supporting your fellow community members if they provide something exceptional. It's like if, instead of bompz, you paid a dollar or fiddy cents to bompz instead, and people who got bompz'd get some trivial bonuses. I guess I'm trying to say I don't see Reddit Gold getting given out because people want access to the lounge; it's treated more as a reward for other members, not something you buy into yourself. Maybe that's just my view of it, though, I'm not a huge redditor.
This reminds me, I need to consider my annual NPR pledge...
Regarding Patreon though, I wouldn't argue that you could run a company on it necessarily, though the aforementioned Jupiter Broadcasting has at least a couple employees on their payroll. That said, they also have revenue from ad placements for a couple companies in their podcasts. I question if the news in the future is actually going to come from companies in the same way it does now (or, for that matter, if it's even a good thing that it comes from companies currently). I suspect, if journalism is going to survive as a useful thing and not just listicles and tightly controlled corporate propaganda, it's going to be in the form of non-profits (like NPR) or individual bloggers that figure out their own funding (Patreon, donations, advertising, some combination of those things) and rely on aggregators to get their content to wider audiences (Krebs on Security for instance).
A snarkier version of Reddit Gold is a Loch Ness Monsta button on a post that deposits three fiddy in Icrontic and gives a sweet badge to the user.
Personally, I hope something like AP/Reuters continues to exist - an organization that can fund reporters, assuming they can demonstrate quality reporting, and maybe that more people get access to Reuters' primary-source material as it becomes available. I don't necessarily want crowdsourced news, but I do want widely-available news.
The issue is: AP/Reuters' customers are the very newspapers that can no longer afford journalists. When they continue losing ad revenue they'll eventually not be able to afford their newswire subscriptions either.
I googled Reddit gold and got a Reddit page explaining the features you get for $30/yr. That's about the sum of my knowledge about it. It's also a reaction-type thing? I know I've seen gold "given" for comments, but is that just someone giving someone a 1-month subscription for $4 or something else?
Correct. You buy reddit gold and give it to another person who does something particularly worthy (whether that is funny, smart, etc).