The story of HOW killed WHAT
The principle of telling a story is about giving three informations : who did what. This is called a “what story”. A subject, a verb, an object. This elementary structure (SVO) is the quintessence of a headline. It also comes out to be the easiest way to tell a story making sure that the message will reach your audience. “What stories” are clear. Their function is to tell a story in the simplest way. But since few years, “How stories” jumped in. And it’s Google and Facabook’s fault.
How Readers became Users
(real title: Readers has become Users)
The simple fact of adding the pronoun “How” to the titles tells a lot about the evolution of journalism. Internet culture pushed us to think about informations as a service, and not as a story. What we look for online are answers, not stories. We use Google to find answers, to know how to do things. Journalism has integrated this approach to information treating online readers as users.
The first issue is about the medium. When we read a story (fictional or not), we keep using the same device we use at work. The tools we use to know how to improve our skills on Excel or to write a cover letter, are the same we use to read a story on a newsmagazine.
Making a quick search on the website LeMonde.fr, more than 9,000 titles contains the word “Comment” [ How, ed. ] in the title between 1944 and 2018. But 5,000 titles have been produced after 2000.
This helps us better understand how journalism is going through hard times integrating the so-called “digital culture”: SEO, Facebook algorithms, ads. The process started many years ago and the results are far from being positive today.
How youtubers won the battle
(real title: Youtubers won the battle)
Youtubers represent a strong part of the web culture that influenced the way journalism has evolved in the last years. Firstly, because many youtubers/bloggers have been recruited or collaborate with magazines. Secondly, because their stories, videos or posts generate more traffic than a story on The New York Times. And web journalism today is all about that. Figures.
If youtubers started to adopt some elements of the journalism (storytelling, collaboration with the brands…), journalism adopted as well the DIY/Tutorial culture of Youtube. The list of youtubers explaining how to crop an image on Photoshop, how to change the screen of your iPhone or how to write a cv, is endless, but today many web magazine followed this googlised form of journalism.
Even The Guardian cannot resist to “Google Journalism”. It publishes a story about “How to write a CV” every month, and a listicle time to time.
- 03.10.17 — Five ways to get your CV noticed by employers ( listicle! )
- 25.09.17 — How to write a successful cover letter
- 17.08.17 — How to make any job look impressive on your CV
- 13.07.17 — How to write a CV with no work experience
- 01.06.17 — Five ways to get your CV and cover letter noticed ( listicle ! )
- 03.05.17 — How to tailor your CV for interview success
- 03.04.17 — How to avoid the seven most common CV mistakes
How SEO joined the How team
(real title: GAFA killed journalism)
The rule is simple. Do what Facebook and Google say, pay many ads and you will be famous. The websites ? Useless. Stay on Facebook, you don’t need an homepage anymore. Web died in 2010 !
This approach of the industry pushed media outlets to become “live content providers of GAFAM growth” [ fournisseurs de contenu vivants des largesses des GAFAM, Ed. ], as well described by Nicolas Kayser-Bril on Usbek & Rica. This is how media became the perfect clients of Google and Facebook, and a big producer of tutorials. Instead of stories.
The solution suggested by Nicolas Kayser-Bril to build solid media is to invest in “pure information”, in the basics of journalism, which will always have readers and subscribers.
If today many Facebook pages are growing following the amazing successful story of Brut — which has reached 424 K fans since its creation in Nov. 2016 -, the saturation of our Facebook feeds made of photostories with catchy GIFS and quick texts will push users/readers to unfollow the pages and quit Facebook. And maybe the media industry to rethink its priorities.
Last but not least, the recent change of Facebook algorithm might generate two trends: 1. we should have our feed back, with less promoted content, ads and posts from pages. 2. this will not happen for free. The price to push the content will increase pushing media to rethink their digital strategies.
Note : The SOV structure works for English, French, Italian, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish. It represents 42% of languages in the world. The 45% of other languages are composed by a SOV structure (subject-object-verb) like Japanese, German, Latin, Ancient Greek, Hindi, Sanskrit.