•Column A: Ethics
•Column B: BuzzFeed and Vice
Viewership counts of meaningful pieces of journalism, while enduring, are nowadays quite negatively affected by competition with purveyors of ‘news’ whose main oeuvres constitute a neverending bombardment of trivial celebrity writeups or other hollow chunks of information that distract from the more important discourses on climate change and political movements. The problem with the human race is that we are flawed animals.
The team at ReadThisThing’s examination of contemporary narratives, “The state of storytelling in the internet age”, makes the vexing-but-true assertion that “”21 things only a 90s kid can appreciate” will probably get 50 times more traffic” than a post about a pressing social concern, speaking to one of our species’ main shortcomings. Our desire to expel energy on mental processes only when necessary leads to a certain favouring of information that is easy to digest and apply. Indeed, Nathaniel Barr’s article in QUARTZ, “Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably “bullshit’”, reveals “Decades of psychological research clearly shows that people tend to be cognitive misers, only thinking hard about things when they must.” This inclination toward mind laziness, which expels much less exertion than investigative thought, begs for a solution to this era’s dwindling attention spans and twitchy focus levels. Present-day remedies, Barr contends, tackle the issue by attempting to present purposeful news stories in appetizer form: “An increasingly important challenge for those who have access to truth … is to find ways to convey the truth in impressive ways that both inform and entertain.” In other words, packaging accurate, precise, scholarly information with digestible content to get it viewed. The question is, is it ethical to adhere to these standards of “packaging”, when some would argue this waters down the integrity of a serious story?
As the case may be, Barr notes “Buzzfeed is figuring out how to blend moneymaking fluff with compelling journalism, and they’re doing it all with a deep understanding of the internet”. A quick browse of this outlet’s website can unearth a page perfectly exhibiting this blend of poignancy and amusement. At once one of Buzzfeed’s famed lists, as well as a mental health exposition, “17 Things to Know Before You Start Therapy” tackles a meaningful topic and complements it with hilarious images and GIFs in order to convey this sensitive subject in a manner that entices the network’s perusers.
Is it ethical? One way to look at this is to consider the way film critics despise when cinemagoers are treated to a motion picture dumbed-down to the lowest common denominator. When a movie hits its audience over the head with plot points and rehashes key dialogue to make sure no explanation goes missed, zero engagement is required by the viewers. Thinking audiences like to fill gaps in the narrative with logical interpretation, and derive pleasure from anticipating twists and turns that are not explicitly implied by earlier sections. Similarly, journalism should not stoop to the oversimplification of meaningful insights to an almost insulting level. A balance must be struck between making news palatable yet intellectual enough to warrant avid consumption from all sorts of media surfers. If this tension is properly achieved, the method of ‘the package deal’ is very justifiable when considering the added exposure that significant societal issues receive from the arrangement.
Perhaps the industry’s greatest quandary (or greatest solution) is the crafting of a journalistic prose that totes the truthful components to back up its headlines and is also embedded in a package of enjoyable brevity, so as to attract an audience in the first place. Is this a principled way to go about the business of amassing larger readerships?
They say it doesn’t matter how you get it.
As long as you get it.