“This is it everyone, the company’s circling the drain and we’re all going to lose our jobs,” Editor Herman Birkham said to the entire newsroom.
Except, he didn’t say it; he typed it. And it wasn’t a newsroom; it was a group chat. It also wasn’t to the entire newsroom since several reporters were away from their computers or asleep. Nonetheless, it was eventually a frightening statement for everyone at the Talcott Tribune (www.TalcottTribune31.com) — the Internet’s 4,236th most popular news website. It was ahead of a site dedicated to Whiteville’s 1st school district and behind the blog of George R.R. Martin (not the writer).
Birkham was right. The site was doing poorly, and he was the first victim. Rick Lolly, Editor-in-Chief, called the independent contractor into a private Skype call, gave him severance in the form of an Amazon gift card and told him to empty his cloud space. Birkham would leave, but not before scaring the team on the way out.
Despite their poor rankings, the Talcott Tribune supported 12 writers, 3 editors and Lolly. They never saw each other, and almost never heard each other. Still, they had near-identical work habits. Every writer and editor had headphones and glazed, bloodshot eyes. They sat with the posture of a gargoyle. They all typed around the clock while mouthing each word, trying to publish the newest stories. Anything that could potentially bait an Internet user into clicking was fair game — the latest UFO sightings, celebrity nip slips, and racist comments from Ted Nugent were especially lucrative. The rules were simple, stories had to be fresh and catchy, and the writers always be on top of the news.
It was an industry similar to journalism, except it lacked accountability or original content.
It’s called News Aggregation.
A 12-hour day was typical for the Talcott team. There were no set hours for when they had to write, nor was there a quota of material they needed to produce. The writers were given a tiny base pay and made most of their money on commission based on how many people clicked. The editor position was the only job with “security” as workers in the old economy understood it. Or at least, it used to be.
In better days, even the worst writer, Ted, made good money. Going to the Olive Garden-once-a-week money. Now almost everyone was struggling to make rent, and Ted was living in his car and parking close enough to a Starbucks to stay online.
Sally Peterson was the top writer. She went by the screen-name Spider and had tattoos running from her wrists to her neck. Her punk-look included a nose ring, half-shaved half-purple-dyed hair, and a full wardrobe of black (plus a few white A-shirts). Of course, none of that mattered since no one ever saw her. Judging from Sally’s writing style, she was a classically-trained American journalist. The editors loved her, because, by the ever-lowering standards of Internet writing, she was near perfect.
The Chief loved her too.
She knew exactly how to play on people’s base instincts to force a click. Headlines like “Cops Make Minor Drug Bust” became “Crooks Hide Cocaine In Pineapples For Shocking Reason.”
“Amateur Astronomer Finds New Asteroid” became “Deadly Asteroid Discovered, How Long Do We Have?” And of course, “New Pictures From Mars” became “Alien Skull Pyramid On Mars? Some Say ‘Definitely.’” That last one was indexed under “What Are They Hiding” and half a million people read it.
For all Sally’s talent, she couldn’t seem to lift the Talcott Tribune’s ratings or the team’s spirits, especially now. The online chat after Birkham was fired and typed fire and brimstone, where the writers only went by online names, looked like this:
IC_Butts: Looks like they’re going for the editors first
FadedGlory_69: Of course they are, editors cost more, and the work can be delegated downwards, we’re our own editors now
Spider: Herman was an idiot, he doesn’t know anything about the company, he’s just mad about getting fired (finally). We just need to work hard. Internet views are like the ocean tide, they come and go.
Ted: Without editors, everyone will know I don’t write good and don’t know much grammar (Ted was the only writer to use his real name in the group chats).
Amanda_Hugginkiss: The world already knew that Ted
MeFartsSoMuch: I think it’s time to start considering enrolling in (gulp) college
Spider: Let’s not talk crazy now. No one ever learned anything useful in college. That’s a fact; I wrote it in an article last week.
MeFartsSoMuch: We all know there was some truth to what Herman said, I think we should all start hedging our bets with new job opportunities
Anonymous_User01: Hello, does someone here know how to the find the picture library on the website?
There were several minutes of silence (not literally of course, but in the chatroom-sense).
Ted: Yes, just click on ‘addons’ on the left panel and then go to ‘media’ and then ‘picture library’
Spider: Hold on a second. First of all, that’s not right at all Ted. I don’t understand how you could not know that. Second, who are you and why are you in this chat?
Anonymous_User01: This is for Talcott Tribune writing team, right? Rick Lolly hired me to try writing an article or two. He gave me this URL, told me to ask you guys if I had any technical difficulties or other questions.
Amanda_Hugginkiss: So he’s firing editors, but hiring more writers
Anonymous_User01: Oh you know what, I think I found my answer. Thanks anyway.
Spider: I’m very happy for you. I’m logging out. Have at it anonymous guy.
Sally turned off her laptop and fell asleep, which was easy since she was already in bed.
The next day, Sally began her morning routine determined not to think about her job. She did her hour of yoga while listening to Rancid. Drank a protein vitamin slurry. Watched the news. And she stood motionless in the sunshine on her balcony for the 20 minutes her doctor recommended to stave off rickets.
Her outdoor time, previously a moment of zen, had become her worst chore.
There was a strange man who moved in across the terrace from her luxury apartment. He too had outdoor time, and it coincided with hers.
He wore thick, black-rimmed glasses. His pudgy mass was circular, similar in both shape and color to a snowman. A thick blanket of blonde hair ran from his buzz cut down the back of his neck and into his sweat-stained white-ish A-shirt.
He liked doing stretches.
After watching the spectacle for as long as Sally could stomach, she returned inside and got back to work.
She checked her email to read some of the Google news alerts for tips, but got sidelined by an unexpected email. It was an automatic message saying some of her articles were trending, more specifically, 5 of her articles were trending, receiving, on average, 20,000 views apiece.
She logged onto the writer chat.
Spider: Hey guys, is anyone else getting a weird surge in traffic? I got over 100,000 views yesterday.
MeFartsSoMuch: I know, right
Spider: The articles that are doing well are over 14 days old. That’s ancient. Nothing past a week sells, much less trends.
MeFartsSoMuch: I know, right
Realizing that the team wasn’t going to be much help, she opened the Talcott Tribune website. There were 20 new articles on the main page. Each one was catchy. Sally found herself clicking several, completely forgetting her work. (The primary goal of any online news site is to prevent people from working).
The writing style was unique and not from anyone she knew.
Spider: Hey new guy. You there?
Anonymous_User01: Right here Sally.
Spider: Did you write all those articles yesterday?
Spider: There’s like 20 new posts. I was only off for 10 hours.
Anonymous_User01: I work fast
Turd_Ferguson: These posts are great, and I got a boost too!
Anonymous_User01: I put relevant links to everyone’s past articles in my work, and I write in little pitches each time.
Ted: Everyone’s? You mean you linked my articles too?
Spider: That’s nice and all, but if you’re working at that speed, there’s not going to be enough news tips to go around. You’ll scoop all of us.
Anonymous_User01: Don’t think of it that way. I made sure that there were some questionable claims in each article along with several other buried leads. Just write some op-eds about those claims and rehash the most trending articles. There’s always more juice to get out of a viral piece.
Spider: I don’t know how I feel about ‘rehashing’ someone’s work. At least, not rehashing from my own website.
Anonymous_User01: Just try it for a while. I think you’ll make a lot of money.
FireFlyForever: It’s true. I’ve been doing that for a few hours now. One of the rehashed pieces is already taking off.
Spider: I think I’ll stick to my own methods, thanks Phil. So, anonymous guy, are you ever going to fill in your screen name?
Anonymous_User01: Oh, I totally forgot.
A few moments later, the stranger’s name changed to “Scoop Trendworthy.”
That was the start of a new, lucrative chapter for the Talcott Tribune, grocery storeclerk George R.R. Martin didn’t know what hit him. Several hundred other websites dropped below the Talcott Tribune in the Internet ratings as well.
The website’s fame rose in tandem with Scoop Trendworthy’s legend. It was said he could write a 600-word article in 5 minutes — 3 minutes of typing and another 2 minutes of waiting while the computer caught up. He could find a license-free photo of anyone and anything. Embarrassing celebrity mugshots appeared in his stories, even when the person was never arrested. Scoop not only fed off of every major trend, he created his own. He could make married couples get divorced by arguing over the color of a piece of clothing.
Politicians apologized over statements they never made. Companies recalled perfectly safe products. Governments stockpiled vaccines for diseases only found in the Star Trek universe.
No writer had ever so perfectly straddled the edges of truth and crazy. Most writers spent decades just developing a basic understanding of how to mislead Internet audiences.
The Talcott Tribune became the most read Internet publication in the world, but not everyone on staff was happy about it.
Sally went from top dog to the number two writer in the first week Scoop Trendworthy appeared from the Internet’s shadows. Another week and she was number six. In two months, she slipped below Ted, where she stayed for some time.
Despite being the worst writer on the site, Sally was making more money than ever before. Scoop continued to link to her work at every opportunity. She in turn regularly pointed out flaws in Scoop’s articles. Despite his tremendous speed and eye for the public interest, his spelling was bad.
Likewise, his grammar was athletic — his modifiers squinted, his sentences ran, and his subjects and verbs would regularly spare. Sally never missed an opportunity to point out a problem, proof-reading out of spite, as most proofreaders do. Every correction came with a twist of the blade, to make Trendworthy seem uneducated. No one at the Tribune cared.
Grammar-conscious readers also complained, but that actually helped Scoop. If they were giving lectures in the comments section, then they stayed on the page longer.
The two remaining editors at the Talcott Tribune didn’t check Scoop’s work. They were all too busy shopping as if the new glory days would never end.
Then they ended.
Chief Lolly was the first one to see the new site at the top of the page rankings. It was called Robot News. The site had no cracks in its coverage. If something happened, they reported it.
Rick Lolly wasn’t worried, going from number 4,236 to number 2 still satisfied his wildest ambitions. His concerns started when another site appeared at the top of the list, Machine News. Then AI News. Then the Cotton Gin Post. The Talcott Tribune was back down to number 200, but that didn’t describe the downturn.
In the past, Internet news viewership was spread out enough for even minor sites to feed themselves and stay alive. Now 70 percent of it was concentrated in just 100 news sites, and out of those, about half were just in the top ten sites.
It was a coup, and Lolly didn’t know how to handle pressure or competition. Like so many others in the field of news aggregation, he waited until a computer handed him a solution.
Chief_Lolly: Hello everyone? Are you all online?
Lolly sent an email to all the writers asking them to be online for the meeting because he would make an important announcement and he did not want to do it twice.
Chief_Lolly: Good, I think that’s the whole team
What came next would involve all the diplomacy and delicacy Lolly could manage. He knew his announcement would be devastating. People would cry, curse and scream — at least, write out those emotions in the chat screen. So, he took a deep breath and a swig of coffee and started typing.
Chief_Lolly: You’re all fired
There were a few moments before the first reply.
Ted: But I just got an apartment… and a dog
Captain_Smash_Alot: This is bullshit. We were number one just a few weeks ago, and now you’re cutting EVERYONE over a minor dip!
Ted: His name is Fido, because I’m not very good at original dog names
Turd_Ferguson: I’ve been with the Talcott Tribune since we launched you piece of shit!
Oxnard_Poo: I just can’t believe this is happening
Ted: He was a rescue from the shelter. I would go there everyday when I was living in my car, saying to myself I would rescue all of them once someone rescued me.
Chief_Lolly: Anyways… You will all find your severance packages in your respective Amazon accounts, and it has been an honor and a pleasure to work with all of you. Good luck with your future endeavors.
*User Chief Lolly has logged out*
MeFartsSoMuch: Ch, I guess I really am going to college
Then everyone else logged off.
Sally’s phone rang. It startled her. She hadn’t been called for more than a year, and at first, she mistook the unfamiliar ringtone for an emergency alert system. Once the panic subsided, she answered the phone.
“Sally? This is Rick Lolly. Listen, we won’t need your services as a writer anymore, but how about staying on board as an editor?”
“An editor for what?” Sally asked, “All the writers are gone.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Lolly assured her.
He explained that he was approached by a sales representative for Simon Inc., a company that had been lurking in the background of Internet news. They were in “machine learning,” and their flagship product was a computer program that could scan the Internet for upcoming trends, research them, and then produce an Internet news article — completely doing the job of a human reporter, but faster and cheaper.
Lolly had purchased a subscription and told Sally it was the only way to stay alive in the modern market.
He gave Sally the log-in. The controls and settings for Simon were approachable even for a senior citizen.
Political Bias: 43 percent Liberal
Sarcasm: 23 percent
Formality: 2 percent
Snark: 72 percent
Hyperbole: 96 percent
Controversy: 86 percent
Fact Check: Off
Number of Words: 600 per article
Sponsored Content: On
Racism Filter: On
All the settings were adjustable, but those were the ones Lolly found worked best. “So, what exactly is my job again?” Sally asked after seeing the new dashboard.
“Well, the program isn’t perfect,” Lolly answered, “Occasionally, you’ll see some grammar mistakes, some paragraphs that don’t really flow or make sense. You were always the grammar nerd in the group, so your job is basically quality control. Problems are rare though. Mostly your job is to push two buttons. The first is ‘produce’ it will make a story appear, then you check it and hit ‘publish.’ Every time you push the button, it’s another five bucks in your pocket.”
“Five bucks for pushing a button?”
“Well, technically, two buttons.”
Sally started playing with the program, publishing four stories — a celebrity couple break-up, a UFO sighting, a woman who saw Jesus in her toast, and three puppies playing in Christmas wrapping paper. She read each one, but they all felt hollow. The snark wasn’t really snarky, the hyperbole just didn’t seem ridiculous enough, and the racism filter was clearly broken for the puppy video article.
“You just made your first 20 dollars.”
“This is a great job, and thank you so much for showing me this, but I always thought of myself as a writer first. I’ve never had a temptation to edit the work of others. Is there any room left in the Talcott Tribune for a human writer? Maybe some creative nonfiction?”
The phone was silent for a few moments.
“You know, when I started out in the news business, I was what they called a ‘journalist,’” Lolly said, “I would go out into the world, in my car, and physically get my stories. I’d maybe produce 4 articles in a busy week. And they would publish them, on paper, and deliver them to peoples’ homes and to what we called ‘bookstores.’ The only way I knew how many hits I received was an occasional compliment from a devoted reader or two.
Then the Internet happened. My local paper went out of business. I was good at the journalism thing, and I got a few other job offers, but they were for less pay and more hours. It was clear that competing with the Internet news aggregators would be impossible. If I ever wrote anything good, they would just butcher it, rewrite it, and republish it as their own work. That’s why I decided to join them, and I created ‘The Talcott Tribune.’”
“Well sure, Internet news sites took a considerable bite out of the news market,” Sally said, “We stole and rewrote the work of real journalists, used misleading headlines, made investigative journalism uneconomical, filtered everything through political biases, pretended sponsored ads were real news stories, lacked editorial oversight, reported with no sense of responsibility or decency.”
Sally lost her train of thought for a moment.
“But we didn’t take over completely,” Sally said, “There are still good journalists out there. I should know. I steal from them every day. Why would Simon suddenly end all that.”
“Because he’s a computer program,” Lolly said, “You know it’s much more than just the Talcott Tribune. Writers all over the Internet are losing their jobs. It’s the newest trend. Soon Simon will start publishing books, screenplays, poetry. It’s massive. It is the Internet. What person could Scoop and outwrite that?”
Sally knew the answer, but she hated to say it.
“Scoop Trendworthy could… maybe”
“I think he was a program.”
“Well think about it,” Lolly said, “He disappeared right as Simon was released. Didn’t you notice he wasn’t at the meeting?”
Sally hadn’t noticed.
“He was probably their Beta version. Still, he, I mean it, certainly couldn’t beat the official model.”
“Didn’t ‘it’ fill out one of those information spreadsheets with a phone number and a physical address?”
“I don’t remember, I never really check those.”
“Well, whether Scoop was a machine or not, I still think there’s a place for humans in news.”
“It’s a nice thought… people writing stories,” Lolly said, “But I’ve got a business to run. I don’t want to find myself on the losing end of a technological revolution. Not again.”
“Can I have that information for Scoop,” Sally asked, “You’re probably right, but I’d like to know for sure.”
“You mean you want me to give you the private, personal information of an employee, which I am bound by law and common decency to keep under lock and key?” Lolly said, shocked, “… just kidding, I’ll email it over with the rest of the team’s info.”
“You know if you can put together a team you think can beat Simon, I’ll be cheering for you,” Lolly explained, “and, when you lose, you’ve got a job here waiting.”
“Thanks, but I think you might as well find someone else.”
The two hung up. Sally opened her email and got the attachment file. If Scoop was human, his skills would be the best shot of beating the machines. The problem was he could be anywhere in the world. Sally started mentally preparing herself for days of travel. Then she saw Scoop’s card.
Figures, she thought.
Sally went across her apartment complex to the home of the strange Hobbit-like man who regularly made her outdoor time unsightly. At the door, she could hear the distant sounds of hard typing.
The main door wasn’t locked. The living room was black, only a few shards of light from between the balcony blinds pierced through. She searched the walls until she found a light switch and flipped it on. The room was empty, completely devoid of any furniture or sign of human life. The kitchen had not been touched.
Sally approached the bedroom and the sounds of typing grew louder, occasionally broken by screams of frustration. She slowly opened the door, letting out a foul air.
The room was faintly lit by three computer screens, one large center panel and one each on the main screen’s bookends. There was a mattress bent against the back wall, and a pile of clothes in the corner.
Scoop Trendworthy sat in front of the computer screens. He was looking at the results of his typing test, 200 WPS.
Sally flipped on a switch. Scoop tried to shield his eyes, then stumbled onto the ground.
“Stranger danger!” He coughed.
“I’m not a stranger,” Sally yelled, “My name is Sally Peterson, Spider, I work with you at the Talcott Tribune.”
“What? Spider? What are you doing here?” Scoop wheezed, “And I don’t work there anymore.”
“Yeah, I guess I don’t either. Why did you leave?”
“I didn’t quit if that’s what you mean,” Scoop said while making his way back to his office chair, “They got some computer program, said it could write faster than me. Said it could make people click more often than I could. So, they fired me. Was it the same for you?”
“No, they offered me a promotion to editor, and a lot of money.”
“Why didn’t you take it?”
“I didn’t want to edit for a computer. I didn’t really want to edit at all. I wanted to write.”
Trendworthy wheezed as he returned to his chair.
“I guess I had a similar problem with you,” Sally confessed, “I didn’t want to feed off your traffic. That’s why I was always giving you a hard time. I’m sorry about that. I just felt like you were taking all the news.”
“I know how you feel. At least, I do now.”
“So, listen, the reason I’m here. There’s supposedly hundreds, maybe thousands of writers losing their jobs to that thing. I want to make a new company that hires only human writers, and I want to beat Simon in the ratings. I figure to do that, I would need a head writer who could scoop stories and direct traffic. I think you’re the only person who could do that… so, what do you say?”
“I’d love to, but I can’t,” Scoop explained.
“Can’t join the company?”
“No, I can’t beat Simon. It’s a computer, you know, it types faster than any human could; it finds trends in massive loads of data. I figured I could out angle a computer, that’s a human-thing, creativity, right? But I can’t even out create the machine.”
“What if you had a team?”
“Taking the time to chat and coordinate online would be too inefficient.”
“What if the team was here, we could edit and communicate in real-time, just like an old-fashioned newsroom, except with the same factory-assembly-line mentality that’s made Internet news so… umm… timely.”
“I’ve never worked with people in the flesh before,” Scoop admitted, “That could be fun, but even assuming an in-person team could work, we’d still be starting a company from scratch. Simon’s sites are already indexed and ‘reputable’ news websites. Even if we scooped Simon, we wouldn’t get on the search engines as fast.”
That was a problem Sally hadn’t thought of.
“A contest!” She yelled suddenly. “We write to Simon Inc., proposing a contest to see who could get the most hits in a 24-hour period of time. Man vs Machine, that kind of thing. They’d do it because it would be a big PR stunt and increase their sales and rates. But, it would put us on the map too. The search engines would have to respect us on the news feeds then.”
“And we’d have all the other out-of-work writers behind us,” Scoop thought aloud, “I would say it’s a big risk, but we don’t have anything to lose.”
The two writers shook hands and within two hours their new site “ScoopTrendworthy.net” was up. They wrote a semi-formal challenge into Simon Inc’s inquiry page, which they knew no one would read, and then drafted a press release.
Sally got in touch with some of the few human-made news sites left and had them publish articles on the contest. It didn’t take long for the story to find its way into Simon’s searches, and it rewrote the articles into “Man vs. Machine: Human Writers Come Together To Battle Robot Reporter.”
The story went viral, and Simon’s creators, seeing the story being rerun hundreds of times by their own robot, were forced to accept the challenge.
The contest date was set, but there was one last problem to work through — Sally and Scoop needed a bigger team for their newsroom (which was being run out of Scoop’s apartment).
Sally used the contact list she received from Lolly for recruitment, but the answer was always the same, “I’d love to help, but I live hundreds of miles away. I can’t be part of a live news team.”
There was only one man who answered the call, and he arrived at Scoop’s door just seven days before the contest.
“Hello Ted,” Sally said, trying to hide her derision.
He stood in the open door carrying a duffel bag from his army days. Ted was 6 feet, 2 inches tall. Well-groomed jet-black hair, blue eyes, cut jaw. His muscular build was apparent beneath his black T-shirt. His devotion to craft of news aggregation was clearly lacking.
In his left hand, he held the leash of his scraggly dog.
“I don’t think the manager allows dogs on the premises,” Scoop said.
“No, they do. I asked,” Ted said as he walked into the apartment. “Thank you guys so much. I’m really honored. I know I wasn’t your first choice to be on the team, or your second, third, fourth, fifth… Well, I’m just happy to be here. So where can I stay in the meantime? I lost my home again after the Talcott Tribune fired me.”
Ted moved into Sally’s apartment and the team was ready to go. Ted was the researcher and coffee getter. He’d look for the trends and send over the primary source material (articles from real journalists) over to Scoop. Scoop was the writer. He’d read the stories, rewrite their material, slap on a picture, and give them a new angle to get clicks. Sally was the editor. She’d proofread Scoop’s work, make sure his claims weren’t indefensible or lawsuit-worthy, and click publish.
Only four percent of readers knew or cared enough about English grammar and spelling to be off-put by mistakes in an article, but the team needed every little bit. Scoop was ready with his own research setup for when Ted inevitably failed at his job.
Simon would only be allowed to publish from one website, MachineNews.com, but they still had little hope of matching the program’s speed. Their only hope was to out-exaggerate, out-snark, and out-angle the computer — a long-shot at best.
The day of the contest came, and the Internet watched. A special website was created to track the time, the number of stories, and the number of hits for both websites — ScoopTrendworthyvsSimon.com.
At 4 a.m. the race began. Simon published five stories in the blink of an eye. The company had the articles saved in-queue — a dirty trick, especially for a computer.
“My computer broke,” Ted yelled in minute two of the competition.
“Whatever, go get us some coffee,” Sally ordered.
The first five minutes were rough, but things picked up soon afterwards. Scoop started exploiting the program’s weaknesses. Only one website meant that Simon could only have one political bias, leaving the other side open.
Simon’s article “Illegal Immigration Surging, Sexual Assault Rising” became “Racist Nativists Harass Undocumented Immigrants.” After the first two hours, MachineNews.com had 52 articles published with 2,930,000 hits. ScoopTrendworthy.com had 36 articles and 1,200,000 hits.
“My finger’s bleeding!” Scoop yelled, “And I need a new keyboard.”
Ted rushed in with a band-aid and new keyboard ready.
In celebrity news, Simon lacked a sexism filter, leading it to publish insensitive stories about nude photo leaks from the previous day. Scoop was quick to jump on it, writing op-ed style pieces calling for people to stop reading stories featuring the leaks.
The stories took a chunk out of Simon’s viewership and gave Scoop an instant audience with feminists. But he underestimated the Internet’s love of nude celebrity photos. By noon, Simon had 198 articles with 10,300,000 hits. Scoop had 141 articles with 6,400,000 hits.
“New keyboard! And I need eyedrops!” Scoop yelled.
By 5 p.m., the news was exhausted, and Scoop began to pick up steam. With real journalists stopping for the day, there were fewer sources, fewer things to rewrite. It was time for op-eds. Scoop called out every sexist, racist thing on the Internet (mostly what Simon said). It was an angle the computer program just couldn’t keep up with, and Scoop started to close the gap.
At 8:30 p.m., MachineNews was running 234 articles and received 14,300,000 hits. Scoop was at 212 articles with 13,900,000 hits.
“That was my last good finger!” Scoop yelped. Ted had now bandaged all of Scoop’s digits. The writer’s eyes were more red than white, and he was breathing heavily.
“Let me step in!” Sally yelled.
“No, I’ve got this.”
Scoop’s confidence was dashed just a few minutes later.
The news cycle was going into a dead-zone, where most English-readers were done absorbing news stories for the day. It would be a long crawl to close the remaining disparity in hits, but Scoop thought he could do it, until he saw Simon’s most devious trick.
MachineNews started producing articles in Japanese, then Korean, and then Chinese. As the peak news reading hours moved geographically, Simon changed languages, picking up on completely foreign trends and getting readers well out of Scoop’s reach.
The news team sat silent.
“There’s no way we can win now,” Ted said sullenly.
“It’s over,” Sally added.
But Scoop carried on. He kept typing through the pain and tears. Then suddenly, he changed.
“What are you doing?” Sally yelled.
Scoop had spent 10 minutes on the same story. He threw out the common convention that Internet readers could only stay interested for about 600 words. He was at 3,000 words and still going. He was taking all the news of the entire day and weaving it seamlessly into an epic journey linking celebrity nip slips with earthquakes, political gaffes with stock market tips. He wrote a coherent story about just one day — and it was beautiful.
At 10,000 words and after one hour, Sally hit publish. What started as one reader a minute became 10, then 100, then 1,000, then 10,000. Soon the scoreboard started going haywire, then the page was unresponsive, along with large parts of the Internet. Before it went down the website showed MachineNews with 16,700,000 hits, but Scoop Trendworthy had 98,400,000.
Then both the competing sites went offline.
The three sat in awe.
“Scoop, we did it,” Sally finally said, “Scoop?!?!”
The next news cycle had two big stories trending. The first, and the one that got the most hits, was “Robot Reporter Program Goes Haywire.” It seems that Simon attempted to analyze Scoop’s 10,000-word piece, but could not rehash its contents. Instead, the program entered into an endless loop, overwhelming the company’s servers. The hardware was fried, and with it, the tens of thousands of coding man-hours used to create Simon. There was no backup.
The other was a human-interest story originally titled “Reporter Dies Writing.” That story came with only one angle, which Sally repeated at Scoop’s funeral.
“There never lived a news aggregator as good as Scoop Trendworthy. And may be, there will never be one born as talented again. He made sure that the Internet news stayed in the hands of the people. Secured good writers’ jobs, so they could keep misinforming the public like God intended.”
Scoop was lowered into the ground inside a Star Wars-themed coffin in the shape of Han Solo frozen in carbonite in front of only three dozen sobbing reporters, Ted included. But the webcast of the event was viewed over a billion times. And was still receiving views even as man was colonizing Mars and achieving immortality in the vast universe.
He would never be forgotten, not so long as people had time at work to waste and bosses who rarely checked in.
And despite all the changes humanity would go through in the following eons, that one thing always stayed the same.
Hey, if you liked that, you should read this too: Ms. Halo — Centuries of history are coming to an end. Food is scarce. Space is dwindling. And the beloved alien overlord is getting too old. After generations of dependence, the leaders of a small colony realize that they have to escape before they die with the alien they love.
Or you can clap. Clapping works too.