Tech by VICE

All Net Journalism = Cyberbullying

The online snark economy is dead. Can sites like Gawker survive the age of positive-wave content?

by carles.buzz
Jul 24 2015, 3:00pm

Gawker is in trouble for publishing #journalism. It's still doing the same type of innovative net journalism that allowed some of its content verticals to scale, thrusting its name in front of the world as the source of some of the most popular #controversial stories of contemporary times. But internet times have changed, and the return on outing any individual as being a liar/deviant/homosexual/victim of digital society is no longer worth leveraging the brand of your content farm.

To recap the web/life controversy, Gawker.com published a story about a Conde Nast media executive who tried to hire a male porn star to have a rendezvous. There was also a reverse blackmail narrative intertwined in the story. It relied on the male porn star as a source, providing text messages and conversation snippets from the failed encounter. It just so happened that the media executive also had a wife and kid(s), so the blog post was viewed as an outing-meets-#gayshaming through the lens of the backlash wave media cycle. In the worldwide recapping of the story, Gawker was portrayed as the 'mean people' who shouldn't have published this piece of #factchecked journalism because it really didn't make the world a better place.

It was mean. It was wrong. It ruined someone's life. It wasn't even done to someone famous enough to warrant a tell-all piece. This type of content is no longer necessary in the current media paradigm. Gawker must change its ways if it wants to grow/scale/make 'mad ad dollars' aimed at universal markets.

Gawker had an 'internal vote' that resulted in the ultimate violation of online journalist beliefs--the removal of the post. Nick Denton wrote in a memo about the deleted post, "We are proud of running stories that others shy away from, often to preserve relationships or access. But the line has moved. And Gawker has an influence and audience that demands greater editorial restraint."

This line references the new media paradigm. This is no longer the old internet, solely consumed by affluent early adopters seeking a skewed slant on news and headlines. Snark is a dead language from when the 'blog' was trying to formulate a new content stream different from other news & lifestyle mediums. The world is now consuming the massive swamp of internet content, primarily looking to be offended by everything possible. Web content and web voices must remain neutral in this new paradigm of cheap, infinite, positive web content.

There used to be a time when even just the 'buzz' of a controversy meant that Gawker was a respected media brand that warranted coverage. However, in the current media landscape, Gawker was turned into a cyberbully, desperate to generate 'clickbait' with the 'old media tactic' of a journalistic exposé. It is perceived as an insensitive content farm that offends readers and advertisers. Two editors resigned 'to defend the ideals of progressive journalism.' Overlords should not have the power to remove a post, because it violates the purpose of media.

In a world where users want to feel smart via dismissing all content as clickbait, it is important for media companies to focus on audiences that thrive on positive virality. They must hire non-name brand writers and editors who use data to create viral content for the people. Media websites can do "reporting," but only if that reporting is basically recapping a story as a neutral, moderately outraged spectator.

Advertisers could easily sponsor cyberbullying and prank-based websites. But so many other quality websites have scaled with positive vibes, why can't your news outlet do the same?

Gawker has a name brand, which is helpful, but the perceived voice/angle of the content must be retired. Finding a positive voice for your content farm network is the most important task of any content farm today. With the $100 million purchase of ViralNova (created in 2013), it is hard to imagine why a media company is doing anything controversial. In no way does 'controversy' illustrate that growth to venture capital firms and advertisers. There is no massive payoff for being a #disruptive voice that publishes Hulk Hogan sex tapes. The safety of the internet as an unregulated medium where you can avoid legal repercussions by simply 'removing a post' is over.

The coverage of the coverage of Gawker's coverage was seen as largely negative, except by the small sector of #journalistic purists who still see the internet as a place for truth at all costs [via longform]. True Gawker readers probably don't care that much, because they are satiated by perceiving Gawker as the center of their worlds.

Two of the greatest Gawker network posts of all time are the publishing of Brett Favre's penis AND the outing of Manti Te'o's fake dead girlfriend. Both stories required tips that were aggressively pursued by net journalists. Being the source of a scoop that required lots of footwork and factchecking was once seen as valuable to the world, validating a site like Gawker as being a progressive journalistic medium that produced original content. They were great Gawker/Deadspin posts that kept a dinosaur like myself loading Gawker, attached to a version of the web that feels more and more out of place.

The core competency of 'being Gawker' is now bad for business. The site must neuter itself in phases, growing its audience while shedding itself from old Gawker. They have everything they need to move forward, even a content management/commenting system called Kinja [via 'more than just a content farm' tech developer brand].

There are no more blogs. The stream of live news and commentary is irrelevant. The purpose of any online content farm is to create a stream of positive-wave content. This means publishing posts with minimal captions that appeal to Facebook users everywhere. Posts that are not dependent upon timeliness in order to appeal to the vagabonds of the internet. They don't care about journalism. They don't care about sources. A million mindless uniques are better than 50k people who 'care' about the latest niche New York City media elite story.

If I were Nick Denton, I would probably just sell my shares in the website and move on to another industry where 'being innovative' can be fulfilling, instead of having to deal with the day-to-day moral grind of the tolerant internet. You've already won. You've made a difference and disrupted the news. Or he could just focus on getting extremely rich by shedding the old Gawker brand and going full Emerson Spartz. Continue to phase out the journalistic purists and start a second Gawker office somewhere in Middle America, like Iowa. They would launch a few content verticals meant to to appeal to Facebook users. This will continue to demonstrate #growth to investors while the old content verticals are seen as less important.

Gawker is in a bad position because it is seen by dinosaur internet users as a legacy website. Misguided readers/users see the site as having some moral fabric in the web. The entire process of changing the direction of the content farm will involve getting Gawker readers 'mad at the site.' They will continue to defect to larger content farms that try harder to brand themselves as 'smart' and 'original.'

Gawker has done nothing but publish 'the truth.' However, the truth isn't really that scalable, especially when it highlights the dark side/underbelly of society.

There wasn't anything to 'gain' by outing some one's attempted homsexual prostitution pitch. The high-end web is a myth, and pandering to a limited niche of readers prevents the Gawker network from scaling to Vox, Buzzfeed, and ViralNova-like levels. It established the necessary journalistic brand when journalism was 'hot,' but those days are over. The point of digital media is not to further the art of journalism and sculpt a timeless voice. It is to continue to manufacture pages and pages of content until your site becomes infinitely scalable.

Dumb it down, smartypantses. Disruption is over.

Carles.Buzz is the fallen content farmer behind HIPSTER RUNOFF. Read more Life on the Content Farm here.