Even as journalists mourn Michael Hastings’ premature death, his unforgiving penmanship is still winning unbridled admiration. His best-known piece, which appeared in a 2010 issue of Rolling Stone, outed General McChyrstal’s contempt for Barack Obama. Soon after, the four-star general was fired. Hastings was only 30. But as young writers move to transform the internet into the 21st century’s journalistic platform, quality control is lower than ever before. Our over-consumption and over-production of junk journalism is ruining the craft.
News outlets are battling new stakes, as they evolve for the iPhone age. Notoriety, once measured by paper sales, is now determined by new-user clicks, monthly-visits, Facebook shares, or tweets. We want your attention. We want our name in your pockets, on your page, your newsfeed, in your mouth, in the ear of your best friend. That is why this headline is trending on BuzzFeed:
The hope is that you, modern Interneter, will like the 51 pictures enough to wonder, “What else is on Buzzfeed?” And with that curiosity, search the site and land on a more labored and analytically-based article like:
But the problem with the first kind of article is not the content, but what the content reinforces. Which is the notion that anyone with a pen should be given a platform to express himself or herself. Because with that, editorial scrutiny diminishes. Writers across the interwebs make assertions without any proof at all, but their own opinions. History is neglected. Fact is irrelevant. The internet is as much a technological blessing as it is an arsenal of junk. And we are so inundated with it, that quality and non-quality media are forced to exist side by side.
That juxtaposition, as a result, smudges our idea of what craft can be. All piled up, this heap of information is called journalism or news, and is deemed relevant and interesting. Every man has a voice, albeit biased, albeit boring, albeit sensational.
Every news outlet does not have the privilege of brand-based notoriety. There is only one New York Times, only one New Yorker. The Las Vegas Sun does not enjoy the fame of the Washington Post. PolicyMic is not Politico.
Yet as Millennials and older consumers alike forge through this new frontier of web journalism, we must be careful how much quality we are willing to sacrifice for clicks. Because “51 Animal Pictures You Need to See Before You Die” may be cute now, and in twenty years the status quo.