This Headline Is Stimulating

by Bryan

Don’t know what to write about now that the World Series is over.

How about this: sports blogging is hard. I guess that’s why I never took to it for long stretches of time. You have to have the energy of a coked-up rhinocerous to do it, and you basically need to eat, live and breath the Internet. Staring into a screen that long is bad enough; looking into one that’s can be so mean-spirited is worse.

The Internet is “democratized,” it’s said, in that people can now produce their own content and fight back against the traditional media. But it turns out some people just like to complain. Everyone’s a critic, and everyone who writes online has to be ready to be assailed from all angles. A thick skin is important.

What has that done to the actual content being created? It’s personalized it and made it more subjective. How could it not? The Internet has made every expert of every far-flung discipline accessible to the point where if you make a mistake in an article, there’s a good chance someone will notice, and then seventh-grade math takes over: if part of it is false, it’s all false. One day in my first newspaper job I was compiling a list of names for kids sports magazine—the kids had won an award or something. I was transferring them to our layout when my editor said, “Make sure you get all those right. I know if there’s just one spelling mistake, the whole thing’s ruined.” He said it in a way that suggested I should feel the same way. I didn’t then, but I do now. Put simply, I can deal with one upset family. (It’s called “empathy.”) But I can’t deal with hordes of screaming angry people who want to make a name for themselves by tearing down mine. Who am I, anyway?

The people who are making it on the Internet aren’t immune to this type of criticism—they just have the energy to fight back. In a lot of ways, the Internet is like talk radio. Their job is to be stimulating, using knowingly suggestive—rather than honest—headlines to draw in readers, and keeping the readers engaged by stimulating them more and more throughout the article. If you start out agreeing with them, you’ll be sold by the end. If not, you’ll be writing an angry comment. That’s the point of the whole endeavor.

To some degree, writers are now salespeople as much as they are thinkers, if not more on the former side. The ability to show up every day and hammer out a position is more important than developing any sort of grand thoughts. Some argue: hey, this is how it should always have been, writers should earn it. To which I say: bullshit. If the Internet is as important as they say it is, newspapers were at least that important before, and writing from a position of responsibility to the readers was the hardest part of the job description. Now writers write from a position of reponsibility to themselves. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

P.S. Happy Birthday, mom.