Is journalism’s decline my fault?

Some time ago, an enticing link on a news website caught my eye. I can’t remember the subject matter, but I remember having resolved to spend the next 10–15 minutes of my life reading and absorbing the text. And so I clicked.

Under the headline, the author lead with a promising infographic. But, after a few short paragraphs, the article abruptly ended, having barely scratched the surface of the topic. I was let down.

Something about it felt familiar, though. I didn’t even need to count the words of the article to realize what I was looking at: an enticing headline, a rich image, and 300 words. Years ago, that was my formula for successful writing.

For those that don’t know, I used to write about fast food once per week for SeriousEats.com. I loved it. And I was good at it, too. I’d get paid to write a 250–300 word article once per week. It wasn’t my full-time occupation, but I enjoyed the satisfaction that came with positive comments and laughs from my friends. All of those posts still live on the internet today, right here.

If you peruse my body of fast food work, you’ll notice some structural themes: enticing headlines, alluring leading images, and simple, humorous text. I kept to a formula. I also never opined about the industry itself. When Michael Bloomberg proposed his infamous “Soda Ban” for New York City, I remained quiet. I wrote about how sodas tasted, not about the nuanced tradeoffs among health benefits, personal choice, and regulation of commerce. (Yes, I like Oxford Commas). I was a blogger, not a journalist.

As news publications took the form of blogs, so too did journalists take hints from bloggers. The lines between news and opinion also blurred. Articles turned into posts. Depth and development disappeared. Clicks and ad impressions reigned supreme, not time spent digesting an article or information learned.

Since I stopped writing about fast food, I’ve noticed similar formats to my old fast food writing appearing in many publications. Pretty soon, it felt like that format was everywhere. It was enough to make me think that if I had continued writing, I probably would have invented the listicle. A lot of what you see on Buzzfeed , Vox, the Atlantic Wire, and other sites greatly resembles the format I used to follow.

Granted, there was a good reason for that format. Shorter posts about one particular food topic merited less space; longer articles about an entire restaurant required more space. Shorter posts mean a reader might click another link sooner, resulting in more ad revenue. Longer posts don’t result in as much turnover. I remember there being rough formats for longer articles, but since I rarely wrote those I do not remember what they were.

A short post is not necessarily a bad post. But the length of a post generally correlated with the complexity of the topic or the amount of sub-topics within the overall topic. That is to say, speaking about the soda ban or describing the new menu at a hip restaurant requires more words than a post about a sandwich at KFC.

Self-aggrandizement and boasting aside, I feel a sense of culpability for the current state of online media. Serious Eats paid me to write something light and short which would appeal to a large percentage of the readers of their site. In some senses, the outsized traffic (and thus revenue) from my posts subsidized the more region or city specific content that appealed to a smaller audience.

If certain posts make money, though, a logical business person will recommend creating more of that type. Further, most news sites play Search Engine Optimization (SEO) games to direct search traffic to their articles and site. I could envision a scenario where a tasteless blogger would write “Six slices at Comet Ping Pong you have to try” just for the traffic it would generate. (Comet Ping Pong was the alleged site of a crime organization in a conspiracy theory during the 2016 election). I could see an unscrupulous editor suggesting a post of that nature around the time the conspiracy theory was being promulgated.

Currently, I’m making an attempt to be part of the journalistic solution, not part of the problem. I’m trying to stay away from the flashy clickbait and stick to original and thought provoking ideas and trends. It’s likely an uphill battle, given the active nature of reading, as opposed to listening or watching. Hopefully, I continue to climb.

2018

What is Fake News?

By now, everyone has heard the term “Fake News”. If you haven’t, you’ve either been living under a rock or spent the last two years in a coma. Arguably one of the biggest terms of 2017, it is a moniker that President Trump has given largely to the left-leaning media, which he calls the “Mainstream Media”.

Read More

Death, Taxes, and Email

While talking to my mom on the phone yesterday, we came to the subject of taxes. I had been musing about moving to and/or buying a place in any location other than New York City, where I currently live. My last tax bill from the state of New York made me strongly reconsider residing in the Empire State. With each potential place I listed, my mom noted the high taxes. Somewhat frustrated, I said “At some point, I’m going to die. And until then, I’m going to have to pay taxes.”

Read More

Deleting Facebook, Week One

As I wrote about last week, I deleted my Facebook profile on Monday. That date, April 23rd, marked fourteen years I had been on the platform. Guess what? I lasted two whole days before I reactivated it. (Cue Nelson Muntz and his famous “Ha ha!”)

Read More

Why I’m deleting Facebook

About a month ago, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. I found out about it via the linked Guardian article, which I read while at a dinner with friends. I couldn’t put down my phone, and barely touched my wine for the first twenty minutes of the dinner, as friends began to tease me for being antisocial.

Read More

Blogging About Blogging II

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I set a goal of writing 150 posts by the end of 2018. I set out a lofty goal of 5 super-longform posts, 10 longform, 30 to be medium length, etc. etc. That was highly ambitious, especially while doing other things.

Read More

Old is new again, II

As I wrote last week, I have been looking at some of my past writing. I resurfaced eight articles I had written in the past and had a few cringes and laughs looking at other pieces. I’ve revived four more articles which I liked. Two hail from my fast food writing days, while the other two are tech and humor infused pieces.

Read More

Old is new again

In March, I caught a bad case of writer’s block. I couldn’t think of anything useful or entertaining to write, so I went to some older attempts to blog and write for inspiration. It was fun to read my old writing. At times, it was cringeworthy. At times, I was impressed with my younger self.

Read More

Welcome to Jekyll!

On March 29th, I switched my personal blog from Hugo to Jekyll. This was the first post generated when I first installed and ran Jekyll, so I kept it for timekeeping and posterity’s sake.

Read More

Is journalism’s decline my fault?

Some time ago, an enticing link on a news website caught my eye. I can’t remember the subject matter, but I remember having resolved to spend the next 10–15 minutes of my life reading and absorbing the text. And so I clicked.

Read More

The News Entertainment Business

Growing up, I watched a lot of professional wrestling. In that time, wrestling was in a sort of renaissance: Stone Cold Steve Austin reigned supreme, The Rock was growing in popularity, and Degeneration X told everyone to “Suck it!”. There were high flying acrobatics, lavish introductions, and plenty of in-ring drama. But one of the unforgettable elements for me was the ringside commentary.

Read More

Blogging About Blogging

I made a New Year’s Resolution to blog. Instead of a vague resolution, though, I set a concrete goal: 150 posts by the end of 2018. I read somewhere that vague goals are less helpful than concrete tasks. That may have been GTD, it may have been Tim Ferriss. I’ll have to research where I found that.

Read More

And then…

Imagine the following situation: you’re talking to a small group of people. All of a sudden, one person has the floor.

Read More

The Time I Met John Kerry

TL;DR: My name is John Edwards (no relation). Six years ago, I was bumped up to first class on a flight from California to Boston, and sat behind Senator John Kerry. He watched two Kate Hudson movies, didn’t pee for four hours, and forgot to lock the bathroom door when he finally did. I introduced myself at the end of the flight, and he said something funny.

Read More

Beginner’s Guide to Dry January

Today, I’m seventeen days into my second ‘Dry January’. For those of you who don’t know, Dry January means abstaining from alcohol for the whole first month of the year. It’s become a small phenomenon among people I know. It has health benefits, in particular weight loss, at a time when many are making and attempting to stick to their New Year’s resolutions.

Read More

John Backus

When I was in High School, I enrolled in the only Computer Science course that we were offered. I loved it: coding, learning languages, solving problems. I was in my element. That year, we read a book about famous computer scientists. The first story remains etched into my mind to this day: a biography of and interview with John Backus, the developer of the language Fortran.

Read More

I’m back, baby! I’m back!

Cosmo Kramer is one of the zanier characters ever to appear on television. In one Seinfeld episode, “The Visa”, he attends a baseball fantasy camp, and ends up punching Mickey Mantle. George Costanza notes the hilarity of the situation:

Read More

Back to Top ↑

2015

This Is Journalism?

I love the news. But lately, the clickbait has driven me toward madness. Scanning CNN.com recently, which may have been mistake number one, I saw a promising headline: “Deion Sanders calls out son.” Click on the above link if you want. I’m going to sum the article up anyway, so you don’t really need to.

Read More

Back to Top ↑

2013

On Snowden

Edward Snowden captured America’s attention this past month. The media followed him for most of June in a DiCaprian journey from Hawaii to Moscow. Live Muppet Julian Assange joined the fray as well, turning the NSA leak into the story of the summer. Putin wanted to stick a finger in our eye, hoping to then uncross his long enough for a photo op.

Read More

Spam Comments

The Meatloaf turned two months old recently. I’m still a beginner, but already some of the particularities of blogging are starting to make me laugh. I feel I must share the delight of spam comments.

Read More

The NSA sucks at Powerpoint

Yesterday, The Guardian broke the news that the National Security Administration has ordered Verizon to hand over a tremendous amount of customer data for a three-month period this spring. Documents about this program, titled PRISM, appeared on the sites of the Washington Post, Business Insider, and the Guardian. Even the Atlantic entered the mix, publishing a great opinion piece by security expert Bruce Schneier about why what we don’t know about this program is scarier than what we do know. Foreign Policy posted some interesting stats about the program. Here’s a short selection of them:

Read More

I can’t shop at Muji anymore

You feel like a disorganized piece of slovenly monkey shit when you walk through Muji.  You experience a utopian domicile, with a drawer, tray, or freestanding organizer for every imaginable object. Every item has been synthesized into the same aesthetic. You think back to your own apartment, with stacks of magazines, piles of clothing, and coffee tables littered with DVDs. You feel shame, downright awful shame, for how long you’ve lived in the greatest society the world has ever seen without a closet-mounted shoe-rack. I don’t even cook, but I stand in the kitchen area, admiring the strainers.

Read More

DIY Tech Support

I’ve worked in software and information technology for a few years now. I’ve done tech support, which in the software context means “solving people’s  problems”. In the athletic context, support means “holding one’s balls in place”. Frankly, 90% of tech support amounts to little more than scratching your cojones and regurgitating the same few support tips. The software and athletic versions of support aren’t that different after all.

Read More

Candy Crush Addiction Test

Addiction is a serious matter. It can cause physical harm and mental anguish, destroy lives, and tear families apart. Many people around the world struggle with addiction on a daily basis. Though support networks exist for addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and a host of other problems, the fastest growing group of addicts is of a very nascent substance: Candy Crush.

Read More

Back to Top ↑

2011

Blake’s Lotaburger Review

I love New Mexico. My parents have been taking me there since I was a child, and it always feels like home. Everything about it agrees with me: hot days and cool evenings, dry air, and New Mexican Green Chile. This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend there with my dad visiting family.

Read More

Behind the Column: Cheesecake Factory

Today, SeriousEats.com launched SeriousEats: Sweets. Congratulations! To christen the new blog, yours truly went to the Cheesecake Factory and sampled all 33 of their cheesecakes. It is a truly epic piece, so I wrote it with a Dantean style, after my favorite epic poet. (At least, I did until I actually started writing about cheesecake. Dante didn’t do cheesecake.) I hope you enjoy it, and you can read it here.

Read More

Back to Top ↑