If you write something really wonderful online and it becomes popular, you are supposed to get a nice spike in traffic and all of the links, shares, emails and subscribers that go along with a high-quality piece that you have created. More or less, that’s how can build a following online.
For a long time, the Internet has given great power to the creators. You could be rewarded in a big way for creating something that people wanted. A nobody could become somebody with just a few blog posts.
That can still happen, but we’re entering an age where creators have less power than ever. The popular people online who are receiving all the acclaim aren’t creators anymore; they are the curators.
With sites like Upworthy, ViralNova and the like raking in piles of cash by “hacking” content curation, more and more people are shifting their focus towards republishing content with a clickbait title designed to optimize the amount of social traffic they are bringing in. The only real creation they are doing involves writing a few descriptive paragraphs. You see dozens of sites with engineered curation models coming across your Facebook feed all of the time.
There will always be leeches like this out there and, to be honest, I’m a bit envious of Upworthy’s success and business model. They found a weakness in Facebook’s algorithm and are exploiting it with great success. It’s genius.
But what’s frustrating is seeing bigger publications start to turn down the same path as the curators like Upworthy.
Take The Atlantic, for instance. This post on Facebook’s ability to determine if you are in a romantic relationship was at the top of Hacker News for much of today. It’s not an original piece by The Atlantic and all the interesting content comes from Facebook’s blog.
The only difference between the two? The title.
Facebook went with “The Formation Of Love.”
The Atlantic’s read “When You Fall In Love, This Is What Facebook Sees.”
Currently, Facebook’s original post with original research has 361 shares. The Atlantic’s reblog with a sexy title has over 27,000.
I’ve always said that the best skill to hone if you want to excel at marketing is your writing. Creating things people want is one of the most evergreen skills that you can have.
It turns out that really isn’t true anymore. The page views are going to the curators instead of the creators. And with the page views comes the money, the power and the glory.
The best writers really are the craftiest thieves.
I read two fantastic posts over the last few weeks on the current state of college journalism. They both brought back a lot of good memories. Though I’m not technically using my journalism degree in a news field, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I had great professors and made great friends studying communication. I get to apply lessons I learned in those classes to marketing and the web each day.
Most of these lessons were learned during my time at the Andersonian – our humble student newspaper at Anderson University.
Here’s my advice to those currently working on staff at a student newspaper:
1. Learn what it feels like to screw up. One of my more stressful moments of my college journalism career was publishing a story on a flu outbreak on campus. I had to reassure the campus health director over and over that I wouldn’t misrepresent anything to cause more panic among students. It took 30 minutes of persuading to get her to even do the interview. One of her only requests was for me to avoid the word “quarantine” when talking about a particular group of students who were ill. I used less colorful language in my draft, but before publication the eds. substituted the word in. She was furious. I was embarrassed and upset at myself for not alerting my editors to not reword that language.
2. Learn to take criticism. People will inevitably make fun of the paper that you stay up all night to edit. They’ll find mistakes and laugh. Some of these people will be professors in other departments. When you work really hard on a story and somebody picks it apart, it is really easy to get defensive. Learn to appreciate the criticism and become a better writer. Use it for motivation.
3. Learn to ask hard questions. Get a passion for seeking real news. Most student journalists find their campuses boring, but the best will view college as a place with lots of interesting things going on, not to mention experts on nearly every subject imaginable. I was always taught to ‘follow the money’ with any big story. There’s more money than ever flowing in and out of higher education. It’s a fascinating environment.
4. Learn to make people mad. It will happen to even the nicest journalist during your career. Better get used to it. If you are honest in the workplace, you will ruffle a few feathers…especially if your work shows up in thousands of mailboxes every day.
Writing at a college newspaper is stressful. It’s nerve-wracking, scary and sometimes annoying when you are trying to study for a bunch of other classes. It also teaches you an incredible amount. It turns out things don’t get any easier in the real world, though, so learning these lessons early on will make you more prepared for whatever career path you end up taking.
Sometime around 1995 I started reading the newspaper every day after school. It quickly became a habit, even as an elementary school student. I mostly focused on the sports page in my early days but as I grew older I got more into the local, national and world news.
It has been a habit I’ve kept throughout the rest of my life. Though I might read on my phone or computer, I can’t go a day without reading the newspaper.
Naturally, my favorite newspaper was the one that drew me into the world of news: the Punxsutawney Spirit. The paper only has a circulation of a few thousand, but I remember being so excited the first few times my name appeared on the pages for a Little League game or school event.
It’s been a few years since I’ve moved away, but the Punxsutawney Spirit continues to be my only real link to my hometown. There aren’t any other news sources in town outside of a tiny radio station and regional news outlets only report on Groundhog Day related events.
Like a lot of other people who have left, I’m still very much interested in what goes on in my hometown. I very much enjoy reading about borough council meetings, road constructions, high school track meets and all the other mostly boring news that happens in a small town in Pennsylvania. The place is still my home and I need the local newspaper to keep that connection alive.
That’s why it is so frustrating that the Punxsutawney Spirit has implemented the worst revenue model I have ever seen.
The paper recently started posting only short snippets of news stories on their website, leaving the reader with a (mostly) tasty lede and an invitation to purchase the hard copy of the newspaper to read the rest of the story.
The web gives every newspaper an equal platform that allows the blood, sweat and tears that go into good reporting to be felt by any person with an Internet connection anywhere in the world at anytime. The Punxsutawney Spirit has the same platform to share news with the world as the Boston Globe and Washington Post. And all they do with it is tell you to go buy the paper.
There’s not even an online subscription option. You literally can’t get the news unless you pick up a physical paper at one of the stands around town.
I live around 170 miles away from Punxsutawney. A lot of people who read the website and rely on it for news probably live even further away. We’re not going to be able to buy the newspaper.
What we are able to do is visit your website, leave impressions, click on ads, subscribe digitally, share your stories online and get your stuff in front of more eyeballs. But we need access to the news for any of that to happen.