Tuesday, August 17, 2010 1:24 PM
Earlier this summer, Village Voice staff writer Elizabeth Dwoskin filed a story about Debrahlee Lorenzana, who had been fired from her job at Citibank because, according to her arbitration suit against the company, her body was too distracting for her male co-workers and managers. They had repeatedly attempted to control her wardrobe choices, which were not particularly revealing, it seems. The story went viral and was covered by major news outlets all over the world. Writing recently for the Columbia Journalism Review, Dwoskin remarks,
I watched this unfold in real-time—a punch-drunk, surreal, I-don’t-want-to jinx-myself-but-I-don’t-think-this-will-ever-happen-to-me-again sort of experience— extremely pleasurable, and also slightly disturbing. As a journalist, you spend so much time plugging away at stories that you hope will impact society. Then, suddenly, you hit on a sexy banker who lost her job, and, delighted as you are, you also can’t help but wonder: Is this what it takes to be talked about all over the world?
As Dwoskin points out, this is the weird reality of writing in an internet-mediated news culture. New stories can live and die by the page view. Notoriously, the blog Gawker once made editorial strategy of bonuses paid based on the number of views their stories received. That has changed a bit, as Gawker itself reported earlier this year. These days, bonuses are tied to the number of unique monthly visitors each site in the Gawker media empire garnishes over its monthly target. Exceed the expected number of visitors, and a particular site’s editor-in-chief has a bonus to divide among the site’s writers. I can’t declare this, prima facie, bad policy, but it certainly suggests the sort of viral-ness anxiety that Dwoskin is talking about.
In the end, even Dwoskin’s original story is in some way about the “viral” nature of certain kinds of superficial information and attitudes, as the alleged sexual appeal of Debrahlee Lorenzana increasingly became the central factor in her comfort at her job and for her professional prospects at Citibank. She tried to dress down, tried to appear less attractive (as her bosses apparently demanded), but her job became harder and harder to do. For all the questions about Lorenzana’s character that have cropped up in the aftermath, you can’t deny that her appearance came to dominate the story of her employment in a way we haven’t quite heard of before.
Sources: Columbia Journalism Review, Gawker
Image by Ivan Walsh, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010 3:56 PM
Should a journalist be friends with the subject(s) of his or her reporting? The Columbia Journalism Review ponders the question in the wake of a weekend party hosted by Vice President Joe Biden. The gathering saw both White House staff and Washington journalists chilling out and shooting squirt guns. In every single one of the pictures on Gawker, there is what appears to be a Super Soaker. Which begs the question: how many departments of the U.S. government are controlled by toymaker Hasbro? Indeed, Mr. Potato Head’s idiotic grin suggests a governmental budgeting strategy that overwhelmingly prioritizes the promotion of corn and corn subsidies, protecting his own dirty little starch.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review, Gawker
Image by World Economic Forum, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 1:39 PM
John Yoo is probably best known for his stint at the Department of Justice under George W. Bush, where he authored the infamous “torture memos” that provided legal justification for torture. Nowadays he’s teaching at Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California at Berkeley—where on April 20, according to Gawker, the bathrooms were stocked with toilet paper bearing his name (“this toilet paper made possible by John Yoo, professor of law”) along with text from the UN’s Convention Against Torture.
The T.P. transplant was orchestrated by Los Angeles–based artist/prankster Matt Cornell. You can crack open a PDF of the toilet paper and watch a video of the installation at www.yootoiletpaper.com.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 4:48 PM
With the economy sliding down the tubes, corporate spinmeisters are struggling to come up with new ways to talk about financial woes. Here are a few great linguistic innovations that have come out of the recession so far:
“A retention award” (executive bonus for a government bailed-out bank, via the Huffington Post.)
“Public capital facilitation” (bank nationalization, via the Economist.)
“streamlining and simplification” (Ebay’s layoffs, via Gawker.)
“synergy-related headcount adjustment goal” (Nokia’s layoffs, via Dollars & Sense.)
Sources: Huffington Post, Economist, Gawker, Dollars & Sense
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 12:43 PM
Talk of assassination during this presidential election has been a taboo violated in a few notorious instances. But yesterday’s discovery of a disturbing, if far-fetched, neo-Nazi plot to assassinate Barack Obama has renewed anxiety about various worst-case scenarios that many people think about but few mention aloud.
Yesterday’s revelation is only the latest resurgence of the A-word. There was Hillary Clinton’s unfortunate RFK gaffe last spring. There are jokes made by Fox pundits. There are websites created by insane people. And then there are the sentiments of those at Sarah Palin’s rallies, who have shouted “Kill him!” on more than one occasion.
Blog chatter among those sympathetic to the candidate is marked by anxiety. After Gawker ran a photo of Obama addressing a crowd of 100,000 in St Louis, some commenters fretted about him appearing in such wide-open spaces. “I was going to say something about how much this looked like a Kennedy or MLK Jr. rally, then I remembered how that panned out for them,” wrote one. “I just want to fast forward to November 5, if only so I can stop holding my breath.”
Another worried: “This sort of open air speech setting seems almost [to be] defying history to me. It's as if Obama is thumbing his nose at common sense.”
This comment was met with a sound rebuttal: “You either have to just get out there and give your speeches and assume God or Fate is on your side, or frankly, you probably don’t have much business trying to be president, particularly in these times.”
This last suggestion seems to be the one Obama has taken to heart on the campaign trail, thumbing his nose not so much at common sense but at the cynicism, hatred, and fear-mongering that has been too much the norm of late.
Friday, August 08, 2008 10:42 AM
Is anyone else going meme crazy these days? Maybe it’s just some strange conflation of meme-talk here at the Utne Reader office, but if I hear (or read or sniff) one more reference to a meme, I’m going to drink everyone’s milkshakes, and then make all the straws into my new bicycle.
I know: I should pity the meme. These are heady times for a term coined in 1976. Back when evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave memes a name in his book The Selfish Gene, there was no world wide web to speed along cultural transmission. Memes, as Dawkins defined them, are self-propagating cultural phenomena such as “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” He likened them to genes. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.” Dawkins explains how Darwinian principles, like natural selection, govern that evolution.
These days, all your memes are belong to us, and by us I mean the Internets, by which I mean the web. Linguistic and media-driven memes in particular spread swiftly online. If you don’t pay attention (see: if you have anything else to do during the day except troll online), you can miss a whole meme-elution. Not being up to meme-speed = awkward social encounters. Picture yourself standing in a room, tepidly smiling as everyone riffs about some walrus that lost its bucket. Getting the jokes in the late-night monologue? Forget it.
“One week: That’s how much time an Internet meme needs to propagate, become its own opposite, and then finally collapse back in on itself,” Christopher Beam writes on Slate. Beam based his observation on the lifecycle of the wildly popular “Barack Obama is your new bicycle” meme.
That well-known meme all started with a website of the same name, and on August 5 (drum roll, please) Gotham published a Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle book. Website creator and Wired contributing editor Matthew Honan isn’t the only meme-generator to get a book deal lately. This March, Gawker reported that Random House paid at least $350,000 for the right to publish Stuff White People Like, based on (you guessed it!) the website of the same name.
All this makes me wish Chuck Norris would step in and deliver some round-house regulation. Memes, old-fashioned memes, naturally-occurring memes, have a lot to tell us about how culture stalls and grows. Rewarding senseless Internet memes, however, with two things our society likes very much—cash and publicity—will only motivate imitators. If Internet memes become a popularity contest with a cash reward (exploiting a lowest-common-denominator urge to be in on the joke)—are they still memes? Out in the blogosphere, you already can spot people discussing how to propagate preferred memes. In the inevitable march of the Internet memes, I just hope the best viral marketer wins.
Images by Rachel Pumroy, Women, Fire & Dangerous Things, and Peter Mandik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 03, 2008 9:08 AM
Last month, when Viacom’s contract workers and freelancers learned that their benefits were getting the ax, their cause found an unlikely ally: Gawker.com. Perhaps in search of some karmic equilibrium following the revelation of its own questionable labor practices (see Sarah Pumroy’s post on the site’s new pay-per-page-view system), Gawker went to bat for Viacom workers by posting fliers for a Dec. 10 walkout on its website. Gawker—known for its witty, often offensive take on the news—even offered a serious, albeit patently snarky, analysis of the situation, including a look at the ins and outs of freelancing.
In an article for the Nation, Anya Kamenetz discusses Viacom’s reliance on non-union freelancers—who often contribute as much as their salaried counterparts—and the myriad ways the media behemoth maintains its bottom line at their expense. But things may be looking up: A few days after the walkout, Viacom announced additional healthcare options for some workers.
Friday, December 21, 2007 12:07 PM
A job posting at Gawker, the notorious Manhattan media and gossip blog, has attracted more than 11,000 page views since it went up on November 30. That puts it a few thousand page views behind “The Broadcast Media React to Jamie Lynn Spears’ Unexpected Knocking-Up,” but well ahead of most other posts on the site.
Why does this matter? Because Gawker recently started paying its writers based on the number of times posts are viewed. I wonder if whoever published the job post will see a little boost in his or her next paycheck.
The new pay-per-page-view system ticked off at least one of Gawker’s editors, Emily Gould, who quit at the end of November. “It really gets in your head in this weird way because you're getting so conscious of how many people are reading what,” she told the New York Times. “You get focused on being sensational and even more brain candyish than Gawker was to start with.”
Gould’s departure coincided with that of two other editors, and Gawker’s staffing overhaul is inspiring some major changes. Here's a clip from the much-viewed job posting I mentioned above:
It's no longer enough to take stories from the New York Times, and add a dash of snark. Gawker needs to break and develop more stories. And the new managing editor will need to hire and manage reporters, as well as bloggers. . . . Think of Gawker less as a blog than as a full-blown news site. The right candidate will oversee Gawker's evolution.
Hold up. “Breaking and developing stories”? “Reporters”? “Full-blown news site”? This coming from a site that pays writers per page view?
This is a far cry from what I learned in journalism school. Of course journalists are supposed to get paid, but there’s a higher goal too: Informing the public. Journalists are supposed to write truthful information that the public needs to know, even if it’s not necessarily what they are most interested in reading. But by paying writers per page view, Gawker is encouraging its “reporters” to write sensational headlines that shock rather than stories that are important or take thought and time to read.
As long as it’s paying per page view, Gawker should just stick to what it’s good at: being an entertaining distraction from my workday.
For fun background reading on the history of Gawker, check out these articles at n+1 and New York Magazine.
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