There's a great article on Esquire's website right now titled "We Broke the Internet." You should probably go read it, but the basic premise is that we should learn something from the seemingly endless stream of hoaxes and faux news that flooded the Internet over the last year. Think of Elan Gale's imaginary argument with a woman on his flight, Samsung's payment to Apple in non-existent nickels, the New Jersey waitress who cried discrimination over a forged receipt. Once those sort of hoaxes would have been limited to conversations at cocktail parties, then more recently, fodder for social media, but now, for better or worse, sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy and their bottomless need for titillating/shareable content are fueled by these bits of fakery.
And we're not immune to engaging with that stuff either. The content on The Range has been a mix of local information and stuff that's just out there and interesting for the last few years, so we've passed along stories that turned out to false or unverifiable as well. It hasn't happened often We end up embarrassed by the mistake, there's some internal gnashing of teeth, then it's back to work, trying to be immediate with news without getting suckered again.
This is the way media works now, mixing the high-minded and the low, because we all end up competing for attention with websites promising a video that will "change the way you think of everything" or whatever. It's a tough and strange place to try to work, and while the Weekly has always been about a mix of news and entertainment, we do have a different obligation to check and double-check, to try to make sense of the noise.
We have a responsibility to our profession and our readership to try to stay about the clickbait fray, but it would really help if media consumers would also stop sharing content that's garbage. Not just the stuff from hoax sites like National Report and the Daily Currant that are easily proven false, but also the listicles and slideshows that add nothing to any conversation anywhere. Every time a list of "Toys That Every 80's Kid Will Remember!" is shared online, the soul of journalism dies a little bit. If there's a demand, there will always be a supplier, as depressing as that might be.
Here's to 2014 being the year that some of the dross of the media landscape fades away. We're definitely committed to try to do a bit better ourselves.