Research | Writing | Digital Humanities | Biblical Studies

"Journalism is Twerking?" NMS 16.4

The analogy is crude but apt, and I think other institutions are guilty, too:

The Online Oxford Dictionary (2013) defines “twerk” as an informal verb that means to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.” The journalistic field, threatened by its shrinking economic capital, is dancing to the popular music of consumer-driven logic, for it appears—at least so far—that this is the only way to survive. Still dependent on an advertising-driven model, online journalism finds itself having to chase online traffic, a routine made possible and further enabled by web analytics. In order to attract an audience no longer loyal to legacy news, journalism dances in a provocative manner—publishing stories about the wildest celebrities, uploading adorable cat videos, highlighting salacious headlines—hoping to attract attention, to increase traffic. For media critics, this is a low, almost squatting stance, for an institution that relies a lot on respect and reputation. For a few others, this is journalism trying to survive. Journalism—to some extent—is twerking.

Edson C Tandoc Jr, “Journalism is twerking? How web analytics is changing the process of gatekeeping,” New Media & Society 16.4 (2014): 559—75.

UPDATE: Some related issue are taken up here, in a summary of the leaked (intentionally?) doc where the NY Times self-reflects on how to improve on the digital side of things. By-and-large, the suggestions are far from ‘twerking’. A few interesting excerpts:

Meanwhile, outlets like The Huffington Post “regularly outperform” the Times in terms of traffic, simply by aggregating and repackaging Times journalism. Regarding the deployment of this strategy around Times coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death, a Huffington Post executive said: “You guys got crushed. I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition.” (p. 44)

…Those departments are not tiny: roughly 30 people in analytics, 30 in digital design, 120 in product, and a whopping 445 in technology, with around two dozen teams of engineers. (p. 63)

…“Another [desk head] suggested that the relentless work of assembling the world’s best news report can also be a ‘form of laziness, because it is work that is comfortable and familiar to us, that we know how to do. And it allows us to avoid the truly hard work and bigger questions about our present and our future: What shall we become. How must we change?’” (p. 72)

…“‘We’ve abdicated completely the role of strategy,’ said one masthead editor. ‘We just don’t do strategy. The newsroom is really being dragged behind the galloping horse of the business side.’” (p. 72)

…The big question: How can the Times become more digital while still maintaining a print presence, and what has to change? “That means aggressively questioning many of our print-based traditions and their demands on our time, and determining which can be abandoned to free up resources for digital work.” (p. 82)

…On the Michael Sam story, which was brought to the Times and ESPN, the report says the Times “package was well-executed and memorable, but some of our more digitally focused competitors got more traffic from the story than we did. If we had more of a digital-first approach, we would have developed in advance an hour-by-hour plan to expand our package of related content in order to keep readers on our site longer, and attract new ones. We should have been thinking as hard about ‘second hour’ stories as we do about ‘second day’ stories.” (p. 84)

…On finding and developing digital talent, the report has a variety of recommendations for things inside and outside the building, including finding ways to empower the current staff to do more, identifying the top digital talent in the newsroom and giving them opportunities. But the Times also needs to “accept that digital talent is in high demand. To hire digital talent will take more money, more persuasion and more freedom once they are within The Times — even when candidates might strike us as young or less accomplished.” Another idea? Make a big splash: “Make a star hire,” because top digital talent can help bring in similar-minded people. (p. 96)

Leave a reply