I wanted to title this viewpoint “The Odyssey Online, and other downfalls of modern society,” but that doesn’t have a verb so, according to AP syle, I can’t use it as a headline. Instead, let me use it as a fun introduction to this rant. Buckle up, kids.
Over the course of the past few years I have read, with mounting distaste, scores of articles on platforms like The Odyssey Online, homepage BuzzFeed and HerCampus. As a fairly irritable person by nature, I initially discounted my negative reactions to these articles and (to use the term loosely) publications as just my own inherent grumpiness.
There’s plenty to be irked at on the surface: many pieces are chock full of fragments and grammatical errors, clearly have no editorial oversight and would be more at home on an amateur blog.
While I find all of those things objectionable, none of those superficial complaints are the real reason I take issue with much of the content on these platforms. At base, what bothers me is that these articles exist purely for entertainment value. “What Disney Princess Are You,” “11 Things I Learned In My First Month Of College,” “26 Chuck & Blair Moments That Still Make Us Swoon:” all of the aforementioned articles exist because the author thought that they would be popular, which in this case translates to clicks, likes and shares.
While there is nothing wrong with these sites and articles as sources of entertainment, and even occasional thought-provoking material, they have increasingly replaced serious, rigorous journalism, rather than augmenting it. Homepage BuzzFeed, HerCampus, The Odyssey Online and other clickbait, listicle-centric pseudo-publications are emblematic of a larger problem: in the media, we increasingly care not about what is valuable, but about what is popular, and not about what is true, but about how we feel. Sometimes those two categories overlap, but more often than not that which we need to hear and pay attention to is also that we would most like to tune out.
The pervasive ‘give the people what they want’ mentality was neatly packaged in a speech by Sam Zell, owner of the Orlando Sentinel, delivered to the Sentinel’s newsroom. (I first saw this clip as part of a Last Week Tonight show on journalism – I would highly recommend that everyone watch the full segment, which can be found on YouTube.)
“My attitude on journalism is very simple: I want to make enough money so I can afford you,” said Zell. “You need to help me by being a journalist that focuses on what our readers want, and therefore generates more revenue.” When a woman in the audience pointed out that readers want puppy dogs, but the media also needs to inform the community, Zell responded that the woman was exhibiting “classic journalistic arrogance by deciding that puppies don’t count.”
Here’s the thing, though: in comparison to war, mass incarceration, the militarization of our police force, the current election, rampant racial, economic and gender inequality and any of the many other relevant issues our country is currently grappling with, puppies really don’t count. Neither does which of the moments between Chuck and Blaire were steamiest. Neither does whether you’re more of a Monica or a Rachel.
Not all things are equally valuable, not all things deserve equal attention, and just because your article was popular and widely shared does not make it good.
Thanks to the rise of the Internet, almost anyone in this country has a platform to make their voice heard. Thanks to the protection of free speech in our country, a right which people in some other places on our globe continue to suffer and die for, you can write almost anything you want. Now let’s all try to write about something that matters.
Mariah Joyce, Editor in Chief for the Voice, can be reached for comment at MJoyce17@wooster.edu.