Frankie Flack: Ignore the llamas and dress colors; stick to hard news
Yesterday was the worst day in the history of news.
First, pretty much every newsroom in the United States shut down so that everyone could watch two escaped llama run around Arizona. Then, for those lucky enough to tear themselves away from the llama madness, there was the whole what-color-is-the-dress optical illusion thing. (I hesitate to call the dress hoopla a “story.” It was just a thing.)
Now, I don’t object to soft news or silly crap in my Facebook feed. I’m all for being entertained or puzzled or amazed. And I know by the time you read this, the llama-and-dress backlash will be in full swing.
But–holy crap — did the media ever lose perspective. Business Insider, as of this moment, has seven different posts on the dress thing. The Washington Post ran a llama story online that had a sextuple byline and an interactive infographic. That’s essentially 40 man-hours of reporting at one of the nation’s premier newspapers wasted pasting fluffy animal GIFs.
This frustrates the hell out of flacks. Those of us in media relations require a thriving, curious media to do our job. But a world in which any clickbait distraction is “news,” is one in which I’m going to lose. It’s one where companies, rather than trying educate on the issues, will put their best minds into crafting content-free, hashtag-laden newsjacking tweets.
It’s not just that my news is being crowded out by whatever triggers newsroom ADHD. It’s that this is a dumb and destructive habit for media outlets to get into. When everyone is chasing the same news, especially news that doesn’t make anyone smarter, we squander a lot of resources. And we squander them at the exact moment when there’s a lot of bitching and moaning about how news is not longer economically viable.
Here’s a tip: if you want to stay viable, quit trying to out-Buzzfeed Buzzfeed.
What’s the alternative? How about old-school hard news. You know whose racking up huge circulation gains? The solid Financial Times, for one, which said yesterday that year-over-year circulation rose 10 percent. You may have missed that news; it hit right before the llama thing went viral. (To the FT’s credit, I don’t believe they ran any llama stories.) And it’s no secret that the information-dense Economist has seen circulation almost double in the past decade.
Llamas are the Pixie Stix of the news business. They taste wonderful when you suck them down. But three or four of them in a row, and suddenly you’re nauseous, dazed and headed for a sugar crash. That’s where are today, and that’s not healthy for you or–in the long run–for me.