I feel like I am a slave to page views. Which writer doesn’t? I’d like to meet the writer somewhere who isn’t forced to give a shit about page views.
Now look, page views do matter in a sense or could matter if they directly correlated with excellent content. I believe not all voices should be heard or rather, should not be given equal credence, but the way the system works now, the voices with the most page views are given the most credence. This system of majority rules is supposed to be ideal, it’s an ideal that governs our democratic society but when the general interest is in literal trite nonsense or when the purveyors of trite nonsense are using questionable tactics (baiting headlines) then the system isn’t really fair, is it? So we (writers, publishers) can’t use that as a defense can we? We can’t just say we don’t post better content because no one clicks on it, when we the writer, or publication, isn’t being totally honest. (We can’t absolve the food industry of obesity with all the sugar free, low calorie, low fat, purposefully misleading labels nonsense, can we?)
My point is: this system isn’t in the best interest of the writer or the reader. This means sensationalist, often preposterous views will get published because that’s what people click and comment on—to troll, to make fun of, to share the ridiculous view of someone who is probably in the minority or who probably shouldn’t be heard at all because their prejudiced views might actually affirm the prejudiced views of other people and perpetuate harmful ideas. It’s not exactly the most quality or enriching experience. It’s not even really all that interesting so much as it is grating.
This idea that all voices should be heard is asinine. Yes, experiences should be shared but not all of them have value; the woman who had a nervous breakdown after seeing a large Black woman at yoga should not be given equal weight to someone who is sharing a story of real adversity like poverty, discrimination, or oppression. She can take her story to a close friend or a therapist if she needs to talk about it so bad. Yet when we publish all of these stories in the same place, we are giving them equal credence. When you teach Creationism in a public school and not in a church, we give that “theory” a scientific and objective credence it hasn’t earned. It’s confusing, misguided, and doesn’t make anyone more enlightened. (I am not poo-pooing on Creationism, rather I am just pointing out there is a difference between facts and beliefs and a proper setting for each.)
Articles have a proper place too, right? None of us should give up our candy we should simply maintain a balanced diet—easier said than done. I know: bummer. My argument is that there should be a balance between nonsense, needlessly published controversial views, galleries, think pieces and timely content but the internet seems to have lost this balance for the sake of the bottom line.
With that said, I am quite good at creating content that garners a lot of page views—the shady way, I mean. (Hypocrite here.) I understand and implement these shady tactics everyday at my job. I use them even though I know that they don’t give the reader the best experience, whether that is because the title is misleading, the content is less substantial or the format is not superior. Sometimes I am actually proud of these pieces because they are legitimately good (some ideas lend themselves to these methods), some of them are just there for people to click on and they do. Buzzfeed is great at this, they are internet powerhouses, they fundamentally and drastically changed the way content is produced, disseminated, and formatted. Though they might not have invented it, they sure as hell capitalized it, as they had every right to. That’s their schtick and I don’t have any qualms with them because it isn’t their fault that every site has decided it’s better to emulate these tactics instead of integrating them into their own vision, challenging or establishing better ones. And no, I’m not hating on the ones who have borrowed this way of doing things, either.
The trouble is most websites don’t have the resources of redefining how the internet works. We don’t have the manpower to create algorithms, to throw ad dollars into posts or to spend very much time thinking about anything besides paying the bills (page views make that money, honey). This is a normal pattern in capitalism, something creates a standard then to be relevant we must all conform to it. This isn’t necessarily bad but I know that I’ve seen websites that I frequent slowly degrade their content in order to conform to the culture of listicles and .gifs.
There actually wouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with this except for the fact that it is totally homogenizing. We’ve become over-saturated. The internet is boring as of late. Unless you’re looking for super pervy shit, it’s all the same. The sites that I read aren’t very much different from one another. I am glad Buzzfeed raised the stakes but when that happens, shouldn’t we all be trying to up our game (quality) instead of becoming cheap imitations? When I see listicles on CNN, I can’t help but cringe a little. I don’t want to be Go Bots, I want to be Transformers.
We all have to do what we have to do to stay up float in this economy, but at what cost? I am not talking about morality here; be a copy if that’s what you really want. I am talking about identity. I am talking about our voices as writers and our service to readers being eroded because we need page views to survive. It isn’t that a clickable posts equates to a post of poor quality, it’s that when we prioritize only clickable posts we lose out on great voices and it’s those great voices that cultivate the identity of each publication. It’s those voices that balance each publication. When we start to believe clickablity outweighs quality, when start to believe that the more sharable content we have the better, our sites will have fallen into a horrible trap. Every writer is capable of putting a gallery of .gifs together. Not every writer has the same experience, identity, ideas, information, or point-of-view.
When we’re (publishers) trying to be timely and clickable all we’re left with is a gallery of Brat Pitt .gifs because it’s his birthday on every single site ever. When I go to a website, I want there to be a unique experience to each site. Instead we’re all competing to get the best Miley-doing-something-not-even-that-crazy-but-we’ll-say-it’s-totally-crazy-for-clicks post up first. It’s all become the same shit for the sake of clickability. Content repurposed, reposted, and copied from everywhere else. There is less and less internet real estate for originality. I don’t know what the solution is. Writers have to eat, but truthfully, it’s the unpaid rants on Tumblr that I find more engaging than on sites who pay their writers these days. As readers, we can do one thing: share content we love without worrying about people in our circles liking or retweeting it. Just endorse the content you want to see more of, comment on it, tell your friends about it. Make your page view a vote for what interests you whether it’s totally dumb, totally weird or totally ingenious. Make substantial voices heard, whether it’s cool or not. End the indentured servitude of writers.
Not all content has the same nutritional value but we need every kind to maintain a balanced diet, as of late things have been looking a little too unhealthy.