the candler blog

Journalism is Crap Because Facebook, Says Vox

Journalism, Technology, Writing

Let’s start with Matthew Yglesias’s first, illustrative mistake. In a defensive, reactionary piece over at Vox, “Facebook product director furious at Facebook’s effect on news,” the writer and in-house Red Mage sets up a response to a Facebook post by Mike Hudack by describing him, “importantly,” as “Director of Product at Facebook.” Yglesias includes a link to Hudack’s LinkedIn profile which, sure as shit, says “Director of Product at Facebook” right up top.

Something sounded off about that title to me, so I took the extra five seconds to figure out who the hell Hudack is. Some 500px south of Hudack’s name on LinkedIn, his current position is listed as “Director of Product Management” for Facebook. His personal website lists his current position as “Director of Product Management for Ads and Pages at Facebook,” which, I think it’s fair to say, sounds like an actual job I can wrap my head around. It also makes more sense to me that someone with such localized interest at Facebook would feel free to lob bombs at the media: a director of all product can’t afford to be so cavalier.

The point is that Yglesias (whose LinkedIn profile lists him as Associate Editor at The Atlantic Monthly, an outlet he hasn’t published at in almost three years) misleads readers right up front out of a glaring disregard for getting the simple facts right. And he does so in a piece about how Facebook is ruining the news.

With that out of the way, what did Hudack say? And how did Yglesias respond?

Hudack’s self-described rant takes much of the media (print, web and television) to task for just reporting “what people tell them, whether it’s Cheney pulling Judith Miller’s strings or Snowden through the proxy of Glenn Greenwald doing roughly the same.” It’s not exactly quotable, but it’s well worth the read. It cuts to the heart, if ham-handedly, of how shitty the media landscape appears to an outside observer.

His final three paragraphs are dedicated to tearing Vox apart.

Personally I hoped that we would find a new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native and natural to people who grew up interacting with screens instead of just watching them from couches with bags of popcorn and a beer to keep their hands busy.

And instead they write stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them.

No wonder Yglesias had to respond. Vox has to defend itself. Personally, I think Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein should really have crafted the site’s response since Hudack calls him out by name, but I’ll just assume Yglesias is speaking for the site and its EIC in the only formal acknowledgment of being called stupid.

Yglesias gets right into it:

…it is not hard to tell who is to blame for the fact that the jeans story (which is a great, interesting, informative story) got more readers than Andrew Prokop’s excellent feature on the DATA Act. Facebook is to blame.

Go on…

…for better or for worse, traffic on the internet right now is all about Facebook sharing behavior.

Ah. Now we have arrived at the disconnect. Traffic on the Internet is about Facebook sharing behavior. In order to get into the headspace of Yglesias and be able to blame Facebook for the proliferation of bunk content, you have to first accept that getting traffic is the point of journalism.

Here’s where Hudack (and me) and Yglesias part ways. Hudack wants journalism, Yglesias wants clicks.

Naturally, this runs into bigger questions of monetization, advertising, journalist pay, etc., etc. One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past two years is that the click economy is untenable. Getting attention on the web has proven to be eminently game-able. Great journalism still can’t be gamed, it can’t be faked.

Blaming Facebook for the state of journalism is a child’s argument. It misses the point of the bigger issues at hand: that chasing ratings or clicks or subscribers is deleterious to great writing. But it’s easier to hate the player than the game.

Anyway, why do women fake orgasms? Go to the Vox, the future of news, to find out.

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