Sorry for the delay in posting (I feel like I’m going to be saying that a lot over the course of the next 6 weeks.) I’m learning quite a lot at the Summer Publishing Institute, but as the editor in chief of our group project, by the time I get home at night, my brain is barely working. The deputy editor for one magazine who came to talk to us told us that it’s better to say nothing if you don’t have anything good to say, so I decided to take his advice. I know as a reader that I would rather have random good posts than a whole lot of scheduled blather. Plus, posting regularly is a lot more difficult since 90% of my daily activities are now things I can’t really talk about. We are being initiated into the Publishing Mysteries, and therefore must be appropriately secretive and cryptic.
Anyway! What have I been doing, other than not writing blogs? Well, we had a fascinating event on Wednesday evening that I can talk about. NYU hosted a Media Talk panel with David Carr of Media Equation, Rob Malda of WaPo Labs, Josh Quittner of Flipboard, and Ben Smith of BuzzFeed. It was wonderful to be in a place where you could actually discuss the internet intelligently and not have anyone give you funny looks.
As a part of their discussion, there was talk about how content on the internet was trending; whether it would eventually be all 140 character aggregated cat pictures, or if there was still a place for serious content. I really wanted to shout “OF COURSE THERE IS A PLACE FOR SERIOUS CONTENT ON THE INTERNET,” but I held it in. Maybe it’s because my friends are intelligent, well-developed human beings, but I see loads of serious content shared and posted on Facebook and Twitter. One of the panelists said that this content was usually “intellectual jewelry” used to show off your sophistication to your Facebook friends. There might be a little of that, but I don’t see how that’s any different from the people who read The New Yorker at Starbucks to seem smart, or the people who only read deep novels on the subway. Of course we’re all trying to show off our smarts online, we do it in real life too. But I would also hope that there is something deeper. Maybe I’m naive, but I believe when my friend retweets an interesting article, it is because it was a genuinely interesting article and my friend wanted others to enjoy it, too.
Yes, there is a lot of silly stuff on the internet. And I think that it’s probably true that silly stuff is shared and spread around more because it makes us feel good. But there is definitely still a market for smart, serious, informative content online. And I believe it’s about more than the way you market that content. If the content is good, people will read it and share it, regardless of the title. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but I think the “Two Lesbians Raise a Son and This is the Outcome” video would not have been so popular if it hadn’t been heartfelt and thought-provoking. Yes, the provocative name helped the video gain traction, but that’s not any different from old media. Isn’t that your point with a crazy cover line?
On one hand, I understand old media’s complaints and fears about serious content. You may need to market it a little more than the pictures of cute cats. But what I don’t understand is why that’s any different from any other piece of media. You always have to push the broccoli harder than you have to push the chocolate. And with the internet, it’s not that people won’t consuming the healthy, smart content, it’s just that you need to find new ways to get them to that content.