Hey, Media: Here Are 10 Things We'd Like to See Less of in 2017

New year! New day! An era filled with brightness, promise, and...oh, wait, Donald Trump. This is like falling out of the dumpster fire that was 2016 and into a bigger, badder dumpster fire, the mother of all dumpster fires, like the Bridgeton Landfill fire. And what a fantastic opportunity to toss some irritating journalistic trends into the dumpster as we clean house for the new year.

1) .gifs. Can we stop relying on them? Use your words.

gif culture is rich and complex and an entirely valid mode of expression and a really interesting sociological phenomenon, and while that is great, and I support its existence, I just want it to exist somewhere that is Not Where I Am. While I confess that my deep-seated hatred of gifs and my own longtime personal war on gif culture is playing a role in my logic here, I really am tired of being barraged with a slew of animated junk instead of, like, articles, whenever I step into the news ecosystem. Personal distaste aside, they're a huge accessibility issue. Don’t use them. Try firing up the old keyboard instead. (And while you’re at it, please caption and transcribe your content.)

2) Blaming millennials for everything

I’m not even sure what a millennial IS anymore and whether or not I count as one, but if we’re to believe the slew of hot takes and fluffy trend pieces sprawling across the internet, millennials are basically ruining everything. This is getting very boring. Every older generation in the history of ever has liked to complain about the whippersnappers, and I understand this is a time-honored media tradition. But if I may be blunt, millennials inherited a world that the previous generation really fucked up. And now you lot have gone and elected Donald Trump. Cut millennials a break already.

3) Not citing the research you discuss in your article.

Yes I know you probably didn’t read it because it’s behind a pay gate. Do what the rest of us do and leech off some poor academic so you can report it properly, and then link to it.

4) Both sides now!

Can we abolish the myth of “neutrality” and along with it the notion that we have to show “both sides”? When the other side is a counterfactual, bigoted pile of horse dookie, it doesn’t need to be aired. I don’t need to hear about how I should have sympathy for those poor widdle Trump voters about to lose their health care. I don’t need to hear about how well actually, maybe mansplaining plays a vital social role. I don’t need to hear about cool and edgy racism. I do not. Good day, sir.

5) Hiring your friends.

Because this is why newsrooms are majority white, straight, cis, and boring. Until the media eliminates the nepotistic structures that make it hard for talented, diverse people to break into the newsroom, it is going to continue producing terrible journalism. Improving newsroom inclusivity shouldn’t be a performative activity. It makes newsrooms better by expanding the depth and breadth of the reporting they do. It also needs to be backed with sponsorship and support within the newsroom to help people who lack traditional journalism connections gain their footing, and support for up-and-coming journalists so they feel comfortable challenging the status quo.

Start by minding your bylines. Who are you publishing, and how? Who’s getting investigative assignments versus features versus opinion? Who are your reporters interviewing and citing? Who’s doing tech reporting versus gender issues versus economics? If you can’t answer these questions easily, is it because you’re afraid of the answers?

6) Columbusing.

That new, cool thing you're writing about? I can almost guarantee you did not find that thing first. Do your background research to find out where it came from and who is involved, and then cite them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen Yet Another White Journalism Darling(™) being praised to the skies for an article I saw someone from one or more underrepresented backgrounds write first, and better. If you see a cool thing that someone is doing, consider introducing them to your editor so they can write about it, instead of just sniping their story.

7) Trying to start feminist catfights.

The only thing worse than a nontroversy is an artfully crafted controversy that’s clearly hoping to boost traffic with a ridiculous feminist catfight, ideally one that will spill onto Twitter and generate at least three Category Five Tweetstorms and a flurry of blocking, muting, ragequitting, and subtweeting. Feminists get rowdy on the internet and I know it’s fun to poke the beehive for page views, but please stop. When you distract the feminists with manipulative clickbait or attempts at sparking interparty squabbling, that means they can’t concentrate on useful and productive activities like adopting more cats, getting paid for their work, and preventing the apocalypse.

8) Producing pieces so drenched in memes that they’re virtually incomprehensible outside Journalism Twitter or some other microcosm of society.

Look, I love memes like a Trump loves evading taxes, but we need to have some realtalk for a minute. When media references memes so heavily that pieces are difficult to understand or follow unless you’re a member of a very small and very select group, it is bad media. I’m not talking about dorky hat tips to pop culture. Nor am I talking about how English is a living language in a state of constant evolution and thus people are using words in different and exciting ways. I am talking about those times when I read an article and have no idea what I just read or who it is about because it assumes such a high level of meme literacy. Not everyone is on social media 24/7 — and if you only want to write for those people, that’s fine, but be frank about it when you define the values of your publication.

9) Hot takes, hit pieces, fluff pieces, thinkpieces, devil’s advocacy, and most of Slate.

The fast-paced modern media landscape generates tremendous pressure to constantly pump out content, and subsequently to either create news where there is none, spark drama, or beat some item in the news to death with a series of escalatingly terrible opinion pieces. Less is more, friends. I’d rather read a few really high-quality pieces than a slew of terrible ones, and I have a feeling readers would adjust to the new normal after a few months. Changing what we write and how also undercuts the media-industrial complex that gives rise to people like Donald Trump, so, you know.

10) Sympathetic profiles of people who have literally everything.

If I never read another piece about the tragedy of being a privileged scion of whiteness in today’s society, it will be too soon. Attempts at suggesting people in positions of incredible social dominance are poor beleaguered minorities are getting increasingly tedious in the face of the escalating oppression people are facing in 2017. Instead of a long, thoughtful, heavily-researched piece about the people who already dominate the news, why not explore the wide world of reporting on LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.  

BONUS: Try not demanding media for free this year. Subscribe. Donate. Respect the fact that good journalism costs kind of a lot of money (that great investigative feature you loved last year? Probably cost several thousand dollars), and that if you want great, accountable, groundbreaking journalism, someone needs to pay for it. That person should be you, especially if you’re using AdBlock.

by s.e. smith
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s.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California.

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