The other day I read a really interesting article on Vox about “reverse outrage.” Overall, what I’m going to write about here and what they wrote about there aren’t going to sound very similar, but the article spoke to me and led me here today.
In sum (although I truly urge you to read the article linked above): In 2015 there were numerous trending internet topics that got massively out of control. Between #BoycottStarWarsVII (a pretty racist movement born out of a total rando who thought the new Star Wars cast wasn’t whitewashed enough to his liking) and those damn Starbucks cups, the internet via social commentary has taken some super obscure social commentaries and blown them to massive proportions that they otherwise would not have reached.
This is a wee bit of an issue because it gives these really negative stories a ton of fame, fame that nobody wants them to have.
But here’s the conundrum: we media types love these inflammatory remarks. Inflammatory remarks increase clicking and sharing and commenting, and every website needs that kind of traffic to stay afloat. There is no mainstream media outlet that did not benefit from the red cup debacle, and I can tell you that with great certainty. There is no mainstream media outlet that is not benefitting from Donald Trump, none that is not benefitting from a random racist tweet against Muslims, none that is not benefitting from a scare tactic relative to immigrants.
And it’s perpetuating a nasty little cycle.
As an aspiring professional writer, I’ve been struggling with that cycle for a few months now. Maybe it’s because I got a little too into The Newsroom when I was funemployed this summer (watched the series three times in a row, Maggie and Jim #4ever), but I actually left a writing gig because I felt a little icky about the stuff I was writing, feeling like maybe exploiting some issues just to get traffic was kind of trashy.
I was writing articles with purposefully inflammatory headlines (ones that I sometimes didn’t agree with) all for the sake of getting enough shares to be picked up by the Huffington Post. I was successful numerous times, but still couldn’t shake that discomfort that came with knowing I was simply baiting people into sharing my story. I eventually stopped writing for this website because as a young writer, I don’t want to shape myself into someone who mass produces trash.
I can pat myself on the back all I want for that move, but the awkward truth is that most of the media isn’t a PBS endeavor. We get by on clicks. We discuss sharable topics. We highlight things other people want to talk about. As someone who’s quickly learning that money definitely matters (chat with your rent-collecting landlord next time you claim otherwise), I know that it is important to cover things that people want to hear about. The catch, however, is to do so with the utmost responsibility.
I’m still finding my voice as a writer. I’m 22 years old, have barely seen anything besides New England mountainscapes, and am only starting to think about scratching the surface of what it means to be a writer. But what I’m learning about, and what I hope to continue to explore, are ways to always be better. Right now, being better means being responsible. Right now, being better means knowing that creating false ire in your readers in the name of “discussion” is not journalism, even though talking about trending topics might be.
In all of this talk about being better, I want to call your attention to these closing remarks to that Vox article I talked about at the top of this piece:
We often don’t care about the fixing the wrong or adding to the conversation; all we see is an opportunity to affirm some version of ourselves by taking a side and making a scene. And in doing so, we’ve figured out a way to dismantle complex ideas into simplistic, easily digestible things that, in the end, are ultimately disposable – until the next fight comes around.
It’s New Years Eve today, and as I keep pushing to get new writing opportunities, new writing jobs, new people to read and help me with my writing, I’ve decided to start peddling a better product. In 2016…
I resolve to add more links when I write. Not links back to my own stuff, but to facts, to further reading, to people who definitely can explain a phenomenon way better than I can. Adding facts is the key to responsibility.
I resolve to be myself, because I think that’s what I’ve been looking to do all along. Being myself (as opposed to someone else) is definitely what I do best, and I know there is nobody who can do it quite like me.
I resolve to shelf long columns/personal essays for three days before publishing. I’m great with deadlines, but sometimes to a fault. I tell myself I’m going to post on a date, and I do, but that means I rarely reconsider what I’m going to say; it is one of the curses in disguise in this blogging world. I need to put my money where my mouth is and triple check I’m saying something I actually want to say.
I resolve to fix the wrong. There are two certain occasions I can specifically think of off the top of my head where I’ve started off saying, “I don’t know the answer to this problem, but I’m going to talk at you about it anyways.” I’m proud of what I said, and I do not fundamentally think it was trash, but I hate that I qualified it with “I don’t know the answer.” Clearly I thought I did. Clearly I thought I could help right the wrong, even if in a peripheral way. I resolve to write constructively about issues instead of retweeting news breaks. I resolve to do the best I can in acknowledging what people want to talk about, but to always make sure the energy I’m putting out there with my words helps fix something in some way.