Writing for the internet is a tough deal, especially if you're trying to actually make money from it. At its heart, producing high quality free journalism on the internet sounds like a great idea. After all you have complete freedom from any independent regulator like the PCC, giving you the ability to say what you want about anything you want to. The only person you can fear offending is your audience, but solely on the basis that they won't come back, rather than having them complain to a superior body who can impose fines. Your only loss will be that they no longer read your material, which if they're offended, simply means that this isn't the publication for them.
Aside from the increased freedom of expression and content, you also don't have to worry about having a mass of content that would warrant the price of buying the publication if it was a physical copy. A regular newspaper will have to be a certain length and have a certain number of stories and information to impart with the reader in order to be appetising for a paying customer. Your expenses are already being forced up higher due to stocking and transport charges, which will then force your publication to be more expensive. This means that for the daily charge of 60p or however much it costs, you need to remain consistently brimming with interesting news and content, which won't always be the case, leading you to be forced to scrape at the bottom of the barrel everyday in order to fill your pages. And if you're a new company then even breaking into the market with a competitive price will be next to impossible. Especially hard since in order to get hooked, your customer must buy a first copy, which since they already probably read the more popular publications, they won't even bother to risk forking out for a first issue.
So the internet is the perfect place to write for. Freedom, little financial start up risk and a greater control over the content as you only have to publish the best of what you find, because the audience isn't paying for content. They'll be happy for their free high quality stories, as long as there's enough content to engage them for a few minutes here and there.
So let's take a look at the internet and see how everyone's making use of this new found freedom to be original and daring.
Alright, so the original hypothesis doesn't fit with the reality of internet writing. It's shit. For the most part. There's a lot of good stuff out there but the majority of it is numbered, caption based trash that is just there for click bait. There's one thing though that I misjudged in my initial utopian opinion of the internet; that being that anyone can post anything. If our life experience serves us well, then this is almost certainly going to end up being a terrible thing. It's terrible because the majority of people will be terrible writers and lazy. Couple this with the fact that it's now incredibly easy to dump ads on your site to make money from click baiting, the lazy idiots will also be far more eager to create quick and easy click bait articles on their site.
There's so much information to share on the net, most of which won't be copyrighted, that it doesn't take long for the owner of one of these sites to be able to pump out a mass of content, that they didn't create, but will profit from. Although your site shouldn't feel forced to produce quantity over quality that the published press suffers from, it becomes an easy method of increasing your income by producing lots of short and pretty mindless links to other people's content, which you can piss out a dime a dozen of, while also profiteering from. You stop the problem of having to create a content for the audience's sake and instead produce a lot of content for your own sake.
The turnover of this especially doesn't help. You have no editor to run your things through (at least not for the most part) and you have no specific deadline. Your editor is you and you've already decided to mass produce the hell out of your click bait and your deadline is all the time, since there's always a funny cat or inspiring meme to be shared, just as long as you add a vaguely mysterious title to intrigue people into clicking it.
So why does this happen? Any website that was clearly click bait and vacuous would usually be ignored as a throwaway site to avoid in the future. But this is the problem with also being in a marketplace where there's no customer loyalty. Unlike reading a paper or a book, the internet is not a concentrated activity. You aren't there to do one thing, but instead to do a feast of things. Where else would you be looking at funny cat pictures, reading an article about a global tragedy and then watching some idiot do a blind play through of Infamous Second Son all in the period of 10 minutes. No one site would offer all of this. As soon as you click that link, you're off to the next part of the internet, leaving behind whatever website you were just visiting.
It would be like going to a library, reading one page of every book before hurling them on the floor to consume the next one. You're not interested in one of the books, you're interested in all of them. Your viewers aren't paying for your site directly and haven't come on the internet for your site exactly. If I buy a paper, I buy that paper in order to read that specific paper. When I'm on the net, I'm looking for whatever can entertain me. It doesn't matter who it comes from. If I click on a bad site, then I can leave in a second. I have no loyalty here other than to my own engagement.
So with no editing or higher power, anyone can produce any old trash and recycle anything that they find. The average internet user has no loyalty to specific sites other than to find interesting content to distract them. Very few people go to a website and read everything on the front page, because they gain nothing by doing this. They're not getting their money's worth because it's all free, making everything you read throwaway and making a website that has random content dumped all over it the exact type of consumption point that you're looking for.
But it is this audience's philosophy that exacerbates the first issue. If an idiot dumping out click bait becomes the preferable method of satisfying the audience, then it means that this content dumping becomes actual competition and more worryingly; the norm.
And now you have an audience who have a short attention span, no loyalty and have an absurd amount of other alternatives than you. So how do you stand out in this insane cess pit of entertainment.
Link To Other Stuff
Well one method is to just link to other stuff. Quick and easy as this, you can go and watch someone else's content. It takes less than a few minutes to set up that discovery, but as long as I'm the middle man and you came here to watch it first, then what do I care. Imagine if that link wasn't wrapped amongst a slew of paragraphs about why this type of thing is a terrible reason for sites to profit from; and you start to get the idea.
This happens even on much bigger sites like Kotaku. They do have a few much bigger articles where they flesh out their points and actually report information properly, but every now and again there is simply an article about how there's a been an especially great Minecraft mod to make it look like a Mario level, which is something that you should look at right away, without any context or additional points by the author of the post. As lazy as this is though it'll never hit the heights of Upworthy, which seems intent on having this method of information sharing as it's only technique. But that's really all there is to say.
Lists Of Numbers Or X Things You Didn't Y About Z
Firstly, may I say that I'm not against sub headings. It's an easier way, if still a lazier one, to set out information. I'm still a human being and understand that people get bored lugging through large pieces of text and if you'd like to get to the meat of what I'm saying then you're very welcome. For the odder of you, there's the many paragraphs that I wrote before to give you more, if possibly superfluous context. But subheadings should be one of many strings to your bow, that you can wield when writing. They should not be your first and only line of attack or expression. A method that it seems every other site seems to have adopted.
I mean look at this. All of it lists and it's the same everywhere.
I'm surrounded by so many soul destroying number lists that I'm starting to feel like Nick Cage in Knowing. I'm sure this is just in defence against the mindless linking to other content method that most other areas of the internet have taken on. If you want to write an article about something, have an expanded point other than just “hey, look at this”, then you're in a tricky position. Post too little information and you're basically no better than them, but post too much information and your audience gets bored within 5 minutes and doesn't even stick around until the end. So the only viable method then is to not make just one shallow article, but instead make lots of them inside one another.
Each individual numbered point is nothing more than one simple click bait post inside one even bigger click bait post.
Find a few more adorable toddlers and this article could easily become a list of 10 toddlers guilt tripping us into dropping an array of things
But what other choice do they have. This style is so damn popular because it's so digestible. People don't like to go in to detail with things. This is the reason why if you turn on any science program, it won't be in depth information about the theory which their discussing or its implications, it'll just be some excitable presenter giving a simplified analogy and then babbling on about the beauty of the natural world, both endorsing science without ever mentioning what it actually is other than a simple explanation of something that the universe does that is so simple that even you at home can understand it. Even though you definitely can't.
So you can read several articles about weird things animals can do or strange film trivia or maybe even take a look at ten places on Earth that you won't believe are real. Spout out these facts, add a joke or two, maybe a caption and then just stop talking about it and go on to talk about the next half related thing down the list. Because that's half the trouble in writing. It's making your ideas connect in a logical and flowing manner that the audience can easily follow. With lists though, this misses out that tricky part and allows you to just info dump into small categories and then move on.
Many of the sites that I've looked into applying for will ask for several guidelines as to how they want the article formatted and more often than not, it is the request that everything be done in a top ten list which is on the rise at an alarming rate. You just can't get big without it.
You feel like you've actually written something that's your own, and the audience leaves thinking it's learnt something. Except their both wrong. The author hasn't done bugger all and the audience will most likely have the shit information they just learned shovelled right back out again when they pile more shit into their head after clicking the next link. The only use this information could be put to is if they manage to pass it on to one of their stupid friends, who will most likely spread the same, possibly inaccurate fact, which will spread throughout their social group in some twisted fact sharing Chinese whispers, where everyone passes on unverified information as if it's true because they read it from some idiot like them who wrote it in a funny top ten list.
But hey. What if you're too lazy or tired or stupid to even come up with anything to write. I'm not talking about the random facts you've taken from your quick Reddit/Wikipedia whip round. Those can be copy and pasted, so that's half the work there. But even then a simple fact won't just work. After all you get thousands of visitors a day and it's not just for lists surely. It's for your quick wit and presentation. But today you're feeing a little uncreative. Hell maybe you've been uncreative your entire life. Don't worry, there's a method to fixing any bout of uncreativity. Just use Caption comedy.
The lowest of the low when it comes to internet article tropes. Every now and then is fine, but I've seen entire articles comprised of nothing more than a picture with a joke under it. Sometimes with no point, simply because it was one of the jokes that the author couldn't fit in so decided to dump it under a random picture.
I think it's the ease of them that annoys me. There's no thought to it, no construction of any joke whatsoever. You simply drop in an image, that you should've been creating with your words, in front of the reader and then put a mindless observation about the picture. It's the article equivalent of pointing out a really fat person or a heavily disabled person on the street to your friends and then just laughing. There's nothing to it, it's an easy laugh that you take credit for even though you had no actual effort to extract it other than saying, look at this thing which I found on a Google image search.
Maybe it's just me being unable to have other people feel a sense of undeserved achievement, since achievement, deserved or not, rarely comes my way. But I will prove to you that using two methods, you can make any caption funny.
The first way a caption can be funny is by simply being a funny picture. This is a very tried and tested method of filling up page space. The lack of actual humour can immediately be dismissed as it doesn't matter what the author puts under the picture to make it funny. It's already a funny picture to begin with, so the point is moot. Like the final guy ejaculating on a lovely lady's face at the end of a mass bukkake. The spunk dump was already there. His load is of little significance.
Lol but you better watch out when Bukkaking cus itll take an eye out
See, a piece of piss. And most wouldn't have even bothered with the set up. This brings me to my second point on why captions are easy. Because given the right context anything can be seen in a different light. It just depends how much context you want to bother building in to re contextualise the picture, but it doesn't take much to make any joke work.
I'm not sure how many of you were bullied or bullied people at school, but either way you must have seen people fuck with kids enough to know how easy this method is. We used to have a kid in class who had baggy trousers and looking at him you would see nothing more than that. But when he said down they bunched and all the kids said he had an erection. He didn't, as far as I remember, but the truth didn't matter at that point. The damage was done. In one foul swoop we simply changed the interpretation of the bulge and then it was feasting time for the assholes of the group.
So look at this picture. By itself it's mostly meaningless, just a stupid baby picture that I took from shutter stock with the watermark still plastered over it. However, if I was talking about bad parenting and suddenly slung this baby out, then you'd see the magic start to happen.
….cause aren't parent's just so bad these days. Lettin' their kids smoke and drink so early and playing violent videogames. And letting their girls dress up in slutty clothes, acting like they're 20 when they're only 10.
Plus I think the infant tattoos are getting a bit out of hand
Wow did you see what I did. Movie magic. And I'll do it again just to demonstrate how easy this is and why if you see anything with over 5 funny captions, you should immediately stop reading and never visit the place again, because the person you're taking your information from is clearly an idiot. The type of idiot who would write about how...
...games are so addictive. Like, I love games so much that I won't even go outside because it's too boring. PS4 looks better than real life anyway and there ain't no baddies to shoot outside so what's even the point in doing that. I don't even think I can tell normal life from games anymore because I spend more time in games than out.
Look at dem grafics
I'm going to stop there because I fear that my methods may shock too many of you to an early grave. But it is truly wizardry and I think the people that create this kind of genius should only be further congratulated for their efforts towards feeding the continual decay of the human attention span.
Either way it won't change. This kind of shit will keep getting pumped on there because the people who make either know nothing at all and are too stupid to do anything different. And the rest are too smart and know that trying any other method of entertainment would be ignored and swamped by the quick feeding frenzy that the behemoths of the internet provide. For further examples of money harvesting genius go and visit Buzzfeed. It'll teach you all you need to know.
So what I'm trying to say is that a lot of the net is terrible and it's everyone else's fault. But I shouldn't really empathise that the moral of this article is that it's everyone else's fault because that's a pretty common thread around here and I wouldn't want people to guess the ending of the next thing we do. For now though, enjoy your swill.