Can an unproftable, 4-year-old purveyor of low-cost, generally low-IQ how-to articles be worth more than The New York Times Co.? If Demand Media's initial public offering this week is any indication, then the answer is yes. By the end of its second day of trading, Demand's market capitalization had already eclipsed the Times Co.'s. From a what-does-this-mean-for-us point of view, there's not a lot to say about Demand that hasn't been said. We mediagazers must move beyond shock that a business model founded the on mass production of Google-optimized dreck might work and into an age of classification.
Forbes' Jeff Bercovici has led the way, on a few occasions chronicling the silliest of the silly articles posted in Demand's ecosystem. He christened the IPO with another installment of clunkers. Interestingly, some of those were later yanked from Demand and one, it turned out, had been plagiarized from Wikipedia.
The Suspiciously Product-Specific Article
This is an article that caters to someone who just bought a new product and has already lost the manual, or is trying to do something so simple that the manual's authors didn't bother to cover it, perhaps thinking, "What kind of dipwad needs instructions for unscrewing a pepper mill?" See: "How to Unscrew the iTouchless Pepper Mill"
The Article That Blows a Problem Out of All Proportion
This is a type of article that offers a variety of creative, effective solutions to a problem it seems hard to imagine anyone having -- for instance, a superabundance of scrunchies so extreme they are taking over your bedroom. See: "Ideas for Organizing Scrunchies"
I'm not sure I think the research reported in Slate's "The Anti-Social Network" is revolutionary, but, this being Slate, I can say with the highest level of certainty IT SURE IS A PROVOCATIVE TOPIC. Said research suggests that after surveying their friends' "attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates" a lot of Facebook users feel crummier than they did before. We would call this cognitive dissonance or sour grapes, except that's probably a lot less joy behind those well-tended profiles than it seems, and therefore less reason to be sour. So instead we'll call it "the pit of digital despair for which we need a German name." Here's Libby Copeland's kicker:
[Fomer Stanford researcher Alex] Jordan, who is now a postdoctoral fellow studying social psychology at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, suggests we might do well to consider Facebook profiles as something akin to the airbrushed photos on the covers of women's magazine. No, you will never have those thighs, because nobody has those thighs. You will never be as consistently happy as your Facebook friends, because nobody is that happy. So remember Montesquieu, and, if you're feeling particularly down, use Facebook for its most exalted purpose: finding fat exes.
Paul Armstrong has been tolling the bell for magazines and newspapers for a few years now in his popular Twitter feed, @themediaisdying. He's also head of social at the media agency Mindshare. He knows what he's talking about and when what he's talking about is the stormy skies above the media landscape, it's time to give the Angry Birds a rest and listen up. In a piece on PaidContent, he argues that newspapers have yet to make an app worth a damn, one symptom leading up to the grave diagnosis that media companies are defining innovation wrong:
People often ask me how I would save the publishing and news industries. I always say the same thing -- create a relationship with me. Forget an app that gives me the news, instead make an app that is an alarm clock that, when I wake up, gives me a copy of a newspaper -- say, "I" or Paper.li -- which is relevant to me and will work on the underground or places with no reception. Add in a shopping list of things I need to buy when I'm around town.
Put another way, be a life resource, not a news one. I want, nay, I need both. I suspect the first to harness social loyalty (ie. the check-in mixed with the 'Like' and Groupon or a combination thereof) will be the winner.
The great Tom Junod wrote a terrific profile of Rupert Murdoch propaganda minister Roger Ailes for Esquire. Mr. Junod has also posted an edited transcription of the interviews and it's rather entertaining. Behold the man shaping opinion in vast swathes of America:
On How TV Can Meet the Deepest Human Needs
I had a show [on America's Talking] called Am I Nuts? which I loved. Look, there isn't a day that goes by that everybody doesn't say to themselves, "Am I nuts?" They do it in their heads -- you know, "Am I nuts?" "I'm really focused on something too much," or "I leave the house and I think the stove's on every time I leave and I've got to go back," or "I keep going over the same behavior three or four times," or "I broke up with my girlfriend." People think that they're nuts. So I wanted a psychiatrist who would sit there and listen to them for a while and say: "Yeah, you're a little nuts."
We end today with another installment of The Worst Media Writing of the Week. The winner is Andrew Alexander, who penned his last column as ombudsman for The Washington Post on Sunday. If only it were the last column by any ombudsman anywhere. Laudable as its aims might be, the institution of the ombudsman is not what the business of journalism needs. There's already enough self-criticism and navel-gazing, thanks to the ever-growing horde of media reporter and critics, which now seems to include everyone with a blog or indeed a weekly aggregation column.
The problem is this: Your typical ombudsman doesn't add enough to the conversation to justify the damage done when they lob off bombs like Mr. Alexander did this week, a bit more vicious because it comes from within. After rightfully praising The Post for series on national security and firearms, he tells us that he received many letters over the years complaining the level of quality at the Post has dwindled. How does he feel about it? "It's a view I share."
Then rather than giving us a few solid examples to explain that decline, he broadly characterizes the Post's crimes as a mix of typos, grammar mistakes, the use of anonymous sources and other things that either A) bedevil every overstretched news organization or B) are nits being picked by every overly precious ombudsman in the land, slaves as they are to vulgar J-school notions of the profession. He says the staff is talented, among the best in the business, but "dispirited." Gee, I wonder why?