Whisper EIC: “It’s not important if a story’s real, the only thing that really matters is whether people click on it”
“If a person is not sharing a news story, it is, at its core, not news.”
That quote comes from Neetzan Zimmerman, editor-in-chief at Whisper and ex-Gawker blogger extraordinaire who once accounted for 85 percent of the latter site’s daily content. He appeared on the Daily Show last night for a segment about how traditional journalism has given way to viral clickbait offering little in the way of substantial reporting or analysis — like this video of beagle stealing chicken nuggets.
The shift from shoe-leather reporting to aggregation, Facebook-optimized quizzes and listicles, and reposting viral videos is hardly a new development. What makes last night’s clip notable is Zimmerman’s shameless candor when it comes to explaining how he milks this new Internet media model for all it’s worth.
Here are a few choice lines from the interview:
On journalism school: “I’d say don’t bother. Unless you’re learning how to craft the perfect story for the viral web, you’re probably not getting much out of that education.”
“The most important thing is having a good headline.”
And my favorite: “Nowadays it’s not important if a story’s real, the only thing that really matters is whether people click on it.”
It’s hardly a surprise that Zimmerman thinks like this. You may recall back in February when he shared an anonymous, unsourced Whisper post alleging that Gwyneth Paltrow was cheating on Chris Martin with entertainment lawyer Kevin Yorn. Zimmerman called it a “scoop,” despite any evidence beyond an entirely unsupported claim which Paltrow later denied. That didn’t stop sites like Buzzfeed from picking up the story, though at least that outlet had enough integrity to call it a rumor instead of a scoop.
Now Whisper has partnered directly with news outlets including Buzzfeed and Fusion to repurpose these anonymous ramblings and unsupported claims into “content.” Again, in Zimmerman’s world, accuracy isn’t important — he does it all for the clicks, and few things deliver like a celebrity infidelity rumor, truth be damned.
So there you have it: If an unsupported piece of celebrity gossip gets a bunch of clicks, it’s news. If a report about political corruption goes unread by the masses, it’s not news. And while you may despise that worldview, at least give Zimmerman credit for succinctly distilling the new click-economy down to its very essence. After all, that’s what he does best.