How a fake Star Wars trailer reveals everything wrong with "content journalism"
If you've spent any time consuming "content" today, you know that a new trailer is out for J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars" reboot. You know it because virtually every news site on the planet, including Huffington Post, CNN, the Verge, Wired, Forbes, and ABC News, has "written" about it in a mad dash for those delicious Internet clicks. Now I guess you can add Pando to that list.
Earlier today, an uncredited Rolling Stone writer -- likely some poor intern asked to work the day after Thanksgiving -- posted a short recap along with an embed of the fake (though fairly convincing) trailer. Around noon ET today, the post was updated with no correction note or mention of the earlier version. (Mediaite has a screengrab of the original).
Ironically, out of the countless Star Wars trailer embeds on news sites today, at least the incorrect Rolling Stone post offered something original, albeit on accident. It also raises a question that my day-after-Thanksgiving brain can't possibly comprehend: How many hours a year do bloggers, interns, and homepage editors of news sites spend writing the same article and embedding the same video as their competitors? Couldn't this time be better devoted to finding new stories or new avenues for analysis?
Surely it could, but it won't. That's because even if every other site has a blog post about the Star Wars trailer, enough people want to see it that a ton of them may still find your redundant article, either on social media or through search. Or maybe they won't, but considering it only takes ten minutes or so to embed a video and write up a short description, it's worth the risk for publishers.
Just look at what happens every time John Oliver posts a new viral video from his show, "Last Week Tonight." The Awl's Herrman has done the leg work to track down as many news site embeds of Oliver clips as possible. And he found that a number of outlets, including Slate, the Huffington Post, and TIME, racked up over ten thousand Facebook interactions for their John Oliver blog posts, despite the fact that these videos are literally everywhere the day after they go up, including on YouTube.
It's hard to blame publishers. They need clicks to placate advertisers who, after all, are the ones paying most of our salaries. But if this Rolling Stone mess-up teaches us anything it's that, while competitive click-chasing can be a dangerous game, it's always easy to cover up your mistakes.