Reading “articles” online is becoming mostly frustrating for me instead of mostly interesting these days. The bazillions of grammatical mistakes are annoying enough– homophones, people, homophones– but the most aggravating part is that all the “news” outlets seem to have embraced the idea that writing non-fiction articles is the same thing as blogging about something.
It’s totally demeaning to the fine craft of article writing. I like reading blogs, don’t get me wrong– I’ve been reading them since they first began, and I’ve been writing one for almost that long, too, off and on. Blogs are much more intimate spaces than newspaper columns and magazine pages. You can get to “know” a writer’s voice and persona in a way that you just can’t in a news article.
But the blurring of the lines between topics is driving the news magazines and papers down so far in quality that it alarms me. Why should someone read your news magazine if, in fact, it’s mostly a bunch of half-assed blog posts linked together under your banner? Slate, Huffington Post, Salon– I’m looking at you.
News articles still exist, but there’s a depressing lack of clarity in a lot of topic choices that these writers make. Some topics aren’t worthy of a news article; they’re just your basic blogging fodder. Typically, such issues involve feelings, suppositions, and guesses, none of which HAVE to be backed up by evidence, since it’s your personal blog and, you know, piss off. For example . . . Today on the HuffPo, I read an “article” that dramatically proclaimed that mothers and daughters could not be friends. EVAH. She cited a couple of extremely screwed-up codependent relationships among teens/young women and their moms. No mention of any statistical evidence whatsoever. Moms suck as friends. Nuff said.
Then, on another “news” site, Slate, there was a response to the HuffPo article, proclaiming that the HuffPo writer was wrong. Moms and daughters can SO be friends, because, like, the writer and her mom were friends. Again, nary a bit of scientific evidence was cited. Not even the “soft science” stuff. Nada. These two “controversial” “articles” mostly aimed to keep the com boxes full of flames, since that apparently means you have a healthy readership. Nothing like a good “Let’s pit women against each other” subject to heat up the comments. Next, let’s tackle another breastfeeding vs bottle controversy!
Slate also had an article (pubbed under their “NEWS & POLITICS” banner) that basically said “BLAH BLAH BLAH, I don’t KNOW anything about this subject and I think that it’s a kind of non-issue. And I’m ME and that means STFU, you peon.” So, Slate can’t tell you what the news really means, but we CAN publish an article about it that doesn’t definitively say anything about the issue, pro or con or even factual enough to explain it all. Because, the writer’s who he is and he writes what amounts to a blog . . . on a news site. Whyfor? He can’t host his own crap? Blogging is cooler than professional quality writing? Since when?
I love good writing, and I love good opinion pieces as well as the squishy “women’s writing” that was the staple for a generation of women writers who wrote before Mommy Blogs came along and glutted the market. Erma Bombeck, Nora Ephron, heck, even Dear Abby back in the day. There was a void there for light-hearted pieces written about an individual’s own experiences. That’s mostly filled by blogs these days, so why are the news sources trying to chase that demographic? For money? Do they really want to say that they’re competing with The Pioneer Woman for ad revenue? If I was running a major magazine, I think I’d quit before I admitted that in public.
The news sites seem to be a little lost, thinking that they HAVE to offer the fluff pieces to keep readers coming. The thinking seems to be “If the readers are reading blogs, they won’t want to read boring old news, so we’ll give them crap and they won’t leave us!” They don’t seem to realize that, if you publish one hard-nosed, by-the-facts, well-researched article . . . and surround it with fifteen pieces about the Kardashians and how women FEEL about their breast size and endless back-and-forth about how much parents suck . . . that well-written piece is going to lose some of its luster.
I can’t in good conscience link to Longform, since they apparently use links to paid content in their suggestions (Not sure on that, but I don’t want to steer anyone to a pirating site) . . . but as far as SUGGESTIONS of amazing pieces of nonfiction pieces, Longform is a great source. There is GOOD writing out there– Texas Monthly is still a source of reliable non-fic, Outside publishes some really nice stuff, and even the major news magazines can throw us a bone once in a while and publish something great. We should encourage good article writing by reading those magazines . . . and skipping the bloggy crap that the news outlets are trying to push on us.
I’ll link to great articles when I find them, as my way of supporting real news.
And if I find a way to distinguish the “crappy fluff” from the “real good news”, I’ll let you know.