Category Archive: humor
“Upworthy rankles some journalists partly because, even as it innocently coos Web readers with tender headlines, the repetitiveness of its style suggests a rather cynical ploy to lasso cheap attention rather than fully engage an audience hunting anything more than a dopamine rush.” -The Atlantic, Upworthy: I Thought This Website Was Crazy, but What Happened Next Changed Everything
For the past year, Upworthy-hosted videos and Buzzfeed listicles have been taking over my facebook feed. It’s been interesting to watch how these sites, and others like them, have come to dominate our news culture. Their headlines are manipulative, almost guaranteed to make you click, but rarely are the informative. You already know the style, and it’s creeping into other news outlets. Here are a few examples from a USA Today story about the emotionally charged headlines employed by Upworthy, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed:
Coming from journalism, I hate these headlines, and so do others. They editorialize, tell the reader very little about what I’m about to see, and make the reader feel guilty if one doesn’t click them. But it’s been enormously successful for these companies. Upworthy is the fastest growing news site in history, with 30 million unique viewers in May 2013. While at first glance, the site seems like it only repackages videos hosted and created elsewhere, it’s making money through sponsored content and partnerships with organizations such as the Gates Foundation.
Marketing companies now offer advice on how to apply this viral-style headline writing to your small business. And it’s invading the internet. There are a ton of sites trying to clone Upworthy and Buzzfeed’s success, such as ViralNova. They use focus groups and a/b headline testing to find the most clickable headlines. There’s Godvine, a Christian site with headlines such as “See Why These Dogs Are Singing… It’s Way More Important Than You Think” and “He Has Strength, Faith in Jesus and Cerebral Palsy – This Video Will Make You Cry.”
Mainstream news outlets are taking note. The Atlantic recently published “The Case Against Cars in 1 Utterly Entrancing GIF“; Time, always one for Top # lists, has a Viral section with stories such as “The Absolute Grossest Way to Have Your Fortune Read;” Slate’s headlines are starting to change into writing like “This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers.”
Buzzfeed has been able to do the same thing with photos and gifs. Slate interviewed Buzzfeed founder (and Huffington Post co-founder) Jonah Peretti about how they make photos go viral. As of this writing, “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity.” And while not every post there is a hit–”84 Things That Aren’t On An Everything Bagel” didn’t post quite the same numbers (~41,000 as of this writing)–the site has figured a way to reliably draw traffic to photography. Of course, it’s not the sort of photography that we often write about at dvafoto. But just as Kony2012 showed that it’s possible to get the public interested obscure international issues, there might be something for the photojournalism community to learn from Buzzfeed.
Not all is well at Buzzfeed, though. The provenance of many of Buzzfeed’s images is often a bit questionable. They frequently lift images or whole lists from other sites without attribution or concern for copyright. The 21 Images That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity came from a combination of Ned Hardy posts and Reddit. The site often steals images without asking for permission, particularly troubling when the copyright infringement is used in a sponsored story. One photographer fired back at Buzzfeed, and got them to pay $500 to a charity of his choice, for stealing his photo: “10 Good Reasons BuzzFeed Is Going to Pay My Invoice for Copyright Theft“.
While Upworthy’s sole positive is drawing eyeballs to some worthy stories (here’s a story from my hometown which aired on Rock Center, which I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for Upworthy), I have been impressed by Buzzfeed’s longform journalism section, BuzzReads. Though the headlines can be sensational, the content is good and original. Here are a few stories which have caught my eye recently: I Was Drugged By A Stranger, William Suess Thought He Was An American Until The Day He Was Deported, Was An American College Student Kidnapped By North Korea?, Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown. Poynter has a nice article about what Buzzfeed’s push into longform reporting might mean.
“What would a Snopes for ViralNova or Upworthy even look like? It could question the sources of the stories and the details of the anecdotes, or provide context for their claims. But could it correct sentiments like, ‘man is fundamentally good’ or ‘we should do better?’ A site specific to this purpose would be more un-viral than anti-viral. Correcting a post like this is like fact checking Chicken Soup for the Soul, or refuting a prayer.” -Buzzfeed, “How Internet Chain Letters Took Over The Media“
Buzzfeed itself has one of the best pieces on how and why this emotionally-charged or nostalgia-infused content is taking over Facebook and the rest of the web. The article argues Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and their ilk substantially resemble chain letters and email forwards (what one MetaFilter commenter called “‘Jesus and kittens love you’ fwd-mails for twentysomething liberals.”).
Snopes.com arose to fact-check viral chain letters, but that doesn’t quite work with Upworthy and the like. Their posts are factual but packaged and reframed in an inspirational or otherwise emotional way. One can’t correct the sentiments in Upworthy headlines such as ‘man is fundamentally good’ or ‘person is brave for confront adversity.’ The best you can do is satirize the style, and thankfully a few people have:
By the way, here are two fantastic satirical exploitations of the Buzzfeed style on Buzzfeed itself: 22 Amazing Things Only a 90s Kid Would Understand, and 7 Fantastic Ways To Distinguish Between Sense And Nonsense. The first was created by what seems to be a Buzzfeed performance artist under the name Spacedog Escargot.
Also, if you use chrome, you can install an extension called Rather to filter Upworthy links, baby pictures, tv spoilers, and anything else you don’t want to see.
Maybe our own M. Scott Brauer, recently returned from a hunting trip in Montana, can give us some better advice than this guy, who just sort of hung out with an Elk while he was trying to take pictures. The video is awkward and asks a lot of questions.
Scott, did this guy do good? Should he have run away screaming? Or stood up and scared the Elk off? (Which was what I was rooting for). Or. better yet, gone for a close-up? Strange video.
So far, we’ve seen iconic photos recreated with Lego (comparisons), children, more children, Instagram (analysis), Star Wars figures, the elderly, and with their subjects removed. I’m sure there are more…
Now, a new tumblr showcases photographs recreated in Play-Doh. The site’s barely a week old, and there’s no information about the creator on the tumblr, but here’s hoping the project continues.
(via James Estrin)
UPDATE (27 Aug 2013): Just found the creator of the blog. Eleanor Macnair is behind the playdoh creations.
We all know that if you wear Google’s new glasses (Google Glass), you are an asshole. Now, Youtube channel Grovo has made a parody video imagining what it would like to actually use Google Glass as a still camera.
I still haven’t seen Google Glass in the wild. While some people think privacy fears relating to having a video and still camera always on are exaggerated, that hasn’t stopped some places from banning the technology preemptively.
The Daily Show’s John Oliver looks at investigative journalism in another classic Daily Show “what the hell is happening around us’ takedown. I think it is an instant classic.
Brad Adgate: “But you don’t have to fly to some remote location to interview someone. You can just sit and use skype and save money that way”.
John Oliver: “But Brad, I don’t know how many child soliders in Sierra Leone use skype.”
We’ve written a bit about iphone photography and photojournalism previously, and now Instagram has taken the photojournalism world by storm. The video (above), by LA improv group Olde Payphone, imagines the studio of a celebrity instagram photographer; while the joke goes on a bit too long, it hits a lot of the right notes.
While we’re on the subject of cell phone photojournalism, be sure to check out Michael Christopher Brown’s recent work from Congo using a phone. Sure, the iphone photojournalism fits in with the current trend, but he uses the phone with good reason for this essay: many of the materials used in producing the phones are mined in Congo.
The video above has been making the rounds, and it’s a great insight into what it can be like as a freelancer. While you might not encounter some of the attitudes in the video as a photojournalist, if you venture into other realms of freelance photography (PR, corporate, advertising, weddings, portraiture, etc.) you’re sure to run in to this. The video is part of a campaign called Don’t Get Screwed Over, which offers tips on how not to get screwed over in your freelance business dealings. The campaign also points to Docracy, an open source legal document repository with plenty of useful forms and contracts for freelancers. As with any legal dealings, it’s best to consult a lawyer familiar with your situation and jurisdiction, but Docracy looks to be a good starting point.
And here’s a bonus video, similar to the one above, imagining what it would be like if people treated all business transactions (a drink at the bar, buying a dvd from a store, the barber) the way that vendor/client relationships often happen.
And remember: Fuck you, Pay me!
Taking a page from the Overheard in… series of blogs (New York, the Beach, the Newsroom), POYi Chatroom Heroes has been chronicling conversation in the chat window of the online streaming of 2012 Pictures of the Year International judging process. There’s snark, armchair judging, admiration, and anything else you’d expect to hear among the audience. Worth a laugh.
Another video in the vein of Shit ___ Say…, Shtuff People Say to Photographers is the natural companion to Shit Photographers Say. This video was produced by the Outward Bound Collective. It’s geared a bit more toward wedding and portrait photographers, but if you’ve ever taken pictures in a public place, I’m sure you’ve heard half of these.