I touched upon this a little with the "hitch your story to a bigger story" bit in the earlier entry, but the awful well of Internet journalism runs even deeper than that. But before I explain that, we need to refresh ourselves on the timeline of this "media event."
- A man eats another man's face because he's crazy.
- Jokers on the Internet make zombie jokes, because the Internet's the Internet.
- More crazy shit gets reported on and attached to this story.
- Jokers on the Internet makes even MORE zombie jokes.
At this point, we could have let the whole zombie thing die with the jokers. But this is the Internet we're talking about, and the Internet is a business driven by traffic. Every online journalist knows that everyone on the Internet is going to be talking about and searching for zombie-apocalypse-related information. And that's why every online journalist, whenever they covered the Miami face-eating story, decided to include "zombie" or "apocalypse" or "zombie apocalypse" in every single story they wrote.
That's a screen grab of a search not for "zombie apocalypse," but for "Miami man eats face." Even though I'm not searching for anything to do with zombies, I will not be able to find a single news article that doesn't contain the word "zombie" in it. Now, with all of the zombie-related stories out there, we've turned this whole thing from "a bunch of jokes about zombies" to "conspiracy theories about zombies."
And that's just how Internet journalism works. It's sort of terrible. Internet reporting is so completely page-view-driven that it doesn't really matter if your EXCITING HEADLINE is bullshit. You write what people are going to be searching for, and right now, people are searching for zombie-apocalypse-related information. You'll get more hits if you mention zombies, so who cares if it's incorrect, or journalistically irresponsible, or fucking stupid, because zombies aren't real and you're supposed to be a news outlet, not a traffic-chasing blog?! Who cares? In online journalism, you go where the traffic goes.
Journalism means never having to say you're sorry. Or fact-checking.
And how do I know that, over the last week, everyone's been searching for "zombie apocalypse"?
It's true. A comedy website that, until this instant, hadn't covered the Miami face-eating story at all, was suddenly pulling in a ton of traffic. At the office, we all scratched our heads for a while, until we realized where all of this traffic was going to. An article about zombies that my co-worker David Wong wrote.
That's the Internet. A man goes crazy and attacks another man, and the Internet turns it into a zombie joke. And then online journalists turn it into a zombie conspiracy, which drives the most paranoid or bored members of the Internet to read everything they can about zombies, which is why a 5-year-old article on a comedy website becomes one of the most popular and talked about articles on the Internet for a second time.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's senior writer (ladies) and will eat his co-workers' faces for $5 a head (Internet journalists).
For more from Dan, check out The 4 Worst Things About Writing for the Internet and The Betty White Meme: When The Internet Stopped Making Sense.