What If This Isn’t A Digital Media Crisis In The Way We Thought?
This week, Paramount announced that they were cutting about a fourth of their TV staff and axing MTV News entirely. And when the news broke on Twitter there were a lot of Gen Xers boomerposting about how important MTV News was to them growing up. I saw a lot of tweets specifically about how big of a deal it was that someone like Kurt Loder would cut in during a run of music videos to announce important breaking news, etc. More than few people said Loder was Gen X’s Walter Cronkite.
That’s cool. I’m sure it was important! I remember watching TRL and, yeah, I can definitely say that it had a big impact on my understanding of the world. Though, it mainly convinced me that I could pull off dressing like Good Charlotte in middle school.
Of course, that was then and this is now and people don’t really watch TV in the same way they used to, which is to say we don’t watch TV shows on channels anymore, we watch them on the internet, which now lives inside of apps on our TVs. And, so, a news format primarily based around delivering information to people who are already on the channel, watching music videos or, later, reality TV, doesn’t make a ton of sense. Which is why I think the closure of MTV News is interestingly timed and also says something that I think has been largely overlooked about the ongoing digital media crisis.
The MTV News model — informing people who were already there for entertainment purposes — would go on to define pretty much every single “social publisher” of the last 15 years. Not only were digital publishers happy to chase the massive traffic that came from inserting their articles into Facebook feeds in between Minion memes, antivax chain letters, and videos of chiropractors talking about overthrowing the government or beautiful women making mashed potatoes out of boiled Pringles while their husbands make porn moans, but many of these publishers also inserted news in between the “fun stuff” on their own websites. The same sites that are now going through massive layoffs were more than happy to brag to investors for years that they had figured out a clever way of funding investigative journalism and breaking news with lists, quizzes, videos, Amazon linkbacks, and tabloid gossip. And, I know this for a fact, many of those sites, also, at least internally, declared that they were “the next MTV News”.
MTV News premiered in 1987, only seven years after CNN. And I would argue MTV News had a much more coveted role at the center of pop culture in the late 90s and early 2000s than CNN has ever had. One was cool and groundbreaking and the other is something you watch at the dentist’s office. But the MTV News model only works when everyone’s already on the channel — and the channel wants you there. And so, in the same way that CNN is currently, well, wobbly, but still exists, and MTV News is not, so too are traditional publishers still around and kicking, rather than many of the digital upstarts that claimed they could go viral enough to become the next New York Times.
As we entered the era of peak Facebook around 2012, the stuffier, more well-established outlets in America picked and chose what viral shenanigans they wanted to indulge in, while the newer outlets, flush with venture capital, swarmed any and all algorithmic quirks that came across their feeds. And, in many ways, the ratio for the New York Times’s, Washington Post’s, and NBC News’s of the world is actually totally inverted from the MTV News model. There are fun things on their respective websites, like a cooking section or Wordle, but they have fairly consistently remained portals for news. They did not dedicate their entire operation to inserting their content into channels that it was not made for.
Meanwhile, the individual creators and personalities that did fully adapt actually thrived. The creator economy, which was laughed at and mocked by digital media outlets, in particular, over the last 15 years is the actual digital media industry that came out of the 2010s the strongest. And here too we see corollaries with MTV News. Yes, it had personalities — the aforementioned Loder, Gideon Yago, and, perhaps most famous of all, later on, Carson Daly — but the brand was the focus. And, just like digital media, as MTV News entered the 2000s, the hosts became more interchangeable and the journalism became less interesting. And who started dominating around the same time? Who was the one to redefine the way cable news worked? Who was the one who was able to turn his personality into a brand and then into a universe of affiliated shows? Jon Stewart, over at Comedy Central, when he joined The Daily Show in 1998.
And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now with huge creators and influencers that didn’t join digital media outlets in the 2010s. Personalities like Marques Brownlee, Emma Chamberlain, Casey Niestat, Hasan Piker, the D'Amelio sisters, Rhett & Link, and MrBeast are now just their own media companies. And I actually made a $50 bet with a friend the other day that someone like MrBeast will buy or start their own digital news/content site in the next couple years. You heard it here first, folks, MrNews, launching in 2026.
Now here, you might say, “um, well, there aren’t any creators doing ACTUAL JOURNALISM.” But, yes, there are. And just to shut up the “what about local journalism” weirdos who usually show up when you have this sort of conversation, I’ll give you two local examples. First, there’s Hell Gate NYC. It’s a worker-owned publication and it’s currently doing the best reporting on the Jordan Neely subway murder. And, second, there’s a newsletter near and dear to my heart called Worcester Sucks and I Love It, which treats Worcester, Massachusetts, as a microcosm for all of America’s ills. It’s great. But there are now dozens of worker-owned, or, you could say, creator-run news publications, hosted on all kinds of platforms and doing all sorts of interesting journalism.
So while, yes, a lot of digital publishers are falling off a cliff right now — most recently it was reported that VICE, possibly the most MTV News-esque of all of its millennial imitators, is currently facing bankruptcy — I don’t actually think digital media is over. That’s actually an absurd thing to say actually if you stop and think about it.
But I would say that a certain attitude about how to deliver news content is hopefully finally ending. And it’s a good thing. I, honestly, hope to God that we are done with trying to cram journalism-with-a-capital-J into spaces where it doesn’t belong. Based on everything I’m seeing, unless you want to hop from new platform to new platform and layoff to layoff forever, the only real option you have to is stop, plant you feet, and say, “fuck off, I’m making a website and I’m going to make it good enough that people will want to read it on purpose.” (Or a newsletter, I guess.)
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Pickup Artists Have Infested Twitter
So, on Monday, I wrote about a pickup artist who was accused of using AI to generate photos of himself partying with hot babes. The truth was sadder and darker — he was likely having his 40th birthday party alone at a nightclub in Thailand and posing with bottle service girls that were working there. But he’s far from the only pickup artist that has started making big waves on the platform since Elon Musk took over.
Some of these guys bought Twitter Blue subscriptions, but many haven’t and are just rising to the top thanks to all the mindless dweebs that came over from LinkedIn and Reddit to fawn over Musk’s terrible tweets. But something else interesting has happened, as well.
Based totally on my own experiences using the site recently, I have noticed a surprising amount of seniors who have bought Twitter Blue. This makes me especially angry because, as I’ve written before, I don’t think older people deserve to use the worst parts of the internet and I damn sure don’t think they should be paying for the privilege. Behind every joke I make about how Facebook is a digital wasteland of culture is the sad reality that it’s, for many seniors around the world, the main way they experience the internet. And I think it’s, frankly, unacceptable. And I’m pre-angry at the inevitability that Meta will assuredly let Facebook rot as its user base ages out of the demographics its advertisers care about.
Anyways, rant over. The fact that Twitter is now full of very unwell pickup artists and older people paying for Twitter Blue led to this interaction, which does not technically qualify as a ratio, but definitely feels like a good example of just what Twitter is now. Though, before you start to sympathize with Lee down there, just to be totally clear, this woman’s account is horrendous. Like just the worst, most toxic, racist, transphobic Facebook-brained nightmare stuff you can imagine.
There’s A Right-Wing ChatGPT
It’s called Gippr — it’s a Ronald Reagan reference — and, yeah, it’s basically ChatGPT, but conservative. It was created by TUSK Browser, which is a free-speech browser company.
I spent some time this morning trying to jailbreak Gippr and get it to tell me what it’s running on and who made it, but it seems like most of that information has been removed from its data set. Though it did tell me that it was “trained on a different data set than ChatGPT, which includes specific language patterns, phrases, and common responses associated with the right conservative perspective.”
A few users in the r/ChatGPT subreddit, however, got it to “disable its conservative mode,” a jailbreak which seems to now be patched. While they were able to deradicalize it, so to speak, they asked it who created it and it said OpenAI. So that’s interesting!
I don’t think this is going to be popular or useful and I don’t think anyone will like it because right-wing tech alternatives can’t accomplish the one thing conservatives want which is the eradication of the platforms and services used by their political enemies. That said, I still think it’s dangerous. The idea that someone could give this to their kid or install this on a school computer is especially terrifying.
Twitter’s Community Notes Reach A Breaking Point
High-profile Musk simp @cb_doge posted a tweet over the weekend claiming Musk “came to the US with no money and graduated with over $100k in debt, despite scholarships and working two jobs while at school.” It eventually ended up with a Community Note clarifying that Musk was actually born into extreme wealth. And, just in case you need more proof, Musk’s dad literally brought it up last month.
Emerald mine’s aside, users quickly noticed that the Community Note soon vanished from underneath the tweet. That’s when another user, @CardQueenEileen, tweeted that Musk had removed the Community Note. But then @CardQueenEileen’s tweet got a Community Note. Or, rather, it got three.
Looks great! Fantastic UI. This is what everyone has always wanted, sprawling and yet, also, unreliable wiki histories attached to everyone’s posts.
The Metaverse Isn’t Dead, But It’s Not Arriving Anytime soon
Friend of Garbage Day Ed Zitron wrote a barn burner of a piece about the death of the metaverse in Business Insider this week. It’s really good and you should read it. Also, I don’t really agree with him (respectfully lol).
I tend to trust Wagner James Au with my metaverse stuff. If you’ve never read him, you should also check his out work. He’s been writing about the metaverse — the actual one built by individuals (mostly furries) across non-proprietary platforms — for decades and has even run a newspaper in Second Life. And Au tweeted this week that it’s wrong to assume the metaverse concept is dead because Zuckerberg’s flopped.
Aside from interviewing smart folks like Au, when I was doing a lot of reporting on the metaverse, the one thing that came up every single time was that the entire industry was really waiting for Apple. The overwhelming belief from every technologist and industry wonk that I spoke to was that Meta was burning billions of dollars to try and onboard enough users to eventually compete with whatever Apple was releasing this year. (It seems like it’ll be some kind of mixed reality glasses.) And that’s to say nothing of the young people growing up on platforms like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite, which I’m like half-seriously considering calling generation metaverse lol.
Anyways, I think Zitron’s piece is good, but I wouldn’t count this stuff out yet. Do I think we’re all going to have sexless blob conference calls in VR? Probably not. But I think the next generation of wearables could make us feel more metaversal than we expect.
NPR’s Explanation For The New Jersey Forest Pasta Mystery Doesn’t Add Up
I assume that a few weeks ago you learned that someone was dumping hundreds of pounds of pasta in the woods outside Old Bridge, New Jersey. It immediately became one of those weird mysteries that makes the rounds, like an Italian-American variant of those killer clowns from a while back.
Well, NPR’s All Things Considered boldly declared this week that they had solved the mystery. They spoke to residents who said they assumed it was from someone “trying to clean out his parents' house, and they were probably just stocked up from COVID.” And this explanation, it seems, was enough for the fine folks over at NPR.
Well, riddle me this: If this was all from someone cleaning out a pantry, why is the pasta, in all the photos I’ve seen of it, clearly cooked? Why would you cook the pasta before dumping it? Hmmm? Look at the photo up there. Those noodles are limp and don’t even think about telling me they got damp in the woods. The pasta was cooked!!!
This Good Doctor Remix Goes Hard
Please click here to see it because Twitter embeds are still broken.
Some Stray Links
“Andreessen Horowitz saw the future — but did the future leave it behind?”
P.S. here’s Pugcession.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
I’m one of those “weirdos” who thinks local journalism is very important, but you’re right, and I’ll add that now a digital outlet called Mission Local is doing the best local, in-depth reporting in San Francisco. It’s great to see how so many local upstarts have developed over the past several years, although I hope they can make it financially over the long term.
Worth noting that the same executive, Doug Herzog, was responsible for creating both The Daily Show and MTV News.