Mike Hudack, director of product at Facebook, wrote a Facebook post on Thursday decrying the sorry state of contemporary media and journalism. "It's hard to tell who's to blame. But someone should fix this shit," he writes. Journalists and others working in media were quick to point out that the bulk of blame falls on, well, Facebook.
Hudack's problem with media today seems to be its emphasis on the trivial – the catalyst for his post is Vox's "Sorry, Levi's: you can't clean your jeans by freezing them" post. His "rant" calls out CNN's transformation from Bernie Shaw journalism to "the network of kidnapped white girls," he calls newspapers "ghosts in a shell," and Sunday morning shows like Meet the Press "a joke." The Internet doesn't offer much in the way of salvation (Hudack's term), because "BuzzFeed's homepage is like CNN's but only more so." (CNN's uselessness is apparently such a universal truth for Hudack that it's now used to put down the likes of Buzzfeed.) There's a bit of hope from Vice, which does "occasional real reporting" when it's not busy being "salacious."
Hudack hoped Vox would bring something of quality, but they chose instead to write "stupid stories" like the aforementioned Levi's post. He finishes by asking who's to blame for the fact that said jeans article is the most read on Vox today.
@mhudack We should talk about your take on news. My perception is that Facebook is *the* major factor in almost every trend you identified.— Alexis C. Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) May 22, 2014
So why do stories about things like the best way to clean a pair of jeans get the most traffic these days? Because, as many on Twitter suggested, those are the kinds of stories people share on Facebook.
Facebook has become the de facto homepage for news. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson wrote back in February that "a year ago, social networks are the new homepage seemed like an (almost) original observation. Today, it's just a boring fact." And the stories that get traffic from Facebook aren't grounded in news, they're "what journalists call 'evergreen' stories — essays about diets, Millennials, and happiness, studies on coffee and decision-making, or beautiful photos."
Alexis Madrigal, also from The Atlantic, commented on Hudack's post directly:
Your own CEO has even provided an explanation for the phenomenon with his famed quote, "A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa." This is not to say we (the (digital) media) don't have our own pathologies, but Google and Facebook's social and algorithmic influence dominate the ecology of our world.
Vice puts out "salacious" content and Vox writes about denim care because this is what Facebook users want to read and share. That's what drives traffic. As ValleyWag's Sam Biddle writes, "Long, thoughtful, good writing often does not do as well as Jimmy Kimmel videos, lists, and quizzes." So when Hudack complains about the shit state of media, Internet and otherwise, he should realize Facebook has a lot to do with it.
But as Thompson writes, "entertainment was beating up on news long before Zuckerberg was born." Hudack's longing for the good old days of media is a perpetual longing. The only difference now is the current incarnation of what's "threatening" "serious" journalism is Facebook. And that's what Hudack seems to miss.