Commentary

It's not news...

  • by , January 29, 2007

Last week, just after the first major snowfall of the year, I was reminded once again why I love college. My neighbors built a 7-foot-tall snow-phallus. Halfway across campus, a few other students built a Snowman House of Horrors a la “Calvin and Hobbes.” It is this affinity for the bizarre, a fascination with the morbid, twisted, and absurd, that changed my news-gathering habits forever.


I’ve always really liked news. I started college as a Journalism major. I like to know what’s going on, particularly in the spheres of politics and foreign affairs. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the exact second I saw the first footage from New York on 9-11. I also remember using my press privileges from my high school newspaper to skip class for most of the rest of the day and glued myself to a TV screen, watching CNN. For that first few hours, and every time we enter a crisis situation, we see the mainstream news outlets shine.


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The rest of time, I’m being constantly bombarded by breaking news that Lindsay Lohan is in rehab, by the latest gossip related to the Duke rape case, by pictures of Britney Spears engaging in various activities of dubious value, and new evidence on the killing of JonBenet Ramsey. The JonBenet thing makes me more irritable than any of the others, I think. I have been so bombarded by a decade of coverage of that story that my first reaction upon seeing that girl’s picture is now ire. Sure, it’s terrible that she was killed, but how long can we seriously milk this story? And this is not stuff that I see on E! or Entertainment Tonight. This is all crap that I see on, just for instance, CNN Headline News. Local news is not quite so bad about this – I will have plenty to say about them in a later post. The networks, particularly the 24-hour news networks, are just bad. There has been concern in recent years that people my age are not watching the news. Am I avoiding the news because I don’t care about the world? No. I avoid watching the news because it’s an insulting waste of my time.


My sophomore year of college, a journalist friend of mine avoided work not by playing video games or drinking herself into oblivion, but by surfing through some of the web’s classiest communities – Slashdot, Drudge, Hot or Not, and the subject of today’s entry.

More than anywhere else, I get my news from Fark.com. For the unfamiliar, Fark is an amalgamation of news stories submitted by users. Users can submit any link with a self-made headline and, depending on its credibility, relevance, and – most importantly – titillation value, it gets posted to the main page, where it is read and commented on by millions of users.

The slogan of the site is: “It’s not news, it’s Fark”. It refers to the fact that a good deal of what comes to us as “news” is, in fact, utter nonsense. Media outlets publish the inane to fill pages or minutes, and this site provides a great demonstration. In a book he recently released regarding the rise of Fark, founder Drew Curtis said this: “Whenever Mass Media is really fulfilling its intended purpose, generally something bad is going on. Wars, blown elections, bad weather, you name it -- when people need to know something, it's probably because it's likely to kill them.” Fark, while including truly important stories, highlights the odd and bizarre news of our times.

Interestingly, I think this must be the sort of thing all those Web 2.0 folks are talking about; Fark is a living, breathing web community with fairly minimal moderator involvement. Many users have been on the site for years, and there are entire networks of personal relationships between all these people who have never met. One of the most interesting things about this community is that, unlike Myspace or Facebook, impressions of fellow users come not from their personal vanity sites, but from their comments on the news, past and present. It is not uncommon for vehement flamewars on foreign policy to coexist with Photoshop Tennis featuring art of the Apocalypse. If the media want to know where the politically-minded youth of today have gone, Fark is a good place to start.

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