'Social Justice' Writers Tell MTVNews Where To Stick It
In this day and age, with all the bad that is always happening, it is just nice to see something NICE.
This Tuesday, Matthew Breen, interim lead at MTVNews, posted a call for writers to Twitter. It was a very perky call -- and, indeed, the kind of opportunity many of us would usually be very excited to see.
But this wasn't any ordinary situation.
Back in 2016, MTVNews had started doing something really cool. They started hiring some of the absolute best writers on politics and social issues in the business and focusing on long-form journalism. It was an incredibly impressive roster, as noted in this Billboard article:
Over time, the staff would grow to include author and former Pitchfork Review editor Jessica Hopper; Grantland's Alex Pappademas and Molly Lambert; The New Republic's Jamil Smith; writer Ana Marie Cox from Wonkette; Spin vet Charles Aaron; former Rolling Stone staffer Simon Vozick-Levinson; Village Voice music editor Hilary Hughes; and Refinery 29 and Buzzfeed alum Erica Futterman. The staff also included a bullpen of young writers with powerful and distinct voices, including Meredith Graves, Ezekiel Kweku, Doreen St. Félix, Ira Madison III, Hazel Cills, Marcus Patrick Ellsworth and Rachel Handler.
Then, in June of 2017, MTVNews fired their entire newsroom, citing a plan to "pivot to video." Conveniently, this happened only a few months after the staff voted to unionize. You know, because that's a thing social justice oriented people tend to do.
So now it looks like the plan to "pivot to video" thing didn't work out so well, and MTVNews wants writers again. Alas, it doesn't seem like that's going to work out too well for them either. In a glorious show of solidarity, writers and others interested in these issues dragged Matthew Breen in the responses to his tweet.
Yeah. It did not go over well. It sure is a dilemma, though, for your giant media orgs. Social justice related "content" does so well -- except the people who are interested in writing about social justice are the exact same kind of writers who are going to unionize. How is that even fair? It's like the time my former bosses couldn't understand why I was annoyed that I was making them money writing about equal pay issues while getting paid $8,000 a year less than my male co-workers. Writers! They're so mercurial! And probably on the rag!
This kind of show of solidarity is a very, very big deal. It really is. Especially when you consider the financial situation of a lot of people who write for a living. Especially when you consider that we are mostly not a generation raised to understand the value of worker solidarity, many of us having spent our childhoods in the "me generation" of the 1980s, growing up with bullshit terms like "job creators" and the like. It's a big deal because of these reasons, because people are willing to stand up for their fellow writers, but also because it sends a message to these corporate media giants that they cannot pull shit like that and get away with it. That people will tell them no. The way these businesses have been treating writers has been terrible and it is time for that to stop. They need to know that this shit will come back and bite them in the ass.
MTVNews executives have put themselves in a situation where not only will the best writers on these issues not write for them, but the authority of anyone they could find to write about them will immediately be diminished simply by virtue of them writing for their site. No one wants to hear about social or economic justice from a scab! They screwed themselves, and frankly -- it is absolutely delightful to see.
Mama, What's A Pivot To Video?
The whole "pivot to video" thing, by the way, was a total scam from the beginning. This idea that all the hip young kids only wanted to watch video and not read articles was completely made up. In fact, a Pew Research Study found that millennials were actually more likely to read articles over watching videos than older people were. So what the hell was going on? I WILL TELL YOU. It's gonna be a little inside baseball, but I think the people have a right to know. I have been itching to get this off my chest for a while now.
So! A few years back, advertisements on many websites got absolutely ridiculous. Giant videos that played before you could read anything, random animation blocking text, etc -- sometimes so much that people gave up on even trying to read the actual article. As a writer I spent an awful lot of time hearing "Hey, I'd love to read what you wrote on this but the ads literally will not let me." [Editrix here: Ayup.]
Because those ads were so intrusive, people said "Fuck it, I'll get Ad Blocker." This made it easier for them to read articles, but not as easy for sites to make money off of ads. Advertisers were, of course, very mad about this, even though it was their own tendency towards obnoxious, flashy ads that drove readers to do this in the first place.
Then, at the same time, you had Facebook. In recent years, people had stopped coming directly to sites to get their news (except for Wonkette readers, and we appreciate that!), but rather got their news from Facebook posts. At first, this was actually pretty neat, since smaller sites were able to compete on an equal footing with larger sites for traffic. A post could go viral no matter where it was from. You'd get what we once called "the Facebook firehose" when something took off. But then, sites started gearing everything they did to Facebook, which is how we got clickbait. So Facebook started cracking down on that and changing their algorithm around. Constantly. Then they started making sites pay money to "boost" posts -- i.e., actually show them to people who had subscribed to their page. At some point, they decided that articles were bad because they made people leave Facebook, and decided to prioritize video uploaded to the site -- meaning that a video was more likely to show up in your feed than an article.
This idea also appealed to advertisers. Why? Because an ad on a video, or even a prominently displayed sponsorship, was immune to Ad Blocker plugins. So they increased pressure on sites to "pivot to video." Many sites went along with this, and -- like MTV -- ended up firing all of their writers.
But, because most people do not actually want to get their news from videos -- which are harder to watch at work or on the bus than an article is to read -- this did not actually work as well as planned. Then, after the 2016 election, Facebook decided that it would no longer prioritize videos -- that, in fact, content from "Facebook pages" would pretty much no longer show up in feeds at all. This is why RWNJs like Diamond and Silk think they are being "censored" by Facebook, but, in fact, it is literally everyone. Including us, which is why we so appreciate it when you subscribe or send us tips! [Editrix again: Our number of users has literally fallen by two-thirds since Facebook started boning us, and do you see Congress holding hearings about it? No. Also, we do not care, because YOU GUYS stayed, and Facebook's hit-it-and-quit-it readers are gone.] It's those tips and subscriptions that ensure Wonkette will be able to continue paying writers [editrix troix: who are also free to unionize if they want, that would be cool] and never "pivot to video," unless for some reason you all want me to do a visual demonstration of my skincare routine.
[Editrix Quatro: You guys often ask if you are giving us enough money, and the answer is ... alllmoooost? Since we hired more excellent freelancers on the working assumption that God Would Provide, we're about $14,000 in the hole, and it's all going on mama's credit cards. Several thousand of you are already giving us money every month. We hope, if you can, that this will be an awesome noodge for some new folks to pick up the extra. We love you bye bye.]
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse