In December 2013, Esquire published an article by Luke O’Neil in which he bashed viral-content producing sites such as BuzzFeed and Gawker, lamenting that these websites, which are dependent on the shareability of its content, were making “veracity, newsworthiness, and relevance” a notion of the past.
O’Neil referenced an Atlantic article which showed that the most shared website on Facebook by leaps and bounds was Gawker, beating out the likes of The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and BBC. To him, this was meant to be evidence of the decline of journalism, the end of solid, meaningful writing. That all we care about are “15 Puppies That Will Make Your Day Better” and not tragedies abroad, or even in our backyard. Forget elections, give me cats in sweaters!
But the thing is, these “puff” articles O’Neil is referring to on sites like BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog, Gawker, and the like aren’t intended to be journalistic writing at all, not really. They’re not meant to steer us away from Benghazi. They’re meant for a break.
As someone who had contributed to one of these sites before, I have to say the backlash against these sites is rather frustrating. Just because I’m not writing about politics or other heavy news topics I don’t think makes me any less of a writer. I just have a different mission with my words: to make people feel less alone, to hopefully inspire, or to make someone laugh. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Whether you agree with O’Neil or not, you have to remember that just because something is of lighter substance, doesn’t make it any less meaningful. We all need a break from all of the terrible things happening in the world, and that’s why I think these viral sites are pretty awesome.