Cheeseburger Gothic

When someone is wrong on the internet.

Posted April 12, 2013 into Writing by John Birmingham

This is a tale of two blog posts. Well, three really. There's been a spot of bother over at Fairfax this week because a senior finance journalist was sacked for writing a piece in Crikey critical of the company. On the one hand, I guess being journalists, we should just man up and take our beatings as they come. On the other hand, there aren't many companies which tolerate employees pissing on them in public.
But that's not what's been exercising my thoughts the last couple of days. I've been thinking about what the audience wants, and what we give them, which is in a tangential fashion the very issue canvassed in that Crikey piece.
There has been a lot of traffic through the Instrument this week. A couple of metric shitload's, actually. It all started with that first piracy blog, which I tossed off full of piss and bad manners after a boozy dinner in Hanoi. It was a short piece, without nuance, calculated to offend, which it duly did. Bottom line: ching ching ching, we hit the traffic jackpot.
Of course we also hit the sweet spot for moronic derpery, and I must admit I didn't even bother reading the comments.
I paid attention to the spinoff debate over here, however. And as you know I was irritated enough by Lord Bob of Nowhere's stolen goods analogy to sit down and pen a long reply. Much longer than intended. So long, in fact, that I couldn't justify putting it up at the Burger. Having spent five hours writing and rewriting it, plus three quarters of an hour on the phone to Orin, nutting out some of the finer points, I'd effectively wasted a whole workday. I published it at Blunty simply to get some compensation for my time.
It too was a very successful blog entry in terms of traffic and retweets and Facebook shares. But not nearly as successful as the shorter, dumber much less considered piece that started off the whole bingle. (It did however have an unexpected real-world effect. For all of the freetard nerd rage, more than a dozen people contacted me via Twitter and Facebook to say I had convinced them to buy the series and stop torrenting. A drop in the ocean of illegal downloads certainly, but still a sweet drop of clean water in a vast, poisoned sea.)
And then we come to Thursday. And The Onion-style fake news blog about the coalition's NBN policy launch. I didn't want to spend a lot of time thinking and writing the second Blunty of the week, because I'd invested so much time in the piracy issue, not just on Fairfax, but across all of the social media channels into which the debate quickly spilled. I was also a bit groggy and out of shape from a couple of hours in the dentist's chair, where I'd seen the launch of the Coaltion's policy on the television affixed to the ceiling. I didn't follow it very closely, preferring to listen to my audiobook of Shelby Foote's The Civil War. Even so, it was still obvious, lying there with a head full of drugs and a mouthful of sharp steel, listening to the battle of Manassas, that Malcolm Turnbull was being torn apart by his own internal conflict.
I thought about writing a reasonably straight, if snarky NBN piece for Blunty, but realized that would approximate something like hard work. At about 5.30 in the afternoon a thought occurred to me; I'll just take the piss. About seven minutes later, the first draft was complete. I returned to it a couple of times to give it a polish both before and after publication. Maybe another five or six minutes in total.
It totally fucking buried the traffic and share stats of the previous blog. Not the comment stats of the first piracy blog, which was calculated to get people all het up. But while a healthy comment thread, at least in terms of sheer numbers, looks good, what really counts in online media is volume through the page and republication via readers personal networks. In those terms the funny little NBN joke utterly destroyed the long, considered essay which took a whole day to write and another day to wrangle.
I wonder what possible lesson I might draw from this.

42 Responses to ‘When someone is wrong on the internet.’

Lobes puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

People are shallow.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Noely mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

I get what you are saying with sensationalism being a winner online. Though I think you sell yourself short to a certain degree with the fact that often, taking the piss out of something, highlights the ludicrous nature in a more glaringly obvious manner than a well thought out factually laden piece?

Taking the piss out of someone just for one can become boring. Taking the piss out of something to highlight an issue, I personally think is an excellent use of your cynical powers, using them for good ;)

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SweetSisterMorphine mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

<blockquote>"In those terms the funny little NBN joke utterly destroyed the long, considered essay which took a whole day to write and another day to wrangle.
I wonder what possible lesson I might draw from this."</blockquote>

If nothing else, it pretty much confirms everything I suspected about modern journalism.

I suppose just as we get the government we deserve, we also get the news media we deserve.

SweetSisterMorphine mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

And apparently the side doesn't do html tags. Not sure why I thought it would.

[updates field notes]

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Chris Kennett reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

I dunno John. I realise it's a fuck tonne of work to produce a long piece like that, and that the freetards in question will read maybe an eighth of it before rolling their eyes and tweeting 'whatever, gramps'. But there's a lot of us out here that appreciate the ammunition. Thanks.

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w from brisbane has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

They were good jokes.
And, even better, they were at someone else's expense.
As I say, if you can't laugh at other people, what can you laugh at.

And, irrespective of political persuasion, like a monkey riding a bicycle, there is something inherently funny about Tony Abbott explaining policy.

w from brisbane puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

Well said, w from brisbane!

When Saudi Arabia's top religious cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh, slammed Twitter as "a council for jokesters";
I thought to myself, is that a bad thing?

damian mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

Well said indeed

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Mordwa ducks in to say...

Posted April 12, 2013

Bread and circuses more popular than tl:dr?

...I'm shocked-!

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Quokka is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

No good deed goes unpunished.

And apologies as I can't remember the name of the guy that said it.

Darth Greybeard has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

It was me. As far as you know.

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Dianasaur would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

I reckon it's because:

1. The piracy debate isn't new, although of course you added a new reflection on it. The (Coaltion) NBN stuff is fresh out of the box. Sort of.

2. People want a bit of light relief. I've noticed Fairfax sites in particular seem to have forgotten the lost art of satire in exposing some truths. It's an endless Lazy Susan of weighty debates about immigration, feminism (every &^%ing day in every conceivable way...and I'm a chick heartily sick of it) and whether some Gen Y in North Korea is having us all on. There's no light and shade anymore. I don't think it's about one piece being more 'worthy' than the other based on time spent on it, nor does the endless fixation on stats reflect the true impact of a piece. "If it makes just one person think before torrenting, etc etc'.

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tqft puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

A lot of people did find funny the nbn slapdown. I laughed. But also accurate.

Why the traffic - maybe that's what people care about?

We know what the response is to Qld state politics. And federal or thinky stuff doesn't generally a whole lot better. Maybe a lot of people are over the rest of the world and anything outside their small world of caress.

I know I am pretty fed up with the crap that is political reporting by and large. I get annoyed when shortened url's lead me to Dennis Sheehan and a few others like him (Amanda, Peter Reith for example).

Abe Frellman mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

Hey I owe you a Tenner and a t shirt. Are you on twitter so I can DM you to get your address pls?

tqft has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Owe me for what? yes on twitter @tqft9999

Abe Frellman reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Helping me get short bitcoins.

tqft mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

No worries.

I thought it might have been a bet I forgot about.

I only have 1 active one i know of:

Julia better win in Sep I have 3 pints riding on it.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted April 13, 2013

Can I have some of that action? IEI'ill bet you a pint the ALP losesthe next Fed election.

I love bets that I'd be happy to lose.

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insomniac mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

both articles were excellent in their own way, and both styles are required depending on the situation. maybe it's the juxtaposition that's getting to you. how would you have felt about the traffic if the satirical NBN article had been published before the long and serious piracy article?

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Matthew is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

I still liked your Onan the Barbarian joke better than either of those two.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah, but the subs didnt get it.

Timmo is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

I saw shop the other day called "Onan's" and found it hilarious... pretty sure the owner wasn't in on the joke...

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YB swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12, 2013

I think the reason for the explosion of commentary is that this issue is the one of the first where the coalition have actually released any policy that was related to actual, checkable, scientific, indisputable facts. The savings are easily proven to be a complete load of bollocks as maintainence blowout means that the coalition plan is shown to be more expensive than Labor's plan within three years once maintainence is included in the costings, for a deeply inferior product. People jumped on this as it was one of the first times the coalition has released anything of substance, and it was shown to be provable crap. There are people who suspected the coalition was clueless, without facts to back the argument. The coalition just delivered the facts.

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Peter Bradley puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeh what Lobes said.

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schlepstar has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

I think the disparity in traffic is also the nature of the online audience. Telling internetters they're pirates and stealing when they torrent Game of Thrones would be a much less popular premise than the Coalition 'Nearly National Broadband Network' debacle. thus the NNBN piece is more popular based on the audience predelictions than being told they are breaking the law.

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Surtac would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah, what YB said. I almost felt sorry for Big Mal, having to stand there while mr Rabbit was spouting rubbish, probably thinking 'anyone with a half a brain and an ounce of business experience able to do a proper costing will realise what a crock of sh!t this 'policy' is, so please please please can I go home now?'

Watching the whole thing unfold on twitter as tweeps woke up to the facts implicit in the numbers was quite delicious.

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Abe Frellman would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

Hmm I think of it this way. This week's comment spike was sort of 'empty calories' of a sugar hit or maybe I'd even go so far as the columnist's equivalent of what Pierre Cardin did with his brand, if you'll indulge me.

It's all good fun and quite witty, but there wasn't much nuance or complexity to the arguments. Personally I think you'd lose some people - dare I say it - some of the thinker types from whom we can learn, we're you to take this route every week.

But a smarter person than me once said "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the Australian population." So I guess it comes down to this, do you want to be the Allan Jones of the centre/left?

NBlob mumbles...

Posted April 13, 2013

"The Alan Jones of the center left"

oooh, and Uncle Abe lands a body blow.

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pi mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

Here's a hint : Write a blog about sex some time, and see what the traffic looks like.

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Andre reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Ahh John, The takeaway from this piece is something News Ltd and Fairfax journalists and pundits have taken from their clickbait. It is that it's all about the stats they can show to their online advertisers and bosses up the line. You keep up the stats and you keep your job. A simple metric that of course forgets about nuance in both the piece and what those clicks really mean. I can bet a more nuanced and less "aggro" piece would not have elicited as many clicks as something that would be at home on some rant blog. Not saying I didn't enjoy the piece. Are those the "readers' you really want? Are those the consumers advertisers really want? In the long run it's a drip drip lowering of the esteem to which the MSM are held till eventually they will be no more believable as anything spewed upon the internet without any facts to back them up. Therein lies the rub.

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Timmo has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Two points:

1. It takes less time, thought and effort to respond to a simple, opinionated post with a simple, opinionated answer (which is important, particularly if you're doing it on work time).

2. Never underestimate the power of the need to be right or be seen to be right (and to make other people wrong) - if you have an opposing view it seems much more important to respond than if you agree or partially agree.

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Johnny B Gone would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

I'm a little late to the party with this JB, but I do want to say thank you for the considered post on piracy. It needed to be written so it is simply there to be read. It is a great piece.

I have only once pirated one series (watched someone elses pirated TV series of GoT season 2), but most certainly did buy own copy when it was released some 12 months later. My own simple ethos is - I like great television, I want more great television, I will support great television.

This is a more considered stand I take today in my almost-mid-life. But I am often surprised by the response it brings from my friends which vary through the gamut of "I completely agree" to "I agree but I pirate anyway" to "you fool, it's the internet and it's free!".

My biggest piracy days probably go back to making tapes (of my own CDs for others and of others' CDs for myself) and taping crap pop songs off the radio. I wager there are very few of us in the first world who can say they haven't indulged in this form of piracy. Now we can argue the toss about the harm this piracy causes compared to today's piracy on the high seas of the internet, but it is still piracy, albeit we look upon it with the same glowy nostalgia as we do with "talk like a pirate day" arrgh. Borrowing books is similar but I'm sure you've had that discussion elsewhere.

Anyway, my long-winded point is that right and wrong on the internet, particularly piracy debates, seem to be much less about moral superiority vs inferiority as it is about claiming territory in the wild west (any wild west, take your pick). It doesn't matter who actually owns/belongs to the land in first place, what matters is who can claim to own now and into the future.

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Dropbear puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

Sometimes, both sides of the argument can be right ..

Yes, content creators deserve to be paid for their IP

Yes, content deserves to be easilly accessible in an affordable, and most imporantly, TIMELY fashion.

Both equally important truths.. If you provide the second, the first will flow.

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damian mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yes, the blogs (especially newspaper blogs) are the trees on the walking paths through the parks, and we are all the dogs, even (or especially) Derpy McDerp.

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Mordwa asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

JB's use of multiple 'someone is wrong' pics in this post without crediting the original xkcd version is a hilariously sly self-parody.

...I think.

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TC asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

You should learn nothing, John, absolutley nothing. If reality TV, Lady Gaga, talkback radio and the Twitterverse haven't yet taught you everything you need to know about how to capture the interest and a moment of time from the unwashed masses, then you should just go back into your cave at the bottom of the stairs and keep writing books in isolation from the world.

But one would perhaps take note of your ability to accurately comment on the nature of people both generally and specifically and infer that you may have indeed learnt most of those lessons, and learnt them well.

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HAVOCK21 asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

THINK FKN CRICKET ya MUPPET

SHIT GETS WICKETS!

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ubersejanus mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

I'm pretty sure that whatever the lesson is, it leads to the dark side.

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Therbs ducks in to say...

Posted April 12, 2013

Both pieces were worthy in their own right. One was thought out and well essayed, attracting derp and indignant justification of ripping stuff, the other was a sweet little piss take. Humour rates higher than thinky. But we need both. Could be a model; one thinky, one funny each week.

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Dino not to be confused with has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

JB,

I offer,with some trepidation since you be an Adjunct and all, "Tension and release".

First 2 Blunties polarised readers into camps and possibly purgotorial guilt or self reflection. Or simply dunno's forced to be thinky.

This large population of GoT Viewers gave the numbers for the third Blunty.Domestic and International.

Internet savvy folk are interested in NBN etc. Also nation building and tech stuff.

This final piece didn't require comment.It was self contained yet generated a multitude of images some of the ólder commenters of the previous 2 pieces could understand and agree with hence strengthening that çamp view whilst also breaking the tension of the '' ýounger'' position.

A case of look at what he's written now.

C+ or C- as long as I get a C. (C's make degrees)

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John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yeah, I've had a few double shots that I couldnt account for either, Dino.

As to the post itself, yes, when I decide to write a simple joke piece I do it knowing that the comment count might well be comparatively low because it doesn't require a response from the audience. In this case, there was a healthy comment count, I think bcause the coalitions policy was almost infinitely mockable.

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