How Tebow and the iPhone Ruin Journalism
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 15:08
It may seem odd to be comparing Tim Tebow and the iPhone, and even more so to be accusing them of ruining journalism. However, it isn’t so much the individual person or device that I think is the problem. I love my iPhone and I find Tebow to be a great guy, but I don’t think either is an NFL-caliber quarterback. The true problem, in my opinion, is with the media attention either receives.
Starting with Tebow, I’ve been subjected to a lot of “Tebow Time” over the past few months as a New England Patriots fan. Every day after he signed with the team there were articles on how he might be used in the Patriots system, how he was doing at training camp and anything else that was Tebow related. When Brady had his injury scare, it seemed to give ESPN a free pass to speculate on Tebow somehow taking on a greater role in the Patriots’ offense, despite poor preseason performances, including a quarterback rating of zero. I could find commentary and news reports on the Patriots’ third string quarterback to my heart’s content, but information on the other candidates for the final roster was much harder to find by comparison.
The iPhone causes a similar phenomenon with constant articles about rumored features and supposedly leaked photos. These often over exaggerated pieces of “news” usually stem from nothing more than a newly filed Apple patent, many of which never come to fruition, or a photo of a prototype supposedly leaked from a manufacturer. Apple’s actions are constantly under a microscope for any nugget of information that can be turned into a potential iPhone (insert number and/or letter here) rumor.
At the surface it may seem like these news outlets are simply responding to the demand for Tebow and iPhone articles, given their popularity. However, like most things in the world, it really just comes down to money. Tebow and iPhone rumor articles bring in more traffic, and thus are likely to generate more ad revenue. So for the same reason there will probably be an Iron Man 4, there will also continue to be articles on iPhone rumors, Tebow and any other topic that is a cash cow at the moment for a news outlet. This isn’t just from passive observation, but also personal experience.
This time last year, I was writing for a fairly popular tech site that covered mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Payment was largely based on the traffic that each article brought in and I soon learned that this had nothing to do with the quality of content. I started writing articles that examined certain Kickstarter projects for the iPhone or gave detailed tips for productivity apps, for example. These articles brought in little to no traffic and thus led to very little pay. Articles about iPhone 5 rumors on the other hand got thousands if not tens of thousands of hits. It was clear that regurgitating iPhone 5 rumors was both easier and more profitable than any previous article I had written. The editor of the site also encouraged using keyword phrases like “iPhone 5 features” or “iPhone 5 release date” throughout articles to make them more search engine friendly. This often led to awkward wording within the article and article titles that seemed to serve no other purpose but to house certain buzzwords- kind of like this article’s title.
I have since quit that job because of how much it forced me to lower the quality of my writing, but also because I couldn’t get behind the ethics. As the launch of the iPhone 5 approached, I, along with the other site writers, received the following email from the site editor.
“The iPhone 5 has fueled a lot of traffic in the past couple of months and I’m anticipating a bit of a drop after it finally launches, so over the next two weeks I’d really like to milk the big search volumes while we can.”
This didn’t promote reporting the news, but rather promoted writing on a topic, regardless if there is actually anything new to say, to get clicks and maximize ad revenue while the topic was hot. And while Tebow and the iPhone have their fair share of article milking, it can happen with any topic. At its best it’s shoddy journalism, and at its worst it’s exploiting people.