I am a self-proclaimed dinosaur. I love my morning paper, I subscribe to numerous magazines and I hate reading the news on my phone.
I am also a self-proclaimed news junkie. I follow countless different news sources on Twitter and fully admit to starting way too many sentences with, “So I heard this thing on NPR…”
But a majority of these news sources are legacy media outlets. Spending hours perusing The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times and numerous others is a daily event for me. I go to Twitter to read the headlines before I even visit Facebook or FoodPornDaily (my other two go-to sites).
So for one week this spring, I decided to bite the bullet and drop legacy media. I actually started sweating at the thought of going without The New Yorker for an entire week, especially when I had just read an absurdly fantastic article about extreme spelunking. I traded my standbys for startup news for seven days. The lucky sites were Quartz, FiveThirtyEight, Vox and the viral behemoth BuzzFeed, which actually does have a hard news section.
It wasn’t easy, and I can’t say I didn’t binge on the Posts and Times from every corner of America afterwards, but I also added a few new sources to my daily rotation. Here’s what I learned.
The newest of all the startups, Vox had a lot of things going for it, most prominently the notecard feature.
The notecards are the perfect solution for when a massive news story has been going on for several days, or even weeks, and you are missing some of the basics of the situation. The cards are laid out in chunks of easily digestible information, and each builds on the next so you’re prepared for the next time you stumble upon a long article about the XL Pipeline or a dense editorial on Obamacare.
One thing I seriously disliked about Vox was the lengthy Q and A with several porn stars that ran in the wake of Duke University’s very own adult film actress Belle Knox.
Although the layout was cleanly designed and made excellent use of white space, plus the fact that you could click on any of the porn star’s respective names to read their full interview was a great touch, it was in no way newsworthy or even a news feature. In fact, I couldn’t really find a point to the whole thing apart from being a giant social media pull. I felt like it was pandering to the lowest common denominator. I was disappointed.
One standout article: A short piece on counterfeit drugs flooding the market. It was a subject I knew nothing about, and it had the same serendipity aspect as finding an article on the extreme caving article I recently found on The New Yorker.
This sparsely designed startup is a sister site to The Atlantic—which is probably part of the reason I found so many features I wanted to read on there.
From an article discussing the 20 percent of China’s farmland that is dangerously polluted, to a fantastic look at why Sherpas make up a majority of the deaths on Mount Everest, Quartz pulled from almost every corner to find varied and vibrant stories.
My only gripe is that the website was so minimalistic that I sometimes had trouble finding what I wanted. If you mouse over the bar at the top of the screen, it gives you the headings “Filters” and “Our Obsessions.” I had no idea you could click on that bar until the end of the week, however.
Also, the Sherpa article had one unattributed quote that I thought was a subhead for a solid 30 seconds.
This website was a total dud for me. Too much sports news about teams that didn’t interest me (Bulls, Bears and Blackhawks only, thanks very much) and difficult-to-digest tech articles that left me more confused than before I started reading.
Of course, on a different week outside of my experiment week it had tons of articles I wanted to read – the growing obsession with limes in America, condom confiscation, and the story behind the worst movie on IMDb.
To be fair, it’s hard for smaller sites to churn out content quickly, and I know lots of sports junkies who will sing the praises of FiveThirtyEight, so take my opinion with a spoonful of salt.
In my opinion, BuzzFeed is only one step above the root of all evil that is Upworthy. Don’t even get me started on the audience-bating techniques and headlines that marginalize news stories that Upworthy employs to upsettingly wide approval. BuzzFeed is not quite at that level in terms of dumbing down for its audience, but it has some of the sloppiest reporting I have had the displeasure to read.
I’m going to be harsh on BuzzFeed because unlike the other startups, it is extremely well established, has a massive staff and rakes in profits like none other. WHY THEN, are they not paying educated journalists to write clean, typo-free articles that don’t rely solely on GIFs?
I repeat, WHY?
Although BuzzFeed did cover the Korean ferry sinking with effective line-by-line explanation and photography I hadn’t previously seen, there were numerous typos, such as a reference to information that was “here say,” and the content wasn’t updated until April 26, 10 days after the story broke.
In addition, its coverage was often biased. It used adjectives, which should be used sparingly in journalism, in an article about allegations of sexual abuse by X-Men director Bryan Singer, where one author described the scandal as “lousy timing” for 20th Century Fox.
Over the course of two days, Buzzfeed seemed to pour all of its resources into a salacious sex-scandal story about Singer, posting multiple stories about the allegations, including articles entitled, “Here’s Bryan Singer Dressed Like a Priest with Three Young Men,” and “The TV Pilot With Eerie Similarities to the Bryan Singer Sexual Abuse Case,” all the while, leaving the Korean ferry crash to gather dust.
Overall, the reporting on BuzzFeed looked like a first draft. Articles were prohibitively long, with paragraphs that wouldn’t have been out of place in a thesis paper. I only got through half of a 1,000+-word piece on homophobia in India because it was so dense and clunky. It frustrates me that a website with such a huge audience draw wouldn’t spend more time trying to make hard news just as readable as its piece on 16 Reasons Why Grinding is the Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Humanity.
Going without legacy media was a miserable experience for me, mostly because none of the startups reported on breaking news. Ultimately, I live for the bizarre little tidbits about newly discovered populations of endangered animals and medical breakthroughs. After a week without legacy media, however, it seems that you can only find that on well-established sites that have the time and manpower to report on these articles. They are the burnt ends of the brisket that you find scattered throughout your sandwich, and the pure joy of finding and enjoying one of these is irreplaceable. I’ll probably continue to occasionally peruse Vox for some hard news and Quartz for features, but my dinosaur claws will never relinquish their grip on legacy media.