I don’t often read Gawker, the site that bills itself as “the definitive news and gossip sheet for followers of entertainment, media, and business.” But I had an eye-opening experience when one of Gawker’s sister sites helped drive traffic to an LA Times article I wrote about author Gary Shytengart and his new dystopian novel. Not exactly “hot news.” Even so, the piece became “most viewed” on latimes.com for the better part of a day. Huh? My editors patted me on the back, but I knew it was just a fluke. More than that, I realized that Gawker had an amazing power in attracting attention and clicks. More than the LA Times? It would seem so.
Maybe a comparison between Gawker and the New York Times, our country’s most esteemed traditional newspaper, will offer some reasons. Landing on www.gawker.com, I first notice a large, red graphic with the words “Debutante Ballin’.” The sub-category is “WTF,” and in skimming the lede, the word “dipshit” catches my eye. Next to the byline is a small photo of the author. I scroll down, and note an article called “Narco Tunnels” under the “Mexican Drug Blood” category. In a column on the right listing more articles, the headings “Crime,” “Sex,” “Real Estate” and “50 Shades of Grey” all stand out in red capital letters. Above, a heading reads “Tomorrow’s News,” and I’m reminded of a scene from the fantastic and hilarious Daily Show segment called “End Times.” In the video, a Daily Show “correspondent” interviews a New York Times editor, and asks why the information in the day’s paper is already 24 hours old (at least!). The editor stares back, speechless.
Now, a look at www.nytimes.com. This page is crowded with much more text. In fact, it resembles an actual newspaper front page, with stories and photos in three distinct columns. A piece on the London Olympics is at center, with a striking photo in primary colors. At far left, I find a listing of the newspaper’s sections, so I can easily browse. The headlines are serious and succinct, with topics ranging from Syria to the Bronx River to a Japanese film festival. When I scroll down “below the fold,” I find a video about Upper West Side Fashion, next to options to click on different videos. The videos play in the same screen, so I can continue to browse the homepage. Further below, a list suggests articles “Recommended For You.” And most are exactly what I want to read! Editorials about immigration law, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a science article on roller coasters. But I’m a little flummoxed by all the small, cramped text.
Clearly, Gawker and the New York Times are intended for different audiences. A hip crowd attracted by writing with “attitude” (“WTF,” “dipshit,”), versus newshounds looking for serious stuff, presented in a direct manner. Or are the audiences different, necessarily? One theory I’ve heard is that we go to different sources for different types of information, depending on what we’re looking for, or even our moods. Maybe it’s best not to depend on one or other, but both. I know I wouldn’t want to read Gawker alone — the sensationalism hyping up each story would drive me crazy. I feel conscious of being manipulated to read more. At the same time, I appreciate a touch of personality and humor. (I frequently read Jezebel, a Gawker sister site, and enjoy its no-nonsense, straight at-cha tone for a female audience.) The New York Times is fantastic, but it’s just too much news to read all the time. I generally browse the New York Times (online or print), then choose a few articles to read from lede to conclusion. The quality is consistent and reliable.
Now, do I understand how Gawker pushed thousands of people to click on my LA Times article? Not exactly, but… it probably had to do with bold type. Colorful photos. Short paragraphs. And wacky words.