Today, I am beginning what I anticipate will become a regular series of short interviews with web personalities. These short, three-question typewritten interviews will be cross-posted here and to my personal blog, nerdacumen.com. I want to answer the question: How are these well-known new media or Internet personalities changing the face of media? What are they doing to “flip the media”, as we say in the MCDM program? Generally, I will ask the same three questions of each person interviewed. So, as you read below, you will be able to see what those questions will regularly cover. My first subject is Drew Curtis, founder of the popular on-line news aggregator FARK.com.
Drew Curtis is the creator of the on-line news headline aggregation and social news sharing site FARK.com. According to the site, Fark began in 1997 as a vanity site where Curtis posted an obnoxious but humorous picture of a well-endowed squirrel. I’ll say no more about the squirrel. In 1999, Curtis converted the site in to a place that readers could share news articles from across the web with one another. It was a way to get the news-consuming public to share perspectives and expose the often deplorable practice of journalists reporting “news” that simply doesn’t warrant the privilege of being called “news”. ‘Fark’ was a word Curtis coined to label the glut of sales and publicity-driven non-news that’s out there. Submitters to the site can re-write their own witty headlines and attach them to the articles they’ve linked, and forum threads for each article are established for people to leave commentary and engage in discussion. These threads themselves are often a hotbed of meme-centric content and image sharing as well as opinion-shaping commentary. Social media sites like Fark are changing not only the way people develop, share, and communicate opinions on topical subjects, but they’ve also proved the web’s power to help filter the real from the rubbish. As the site’s ‘About‘ page spells out, CNN and Fox News are two of the biggest corporate entities to traffic the site. Perhaps journalists at both of those networks are watching the things users of Fark are saying about the very stories they publish. Without a doubt, Fark has established itself as a major player in on-line journalism. Following the jump are the three questions I sent Curtis, and his candid responses.
FTM: To what would you attribute the success of Fark, and how has that success influenced web culture and newsmedia?
DC: I’m not entirely sure. We were one of the first news aggregators and first to develop a community around news. But honestly that’s not enough to guarantee success, just because you can cook a steak doesn’t mean you can run a successful steak house. I actually don’t know why it worked, other than we didn’t fuck it up. That’s about all I can take credit for.
FTM: What position or degree of importance or relevance would you label Fark with in the overall new media landscape? In other words, what do you see as its place in the on-line world?
DC: I have no idea about that either. We’re comedy-centric news, kind of like the Daily Show and just as old as them. I’m not sure where that puts us in the scheme of things.
FTM: What is your favorite new media creation or website, and why?
DC: My favorite bogus media creation is “the wisdom of crowds.” Crowds are stupid, horny, and hungry. To make things worse, this crowd worship is really just a backwards-engineered worship of “stuff that generates a ton of pageviews”. If media buyers suddenly don’t value pageviews as much any more (which seems to be happening), this bullshit will finally go away.
It looks like Curtis attributes much of the success of Fark to being early on the news aggregation scene, and maybe therefore a little lucky. While that may be true, I would personally give him more credit then just assuming he was early and managed not to screw it all up. With large aggregators like Digg and del.icio.us making names for themselves on-line, Fark continues to maintain a formidable and popular web presence. Because Fark is comedy-centric, or caters to poking fun at the news and, more importantly I would contend, poking fun at the way people respond to news topics, Fark inherently fosters a community of respondents interested in sharing with one another the truth (according to the individuals, anyway) about how news topics impact their individual lives. They post comments indicating opinions that are often in stark contrast to the agendas of the various entities reporting on the news. Ideologies purported within the various subject matter found on Fark, or which are attributable to newsmakers that routinely find themselves on Fark, are also debated. Fark is less about the news and more about the discussion about the news. Instead of talking heads and pundits, everyone can have a say and be heard. Creating an environment that successfully elicits that is no lucky stroke, Drew.
As a regular reader of the Fark article commentaries, I can say that not only does the readership seemingly mirror the opinions of society at-large, with its variety of voices from across the world, but the readership also helps disprove and disparage falsehoods and so-called “spin” and also clarify the facts about relevant subjects, even if in a mostly humorous way. In that context, Curtis’ comparison of Fark to Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’ is apropos; the Daily Show essentially does for a half-hour on TV what Fark is able to do 24/7, and without a paid writing staff to boot. Anyone can contribute to the narrative of collective thought that each thread tends to generate.
In light of Curtis’ despising of “crowd wisdom”, and connecting that crowd wisdom to the way media buyers might often seek out topics with high pageviews in which to target their advertising, it is interesting to note how Curtis compares it to the notion of ‘worship’. Certainly media buyers, all things assumed, have to pray they find outlets that are grabbing a lot of attention. But, as Curtis seems to infer, perhaps the crowds and their wisdom are often completely off-base when it comes to shaping “truth”. Should that wisdom be rewarded then?
All things considered, Fark’s ability to respond to things with purpose is especially true of the many Fark threads covering current events as they happen in real-time. For example, during the 2007 fires in Southern California, Fark threads existed solely for the purpose of helping “fellow farkers” communicate information about what was going on down on the ground with one another in a public setting, something many other media outlets might have failed to do successfully. Fark isn’t just a place to post funny headlines or even to post funny responses to those headlines that consist of pictures of Captain Picard from Star Trek holding his face in his palm (the now-ubiguitous “facepalm” meme), but Fark is a web community that can help change the face and purpose of media. So long as the crowds there aren’t stupid, horny, or hungry.