All the news that’s fit to share…

Have you noticed how online journalism and media purveyors have increasingly tarted up and/or dumbed down their content? Things have gotten way more visual, mimicking the look of Instagram and Pinterest. Echoing Buzzfeed and other pseudo journalism sites, we see more and more lists of dubious nature populating web pages: Top ten this. Worst 20 that. Native advertising and news stories are now slurry. No secret why. Editors want consumers. Publishers want advertisers. Both need more and meaningful clicks to survive.

Oh, and you like this shit. (Not me. I’m impervious to salacious come ons and all those sweet, sweet lists.)

In one respect, this is nothing new. Sensationalism has permeated journalism since it began. Whether it’s creepy crimes or naked ladies or both, newspapers have always flirted with the devil. Boobs sell papers. “If it bleeds it leads.”

Yet, what’s different here -and more insidious, in my opinion- is the meshing of bullshit with the news. An obscenity-laden video featuring ghetto trash fighting in McDonald’s is presented as a news story. The “ten outfits no woman over 30 should ever own” is displayed in the same space as an article about foreign policy. Throwback Thursdays. Monday Mug Shots. Fail videos. It’s stupid content just for the hell of it. Gone are the obvious markers for “advertisement” or “paid for by.” So, why would any reader-obsessed editor put this stuff on a separate entertainment-only page? You don’t hide the chum, fool. Put dat shit where people can see it. Stink up dem waters. We. Need. Clicks.

I get it. I really do. Still, it’s sad when journalists start putting inappropriate hyperbole in their copy. Suddenly, everything is “fascinating” or “terrifying” or “hilarious.” Aren’t we -the reader- supposed to be the judge of that?

The immense and growing popularity of Buzz Feed, Reddit, Devoured, Huff Post and countless other content buffets make it impossible for struggling news sites and online magazines to ignore, let alone exist.

Oh, and we like this shit.

“C’mon angel, that leaked memo was pretty sweet.”

My last post on advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt parting ways with client, Panera Bread garnered more views in one day than any other in this blog’s history. On June 13, several thousand of you read my story about a frustrated agency CEO having reached his wit’s end with a client. He’d written a memo to his staff, which had been “leaked.” For the record, the story wasn’t my “get.” I’d learned about it from a piece in AdAge. I know from experience agencies seldom let go clients let alone provide messy details. The fact that I once had unpleasant dealings with this client made writing about it impossible to resist.

Given the boffo amount of readers the post attracted I guess I am glad I wrote my story. I “guess” because although I am grateful to anyone who reads my blog, I wish I received those numbers for my other less sensational stories. I get it though. There was more than a hint of gossipy revelation (leaked memo!) in the reporting and we all know that chum attracts fish.

Controversy sells. Duh.

Not surprisingly, the second most-read story I’ve ever written was on the controversial closing of the Chicago office of J Walter Thompson. This was big news in Adland, especially in my hometown Chicago. I knew a lot of the people involved and had almost worked there myself. It too was a tale soaked in chum.

Interestingly, the third most viewed piece was nothing like the first two; it was an essay I’d written on our tendency to “front” on Facebook. I’d been seeing a lot of shiny, happy faces on the platform and was curious to explore why. I loved that story but I know the reason why it got so many hits was only because WordPress chose to “freshly press” it, for which I am grateful.

“Let me tell you about last night…”

There’s a brilliant episode of the Simpson’s where, in typically surreal fashion, Homer finds himself teaching a self-help class on marriage. He quickly learns in order to keep his class interested he must reveal intimate details about his love life. Much to his wife’s dismay the class quickly becomes the talk of the town. Things escalate. Despite Marge’s pleas, Homer finds it nearly impossible to stop gossiping about his marriage. The rush he gets from all the attention is too intoxicating. That is until everything blows up in his face.

Because I am mostly not a cartoon I cannot allow things to blow up in my face. Unlike Homer, I like my job. Therefore, I’m afraid most of my posts will continue to be about ad campaigns, consumerism and popular culture. But I am an addict and I did like seeing that massive spike in my dashboard. So you never know…

Express yourself at your own peril

Writer at large, Tom Chiarella has an intriguing sidebar in the August issue of Esquire magazine, entitled “What Mad Men has taught me.” As we prepare for the show’s fourth season on AMC , I want to take a closer look at his commentary. Not so much to publicize the show or his remarks but to analyze them. And challenge them. He rightly claims the show has an ambiguous “moral center.” To be accurate he writes it has none. But he qualifies the remark by stating the show “is rife with lessons, public and private, cautionary and exemplary, and not just for white guys who secretly wish that all men wore hats.” While I think he’s being facetious and I know he’s being provocative, I’d like to challenge him on a couple of his points. They are as follows:

1) Don’t befriend the people who work below you. There is power in distance.

2) Don’t befriend the people who work above you. That way they will want you more than you need them.

3) Don’t ever tell anyone everything.

Basically, Chiarella is declaring self-disclosure a no-no in the office. He cites Don Draper’s adamant stance that “the past is the past” as epigram to the notion. Other cliché’s that fit would be “still waters run deep” or “always keep a stiff upper lip.” Stoicism is a virtue.

Most men, even those of us utterly unlike Don Draper, would believe there is wisdom in admiring, if not adhering to, the “strong silent type.” We’d like to think our fathers or their fathers were that way. We aspire to it, even if we fail doing so on a daily basis. That is why Don Draper is such a compelling character. Morally uncertain as he is, men nevertheless want to be him and, if the gossip magazines are correct, women most certainly want to be with him. He is the consummate anti-hero.

That’s Don Draper, the character. But what about us? I’m a creative director. I freely admit to failing the above three “rules” almost every day. I enjoy fraternizing with my “staff,” if staff is even the right word. And I look forward to friendly “face time” with management. In conversation with all parties, I self disclose. Christ, I’m doing it now in this fricking blog.

I understand this makes me vulnerable. But if at work I talk about relationship issues at home –it happens- will the listeners then have something on me? Does talking about my parent’s ancient divorce or my troubles with alcohol weaken me in the eyes of those above and below me? Are these subjects only weak men and silly women are allowed to talk about? Is not disclosing personal information a masculine virtue? In the world of Mad Men I know the answers. In real life I can’t abide. Can you?

I’d argue self-disclosure is preamble to creativity. We creatives are compelled to probe the human condition, be it ours or someone else’s well past the point of normal discourse. To do our jobs well we have to. This is why Don Draper does not exist in real life, thank God.

Recently, I wrote about various profound difficulties involving some people I care about. I shared with you my advice to them as they shared their dilemmas with me. Some of this took place in a professional environment and some of it didn’t. Of course I was discreet. But should we have all kept our mouths shut? Don Draper would have –except maybe when he was in the arms of his mistress or drunk at the club.

I do not want a mistress or to be drunk at the club. I do, however, want to relate to others as best I can. Those others are often fellow workers, above and below me. I am not one for small talk. I do not much care for rehashing golf scores. If we’re talking movies I want to know how the film made someone feel. A simple thumb up or down is not a conversation. In other words, the only way I can relate to others is by being emotionally honest.

Therefore, by Chiarella’s criteria, I am an abject failure as a man, at least as it pertains to my conduct at work. And so, it would seem, are the people who confided in me.

If Chiarella was not being glib (and even if he was), his “lessons” are something I worry and wonder about. A lot. In her philosophy of Objectivism, Ayn Rand rhapsodized about rare men who had zero interest in petty, emotional issues. I adored Rand (who didn’t?) until I realized I was a human being.

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Well, folks, I can die now and go to Heaven. The Happy Soul Industry is on Gawker! You know what that means? I’m officially a C-lister. Paris ain’t got nothing on me. Yes, the vitriolic site is skewering the book and its author. But like the man said, “All ink is good ink.”

Everyone is talking about Crispin Porter & Bogusky and their notorious “fame” strategy. They said it: ‘We ask ourselves if an idea is press worthy before we go with it.’ And one of the best ways to get press is to push people’s buttons.

I’m not sure why a kind fable like Happy Soul deserves to be put in Gawker’s WTF bucket but there it is, swimming along side various other waanabe guppies and stars in trouble.

Check it. Read the comments. They’re mean. They’re bored. They are hilarious. One guy found the lamest sentence in the book and excerpted it, following with one word: “vomit.”

And he’s right, that particular sliver of prose blows. Fortunately there are 30,000 other sentences, less puke-inducing. If 5% of these haters actually read the book I’m vomiting all the way to the bank.

God bless Gawker.

I vowed not to devote this space to dishing on popular culture, let alone advertising. I’m on record somewhere saying that gossipy ranting degrades us all. A few moths ago, I wrote of an epiphany I had in college, whereby I forsook critical writing forever (“Nobody likes a critic, March 18th). No, I reasoned, best to leave that sort of thing to Perez Hilton and his ilk.

But my vow of celibacy must be broken. A celebrity has given me cause. He is not terribly controversial, nor is he a bad guy; yet, somehow, this man, by his very ubiquity, is annoying the crap out of me. I can no longer restrain pen and tongue.

The object of my disaffection is Peter Wentz, the lyricist and bassist for Chicago-based rock band Fall Out Boy. He irritates me the way Shemp Howard did as a Stooge. Shemp managed to look and behave stupid in a way that was NEVER funny. And his partners put up with it. Those episodes sucked. I would yell at the TV: You’re not as (fill in the blank) as you think you are: funny, cool, talented, handsome, etc… Clearly, Shemp had few of these aspirations but Wentz has them all, and more. He portrays himself as an in-demand rock star or worse yet an independent artist.

And the mass media indulges this pop culture blip like he was all that. Every magazine in my house has pictures of this marginally talented goofball parading in and out of nightclubs, and not just on the gossip page but EVERYWHERE. His clothes. His house. His hair…

Oh my God, his hair. Like the aforementioned Shemp, the stuff on his head looks ridiculous. Not fun, not cool, not pretty, it only draws more attention to his strange looking face. And it makes me want to punch him. He has a ‘punch me’ face.

And then he marries and knocks up that booby nose-job who fake sung on Saturday Night Live. There are pages of wedding photos in all of my wife’s sugary airplane magazines. I stare at them in disbelief. Two mooks joined in holy matrimony. Now it’s their hair, their faces. Not just him anymore. My inexplicable disdain is multiplying. Exponentially.

Am I secretly envious of his hair (I have none), his girl, or his fame? Who knows? These things cannot be analyzed too deeply. Or can they? Details magazine has a piece this month that attempts to uncover “that guy.” Funny reading unless you see yourself in the descriptions.

I’ll stop. I am degrading myself. But tell me, Gentle Reader: am I alone in this? Is Peter Wentz not “that guy” for anyone else?