Daring Fireball, John Gruber and the Anti-Spider-Man Bias
If, as I've argued, page views are currency on the internet then a question has to be is there a cost to being wrong online. Can someone be consistently stupid enough to finally fail out of a job writing for a blog or a news site, or is the simple fact that being a moron on the internet is a sure way to get clicks actually make being clueless a good strategy?
I like John Gruber and his blog Daring Fireball. He's not what I'm talking about, Gruber's generally right and when he's wrong he's the first one to point that out. You might not agree with everything he writes, but if you can find something that's factually incorrect he'll make the change and call it out.
One of the things that Gruber likes doing is finding links to people saying stupid things on the internet, mostly stupid things about Apple, and calling them out on it. Often he'll save a link for years just to strike back when their ill-considered statement has proven itself to be the complete bullshit that Gruber thought it was when it was first published.
These days Gruber has a big readership. I wouldn't want to guess at numbers, but a link from Daring Fireball can send tens of thousands or more people to a site. Smaller sites can get Fireballed, meaning they get overwhelmed by the traffic when Gruber links to them go offline. Thus it's a big win for any site that gets a positive mention on Daring Fireball.
I'd argue it's also a big win to get a negative mention on Daring Fireball. When bloggers are often paid based on how much traffic their posts generate, being called out by Gruber can mean some good cash for a writer. Consistently being tremendously wrong can be much more profitable than being unspectacularly right.
Saying outrageously controversial things isn't new to journalism. What is new is that the cost of entry is so low both for creation and consumption of content. Anyone can call themselves a tech journalist and write a tech blog, and since reading blogs is (usually) free people are more willing to read people being stupid.
If Gruber owned a TV station and was calling out the Daily Bugle for it's anti-Spider-Man bias, people would need to go out and buy a copy of the Daily Bugle to read what he was talking about. The cost of the newspaper would keep most people from reading the Bugle if their only interest in it was to see what sort of dinkbag J. Jonah Jameson was being. Blogs don't have that cost to entry, so they profit as much from Gruber's followers stopping by to see what sort of idiocy that was linked to from Daring Fireball as readers who actually think that the article is good.
Being laughed at can be as profitable as being respected.
I don't have the answer to this. It's not for Gruber to change the way he writes or how he runs his blog to improve the general level of journalism on the internet. When my brother was young and was pulling my hair or chewing on me, my parents would say "Just ignore him and he'll go away." That advice seems like it should work here, but then again my brother is still around so clearly it didn't work then either.