The Media Oxpecker: The Washington Post’s Cat Problem

Every Friday we round up media & tech industry news you may have missed while you were busy curling up with 2.7 gigabytes of democracy.

  • Yesterday Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten bemoaned the state of journalism again with a piece that, as he summarized elsewhere, called journalism a “ho.”

    The culprit? LOLcats, apparently. Weingarten mocked the fact that successful entrepreneur and Medill School of Journalism graduate Ben Huh gave a keynote speech at last month’s Online News Association conference in Boston.

    To Weingarten, the abundance of cat pictures on the internet — much like his other sworn enemy, branding™ — is “not only unseemly but carries a whiff of desperation, a symptom of an industry in panic, willing to abandon core principles, trying anything and everything in the hope that something, somewhere, can turn a profit.”

    This morning, the Post allowed Mr. Huh to respond:

    Gene is confusing journalism with the business of newspapers. Journalism is thriving, thanks to cheap and easy means of publishing like WordPress, the huge interest by the readership, and increase in the diversity of opinions. Sure, the new journalism may not look like the journalism of yore, but society isn’t under threat from the lack of journalism. Newspapers, however, are continuing to see declines as the readership shrinks due to an age demographic, inconvenience of print, and shrinking budgets.

    As long as newspapers want to be in business, journalists must learn to be accountable to business and prioritize the delivery of a great service — even if it sounds as ridiculous as posting silly cat photos with your article …

    And while Weingarten is openly disdainful of young journalists and their sleek T-Mobile devices, his fellow Postie Alexandra Petri explains what it’s like to be one:

    … someone wants us to write a story and then produce an interactive personality quiz photo gallery for it using JavaScript, which is noble but not quite how we pictured things. “You are under 30, so this is your metier, right?” they say, hopefully. “Absolutely,” we murmur. “And tweet more!” “Sure!” we say.

    “The tweets should have flair, but not too much flair, and they should make jokes, but not too many jokes, and they should be wildly, hysterically original and draw people in, but should not offend people,” says every newsroom policy ever, in about as many words.

    My point is, we do the impossible every day, because that is what the business requires.

    Meanwhile, the LOLcat ethos seems to have seeped into the Washington Post print team as well, seeing as how they decided to use the now infamous cat photo to illustrate the Occupy Oakland melee from the previous night.

    The Post later explained it as a production deadline issue, even though the story itself included info on the Oakland Police Department’s tear gas spree. Former Washington City Paper writer Mike Riggs gave a more accurate assessment: WaPo isn’t nimble enough to circumvent wire service.

  • As if journalism wasn’t already under siege from nefarious felines, Gawker‘s Hamilton Nolan has a doozy of a story that, if true, means that bloggers at some major news sites are being paid to surreptitiously slip advertising links into their stories.

    Nolan was approached by a representative from marketing agency called 43a, who told him:

    We work with big clients like Dell, T-Mobile, Sanford Brown, Motorola, etc. that are constantly looking for links to their products or websites. Writers like you are the natural medium to approach, as you write articles where these can appear naturally within the context of the article. We aren’t looking for anything that doesn’t occur semi-naturally.

    We pay based on the size of the site the link goes on. If you want to send me a list of sites you currently write for I can give you a price breakdown.

    In a series of emails, the rep goes on to say that editors at sites like the Huffington Post and Business Insider are currently working with his agency to post stealth links into blog posts. Since publication, representatives from all of the above mentioned firms have contacted Gawker to deny that they are working with 43a.

    In a related ploy, the New Orleans Times-Picayune is paying Saints players to tweet links to its website:

    For instance, [Drew] Brees’ nearly 700,000 Twitter followers received this message on Oct. 18: “Who Dats! If you didn’t join the NOLA Saints community this morning… join now!” The post included a link to the Saints page on and was retweeted, or forwarded, by 29 people.

  • As consumers become more familiar with QR codes, a new threat has appeared: malware. A security firm has discovered a QR code that, when scanned by a user with their camera-phone equipped Motorola device, downloads an app that automatically scams them out of money.
  • Analysts expect digital video ad spending to increase by 25 percent over the next year.

  • The Newspaper Association of America has launched a new advertising campaign promoting the concept, “Smart is the new sexy.” The campaign “extols the virtues of newspapers, and by extension the news that they provide, as being something that makes people more informed, aware and savvy.” Also sexy: Sanford Brown and Dell’s new line of small business servers.
  • Megan Garber has a write-up on Scroll, a tool that “helps you make magazine style layouts for the web and iPad without needing to know how to code.”

    Tools like Scroll — a lightweight editor that generates html and CSS — can put journos of the coding and non-coding varieties on, literally, the same page, allowing them to collaborate to create online news experiences that mimic the intimacy and immersiveness of print.

  • David Carr says that instead of occuying Wall Street, protesters should be occupying newsrooms for the excessive bonuses paid to executives at Gannett and the Tribune Company.
  • What does Apple’s new virtual “newsstand” mean for publishers?
  • Walter Isaacson, author of the just-released Steve Jobs biography, says of the late Apple founder: He told me that he loved the newspaper apps because he really hoped the iPad would be able to save the business of journalism just as the iPod helped music.
  • And finally, a Tumblr devoted to the decline of newspaper snack machines:

    I work at a famous American newspaper. In September 2011, the snack machine went from “bland but respectable” to “where flavors go to die.” Here, I will depict the fall of print journalism through the plummeting quality of newspaper snack machine offerings.

  • Sent from my Motorola