News is anything that departs from the routine of daily life and makes people talk. "It's not even a summary of the most important things that have happened recently. The news, whether it's found online or in print, is just the content that successfully navigated the media's filters."
Different media have different filters: as McLuhan said, the medium is the message. So let's understand the filters of online media.
Blogs profit by pay-per-impression advertizing. Therefore bloggers are paid by the pageview. Therefore bloggers chase attention, not accuracy or quality. (Unlike newspapers or radio channels, where people buy the brand they trust, not the one that grabs their attention - a situation that incentivizes reliability.) "Whereas subscriptions are about trust, single-use traffic is all immediacy and impulse - even if the news has to be distorted to trigger it."
New York Times switched to a model where you can read 20 free articles a month, then you have to pay. So their incentive is to have more than 20 must-read articles a month - incentivizing quality.
When a media outlet gets paid per read, it causes them to scream frivolities, have eye-catching pictures, be unscrupulous about fact-checking, not care about getting manipulated, gossip about celebrities, use anonymous sources, support underdogs, "not to instruct but to startle". "We newspaper people thrive on the calamities of others."
Google News sends a billion clicks a month to newspapers - that's a lot of pay-per-impression ad revenue. It's a huge industry with millions at stake.
There is no longer any difference between marketers and journalists. Journalists happily do stories about ads, 'viral videos' etc. Holiday leaks 'controversial' ads to journalists; making an ad into a story.
Bloggers need to post fast. Give them an opportunity to post your stuff fast and they'll post it. They get paid per pageview. Commercialized youtube channels get about a penny per view. If you give free things to bloggers, "they'll rarely disclose their conflict of interest". Cultivate relationships with journalists/bloggers. Send fashion bloggers free clothes. Invite bloggers to visit movie sets.
Journalists are "entirely dependent on self-interested sources". In April 2011, Business Insider decided it'd be easier to let PR men just write the articles instead of pitching them - literally no difference between admen and journalists.
This incentive is exacerbated by the requirement that a blogger post multiple times a day. The result is that your mark is desperate, and there's nothing easier to manipulate than a desperate mark.
Another thing that gets views is big-name bloggers. Online media outlets headhunt writers from each other.
Online media outlets want to build a name to sell their companies. This leads them to go for scoops and exclusives. They are playing a short-term game, not a long-term game of building respect and reputation.
These blogs hype companies their owners have a stake in. Runaway stories affect stock prices. "I have seen hundreds of millions of dollars of market cap evaporate on the news of some bogus blog post"
Blog pages auto-refresh to get more pageviews.
Registering to comment means you have to view more pages and load more ads. So they're incentivized to engage people enough to comment. You may have to give them your email address too. That is an incentive for them to engage you enough to make you want to comment.
As a story gets repeated, it gets hyped up more and more. One blog reports on a rumour - the next repeats it as fact. "May becomes is becomes has." "In the titles of her first and second articles, you could see what she is doing. The Daily Show's 'Woman Problem' from her first piece became their 'Sexism' in her second. One headline bootstraps the next; the what-ifs of the first piece became the basis for the second. The story proves itself."
Online media needs views. Scoops get views. So they fabricate scoops. Example of Pawlenty - Politico fabricated the idea that he was a possible presidential candidate, so they had exclusive coverage of that story; other outlets were not hip to the story because it did not exist. That way Politico get an exclusive. Pawlenty ended up being in debates, on ballots, have donors to his campaign - the imaginary became real.
If you are a marketer approaching them with a story, you are giving them what they want (i.e. content/scoops/pageviews), so they won't look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially true if you give them an exclusive scoop.
"The bait is the means to get the fish where you want it, catch the fish and you forget the bait. The snare is the means to get the rabbit where you want it, catch the rabbit and forget the snare. Words are the means to get the idea where you want it, catch on to the idea and you forget about the words." - Chuang Tzu
RSS didn't deliver pageviews and ad revenue.
"The interested and informed citizen can congratulate himself on his lofty state of interest and information and neglect to see that he has abstained from decision and action. In short, he takes his secondary contact with the world of political reality, his reading and listening and thinking, as a vicarious performance. He is concerned. He is informed. And he has all sorts of ideas as to what should be done. But, after he has gotten through his dinner and after he has listened to his favored radio programs and after he has read his second newspaper of the day, it is really time for bed."
Holiday advised a friend to ask his lawyer to draft a letter threatening an enemy with an embarrassing lawsuit. This letter - which signified nothing - could be leaked to the press. He extorted half a million to keep it quiet.
....and social media + word-of-mouth is happening at all levels. You can pay influential Twitter users to tweet anything for you. (One example is $25 for a tweet with 400,000 followers - 16,000 views per dollar.
HARO is for the mainstream press rather than blogs. 30,000 journalists have used it. "It is a tool that manufactures self-promotion to look like research." Journalists go there already knowing what they want to say, and just looking for a quote from anyone claiming to be an expert.
Press releases appeal to their laziness, and they can shift the blame if it's wrong. Services like PRWeb are SEOd, and syndicated by investing blogs like Motley Fool.
They will check on Wikipedia, so edit that to your favor when you're manipulating e.g. if you edit Wikipedia to say that an album was critically acclaimed, that will show up in newspapers down the line
Make it about the headline. Salacious headlines. "headlines are not intended to represent the content of articles but to sell them"
Question-style headlines like "Is sitting killing you?" are safe, because they can grab attention even if the answer is no. (Holiday gives the example, "Did Glenn Beck rape and murder a young girl in 1990?" No. "Does American Apparel's New Nail Varnish Contains Hazardous Material?" was the headline to an article about breaking glassware.) Feed these headlines to the bloggers and they will post them for you. "Could [some preposterous misreading of the situation] be what's going on? Do you think that [juicy scandal] is what they're hiding?" Helpfulness, authority, thorough analysis, answered questions - these things are good for valuable articles, but they don't spread like suspense.
Bloggers have a well-developed eye for the angle that will impulse readers. It is so well-developed that it is even capable of seeing what isn't there.
"Blogs will publish anything if you manufacture urgency around it. Give a blogger an illusory 20-minute headstart over other media sources, and they'll write whatever you want, however you want it.[...] Throw in an arbitrary deadline, like 'We're going live with this on our website first thing in the morning', and even the biggest blogs will forget fact-checking and make bold pronouncements on your behalf."
Bloggers watch analytics data carefully. Articles that get pageviews are what they want - give them pageviews and they will spread your story for you. "If other blogs have covered something, competitors rush to copy it, because they assume there is traffic in it." When tipping off a blogger, tell them that your story is like other stories their site has covered. You can manipulate this with services that allow you to buy traffic, making the blogger think their article was successful. If the article is greeted with silence, they don't know why and won't invest the energy in finding out - leaving fake comments is better than this. Silence caused by a complete, unprovocative thought is no good to them.
Blogs are addicted to the new; this incentivizes them to make shit up daily. Partly caused by the way newest content appears at the top of a blog. They go for ridiculously short articles, because they are appealing to people's impulses, not their focus. Subheadlines and 1-2 line (not 3-5 line) paragraphs catch people's impulsive attention. Reality isn't packaged in the form bloggers need - but the manipulator can present them with a 'reality' in that form.
Threaten people's beliefs. "The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger." Sadness doesn't create the same virality: "If something is a total bummer, people don't share it." "No marketer is ever going to push something with the stink of reasonableness, complexity, or mixed emotions."
Journalists like fake 'leaks' because there's a racy, verboten element.
"Behind the scenes I work to crank up the [emotional] valence of articles, relying on scandal, conflict, triviality, titillation, and dogmatism." "The web has only one currency and you can use whatever word you want for it - valence, extremes, arousal, powerfulness, excitement - but it adds up to false perception." Indignation, outrage, titillation, scandal, hypocrisy, unfairness, humor, passion, ridiculousness, conspiracy theories, frustration - or a mixture of these elements.
Get ads pulled for violating standards; that's a story.
Racism, rape, censorship, conspiracy, men/women are superior to women/men.
Elicit protests. Provoke easily-provoked groups like religious groups, feminists etc.
Let local journalists know about the controversy that's happening in their area. Get your stuff banned to turn it into a story.
Scan community boards on craigslist for what people are bitching about - this is the stuff that will hook people.
Media manipulation can also be used combatively. "Give blogs special treatment or they'll attack you." Bloggers don't care if they spread false rumors; but the person the rumors are about does care.
Frame a story that bloggers can make snarky fun of. Set the tone in your pitch.
"Humiliation should not be suppressed. It should be monetized."
"snark attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness with the nasty, insidious, rug-pulling, teasing insult, which makes reference to some generally understood shared prejudice or distaste."
"My definition is simpler: you know that you're dealing with snark when you attempt to respond to a comment and realize that there is nothing you can say. The remark doesn't mean anything - though it still hurts - and the person saying it doesn't care enough about what they said, or anything else for that matter, that would allow you to criticize them back. If I call you a douche, how would you defend yourself without making it worse? You couldn't.
Yet a snark victim's first instinct is to appeal to reason - to tell the crowd, 'Hey, that's not true! They're making this up!' Or appeal to the humanity of the writer by contacting them personally to ask, 'Why are you doing this to me?'" "As I tell my clients, that's the equivalent of a squeaky cry of, 'Why is everyone making fun of me?!' on the playground."
"Snark is profitable and easy for blogs. It's the perfect device for people with nothing to say but who have to talk (blog) for a living"
Excessive focus on personal lives takes away from the work of politicians, artists etc.
Taken together, all these false stories create a false culture. "This is exactly the reaction that web content is designed to produce. To keep you so caught up and consumed with the bubble that you don't even realize you're in one."
"Neil Postman argued that the needs of television, the our culture's chief mode of communicating ideas, had come to determine the very culture it was supposed to represent. The particular way that television stages the world, he wrote, becomes the model for how the world itself is to be staged.
Entertainment powered television, and so everything that television touched - from war to politics to art - would inevitably be turned into entertainment." [For the internet, replace 'entertainment' with shock, scandal, or attention.]
"In thirty-seven, all the pot-heads in the country became criminals overnight, by Act of Congress. And they really were criminals, when the papers were signed. The guns prove it. Walk away from those guns, waving a joint, and refuse to halt when they tell you. Their Imagination will become your Reality in a second."
If you link to something - anything - in a blog, it gives the illusion of being supported. "links imply credibility"
The link economy "changes the news from what has happened into what someone says the news is"
"They could never undo what they'd been accused of - no matter how spurious the accusation - they could only deny it. And denials don't mean anything online."
'Iterative journalism' - Make a sensational allegation and act like you're waiting for the facts to come in.
"Getting it right is expensive. Getting it first is cheap." - Michael Arrington. (Holiday writes: "And by extension, since it doesn't cost him anything to be wrong, he presumably doesn't bother trying to avoid it. It's not just less costly; it makes more money, because every time a blog has to correct itself, it gets another post out of it - more pageviews.")
"To wait for another source is to set the table for someone who's going to steal your search traffic." Blogs are pressured into being fast, and this leaves no time for fact-checking.
A post gets most traffic when it's fresh; a correction a few days later won't make a difference; the lie is out. Once people hold a belief, they don't easily let go of it. Cognitive rigidity. "Information overload, 'busyness', speed and emotion all exacerbate this phenomenon."
They frame the correction as another side to the story, when it's just a fact. Or they can make another story out of the correction - make it into a debate.
Even if corrections eventually get it right, 1000s of people have already been misled - it's too late.
Hesiod: rumour and gossip are "a light weight to pick up, but heavy to carry and hard to put down"