My Short Career in the Internet Outrage Business
We made up the New York office of a conservative media company based in the South. In hindsight, the politics seem both hyper-specific and nebulous; the one constant is that they orbited around white-hot outrage and fear. This was not obvious to me when I replied to the “Digital Reporter” listing. I’d been in the business for a few years by then, writing candidly about art and music and related topics, and my track record wasn’t hard to come by: it would have been clear to anyone checking that I stood on the liberal side of things. But the earnest man conducting my interview assured me that my politics had nothing to do with the scope of the work I’d be doing. For the most part, he was correct. We’re all actors on the internet, right?
“Fuck it,” I said to myself, “You’ll have a job writing news.” Which is not to be confused with breaking news (getting a tip, making the wire) or reporting news (collecting a first-hand account) or making news happen (punching someone at a wedding). I was writing the news, over and over and over again. Some people call this aggregating or blogging; I called it a job. My necessary skillset was narrow.
The War on Christmas was a big topic around the office. When the shooting at Sandy Hook happened, the answer was “more guns.” These were positions I was not used to hearing directly. Not that I hadn’t worked at news organizations with conservatives before. This was just so clear cut, and an orthodoxy: To assign pitched outrage to mundane news items for the sake of clicks. That was the job: to trawl Twitter, and the rest of the internet, for conspiracy and evidence of liberal malice. Then, to repackage these stories or posts or memes for the target demo. This is a common job description for a certain large—and largely invisible—class of web writer. And it is tedious, mind-numbing work.