On the Banality of “Sugar Daddy” Journalism
I have long considered coverage of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and interviews of people purchasing lottery tickets ahead of a big drawing as the two laziest regular features of American media. However, I think I am ready to add a third type of story to this list: coverage of the so-called “sugar” phenomenon.
Over the last two days, the internet has been abuzz over a syndicated news story regarding a woman who claims to be graduating from law school debt-free thanks to several “sugar daddy” relationships which began online. What has made this story go viral are the accompanying photos of the “sugar baby” in question, which could probably be described as glamor shots.
If you feel like you have heard or read this story before, you probably have. The best known website related to “sugar daddy” dating, SeekingArrangement, went online about 10 years ago. It appears the first major news story referencing the site appeared in New York Times Magazine in April 2009. Since then, “sugar daddy journalism” has exploded.
Coverage has not been limited to print media. ABC’s 20/20 has run two different segments on the topic. Nightline (also on ABC) got involved in 2013, and CNN devoted an entire hour to sugar daddies and their sugar babies as part of Lisa Ling’s “This Is Life” series in 2014.
Recently, coverage seems to have gone into overdrive. Here is an incomplete survey of news coverage related to SeekingArrangement and sugar daddies (in addition to the first linked story) just in the month of May 2016:
Millennials turn to ‘sugar daddy’ prostitution to pay debts - World Net Daily (posted just since I started writing this page!)
What do all of these stories have in common? Just about everything! It generally goes something like this:
1) Meet a local young woman in dire straits, generally due to tuition bills
2) We learn she has found “an usual solution to her problem”
3) The question is posed: is this moral or just prostitution under a different name?
4) One or more academics have their ambiguous say
5) Maybe a cautionary tale or two of how these “arrangements” have gone bad
6) We are assured this “new trend” is not going anywhere
The other thing virtually all stories on this theme have in common is that they come off like an infomercial for SeekingArrangement. There is no evidence that the site pays for coverage. There is also no evidence that CNN’s extensive coverage of online dating relates to that industry’s significant sponsorship of the network. Probably all coincidence.
Journalism in 2016, ladies and gentlemen.