By on May 6, 2013

Night coming tenderly, and you know the rest. Picture courtesy LifeChoice.

When the Detroit News decided to make a click-tastic slideshow of The 50 Most Beautiful WAGS In Sports, the blogosphere responded with some WAGging of its own — mostly of tongues. Nearly everybody agreed that there was something deeply saddening and pathetic about the fact that a semi-respected Old News bastion is now using Google Image Search and one-click-per-picture tactics to puff up the numbers. Some of the strongest criticism, however, came from a most unlikely source.

In a piece entitled Oh God The Detroit News Is Trying To Be Buzzfeed Now, Contributor Aaron Foley opines that

But a countdown, click-through list of most beautiful wives and girlfriends of athletes? NO. Really? It shouldn’t have come to this. I get that Buzzfeed is popular because they have lists and Complex always does clicky slideshow shit like this, but they have that lane. Don’t merge into that lane. It’s their lane. And frankly, it works for them.

This all sounds perfectly reasonable, and you’re likely to nod your head along with it, until you realize that Mr. Foley is writing for a blog that ran a picture of Steve McQueen’s penis.

A picture.

Of Steve McQueen’s.


The stage is being set for an epic showdown between old media and new media, for sure, but it’s not going to pan out quite the way the script-writers at Gawker et al planned it. Some time ago, in a piece about a similar episode of Jalopnik news-ethics outrage, I wrote that

It’s the Connery-in-The-Untouchables approach. They put a picture of a Ferrari on the cover? You put a picture of a crashed Ferrari on the website. They declare the Chevy Sonic to be the best car ever? You do the same, plus run a story on a guy driving an electric scooter on the freeway.

Now, let me show you Jack’s Foolproof Chart Of What Young Male Readers Like, from Least to Most:

Detailed reliability data
Sophisticated, knowledgeable automotive testing
Fun stories about stuff
Stories where something blows up
Pictures of cool stuff
Pictures of stuff blowing up
An article about girls doing slutty things
Mugshots of girls who have done slutty things
A girl talking about having the “back of her eyeballs” knocked out by some dude raw-doggin’ her in a hallway
A picture of the above
A video of the above
A video of the above, with two guys
A video of the above, with two guys and a dog
A video of the above, with two guys, a dog, and a tight-ass dubstep soundstrack

You get the idea, right? It’s always possible to increase viewership by moving farther down the list. Jalopnik is farther down the list than Car and Driver, but that doesn’t mean they get to cry “Hold!” at the Mugshots of girls who have done slutty things level. Somebody’s gonna take it farther.

I was right about that, but what I failed to discuss was that Jalopnik (and TTAC, and Buzzfeed, and everyone else) aren’t just under attack from new bloggers trying to out-slut or out-snark us. We’re also seeing an increasing willingness on the part of the stodgy old media to do whatever it takes to compete. Motor Trend, which prior to the year 2010 was only remembered by anyone for its earnest and tireless advocacy on behalf of the Chevrolet Citation, now operates the biggest automotive-related video channel in the world.

Think about that. The lamest, oldest, unhippest car magazine out there also runs the newest, freshest, biggest, most popular video channel. How did that happen? It’s simple: while the other car magazines and newspapers were coasting on their assets, MT worked to develop, borrow, or imitate things that the viewer wanted to see. They didn’t depend on the name or the pre-existing reader base. Instead, they used that reader base as a launch platform, a list of potential evangelicals who, if they were presented with content they enjoyed, would spread the word to others.

If you think that kind of approach — the reader-base-as-seed-capital approach — only works for a YouTube channel, you’re wrong. Mark my words: Any day now, somebody at Car and Driver is going to decide to attack the Web at full speed. They’ll put the whole magazine on there in expanded format. They’ll create a top-notch user comment system and update it on Internet time. They’ll leverage their million-plus readers to get ten-million-plus Web readers. They’ll decide to do to Jalopnik, and to TTAC, what Jalopnik did to them five years ago.

If they do so, they will succeed. If. If they have the will, the guts, and the intelligence to see it through. If they treat it like they are a start-up that happens to be lucky enough to have two million clients banging on the door. If they apply the same kind of original thinking that led to the creation of the original Car and Driver to the creation of the next one. The phoenix that rises from those particular ashes won’t look much like the current magazine does, any more than MT‘s YouTube channel looks like a four-color Chevrolet Citation advertorial, but it will succeed. Mark my words.

Aaron Foley is right. The Detroit News can’t, and shouldn’t, try to compete with Buzzfeed by running the occasional poorly-thought-out slideshow. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t eat a lot of lunches by changing direction before circumstances force them to abandon ship. Ooh. Abandon ship. I like that phrase. Let’s roll with it. In that context, Mr. Foley’s column shouldn’t be seen as sour grapes or misguided whining. It should be seen as a warning shot across the bow. A warning shot that the Detroit News would do well to respond to, not by turning away, but by firing a full broadside.

Correction: Aaron Foley is a contributor, not the Detroit Editor as previously mentioned. -Ed.

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17 Comments on “Gawker Wants The Detroit News To Stick To The Real Journalism...”

  • avatar

    That’s what happens when you are focused on your product instead of your business. Motor Trend is in the automotive media business; Car and Driver is still in the magazine business.

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    R&T appears to be recruiting for this sort of approach as we speak. I’ve seen a couple of listings over the past month for web writers.

    There are a lot of fourth- and fifth-tier blogs out there with a good bit of writing talent. For those outlets that seem to be waiting for the last possible second to make this move, I imagine a merger of sorts is becoming more and more appealing.

    Some of these outlets are like cats. They’ve all captured audiences, but only those few with stronger instincts have any clue what to do with them.

  • avatar

    I’m betting McQueen’s penis somehow managed to look cool.

    • 0 avatar

      It was wearing a leather jacket and driving a Porsche 911.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember that picture/article to which they were referring. It wasn’t cool. It looked exactly like what you might imagine a fully clothed, middle-aged white guy with his flaccid junk poking out of his open zipper would look like. It was more creepy than cool.

      • 0 avatar

        The “cool” part is that Steve McQueen could walk around with his junk hanging out giving zero ***** because he was Steve by-God McQueen. It’s less about the photo of his penis than the size of his balls.

  • avatar

    if, if, if, if.

    If they are willing to sacrifice the cash cow and use it as fertilizer for the new crop. And have the money to last that long. And expect it to be as profitable as “analysts” insist that the long-term forecast for the current magazine is.

    There’s a reason that GM eventually closed down Saturn and wrote it off instead of Saturn closing down the rest of GM and writing it off: first, the ones who have to make it happen know they will be the first against the wall if it succeeds. The second is that it is extremely risky and rarely taken before it is too late (in the case the employees think they can survive in the next business. There was a book that described this called “the innovator’s dilemma” that I largely ignored as it implied that upper management did all the innovation, but pointed out that the the new guard doesn’t upset the old guard by coming up with *new* innovations, but by innovations that the old guard will never do (usually because it is much less profitable).

  • avatar

    I quit reading Detroit News years ago. They’d delete my posts that didn’t agree with their biased opinion, which was 50% of my posts.

  • avatar

    I didn’t look through the whole gallery, but a lot of those WAGs are not particularly attractive. Some of them looked downright scary, especially as made-up as they were.

    I’d point out that the chief qualification for being a model is being 5’9″ or taller (and anorexic, in most cases, of course), as opposed to facial attractiveness.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I was unaware of the photo of Mr. McQueen’s dong. Well, I think I’ve seen the picture, but failed to notice the weenie.

  • avatar

    First, the news reported something important.
    Then, the news itself became the news.
    Then, Gawker wanted the interpretation of the news to be the news.

    I can only hope their stupid kinja crap of making commenters the creators of the content is their mortal wound. This site is great because of knowledgeable and insightful comments on insightful and knowledgeable articles, but those comments serve as commentary and supplement, not redefinition. Perhaps in a perfect world Gawker’s stunt would work, but Jalopnik commenters are mostly 15 yr old buffoons.

  • avatar

    It’s unfortunate that this piece hasn’t gained more traction, because I think it has just the amount of snark that Jalopnik would appreciate.

    Not so long ago, one of their esteemed colleagues would have even gone so far as to write a response, but it would probably be about your tracking and kerning.

  • avatar

    Jack’s Foolproof Chart Of What Young Male Readers Like explains why my articles get no love…

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