News reporting after the end of the world

Newsflesh triology

So I’m a big fan of my post apocalypse fiction, especially that which involves zombies. And I work in digital publishing and I’m always reading articles about where the digital newsroom is going next. So really it’s amazing to me that it’s taken me this long to read Mira Grant‘s Feed, a book about news and blogging after and during the (ongoing) zombie apocalypse.

If you haven’t read it you should turn your Kindle on right now and download it. The entire trilogy is under £15 and I read the first one (a not unhefty 500+ pages) in around 5 hours. I literally couldn’t put it down. It is that good.

But, the previous paragraph aside, this is not a book review post. No, this is a post looking at the way blogging has evolved in a world where the dead walk.

As Wikipedia summarises:

After the inaction of traditional media during the Rising, blogs and other new media have taken over as the primary source of information and entertainment; bloggers are recognised as professional journalists, with individuals specialising and identifying as ‘Newsies’ (fact-based reporting), ‘Irwins’ (named after Steve Irwin, who seek to educate and entertain by going out and “poking things with sticks”), or ‘Fictionals’ (fictional content), among others.

There’s also a couple of others – I remember references to Stewarts and Marthas, who were, respectively, news reporting with a focus on opinionated commentary (ala Jon Stewart) and escapist recipe/homemaker posts (a reference to Martha Stewart, I assume).

And in this way, all of online reporting, news or otherwise is classed.

It’s a fascinating breakdown.

Newsies are your Murrows and Lois Lanes. Out for the truth and willing to go to extreme lengths to get it. (Well some of them are, some are happy to write from inside secured locations based on broadcast feeds, which is treated with more than a little disdain.)

Irwins seem to be a logical evolution/combination of daredevil YouTube stunts and reality television – attractive personable types who take big risks to gain the audience to drive the ad revenue.

Fictionals are the escapists. Various fictional are described as “published authors” at different points, though I wasn’t clear if their blogging was enough to gain this title or if there were still book publishers hanging around. The way fictionals responded to breaking news – poems for the dead, and at one point there was a reference to smutty RPF being written about the presidential candidate’s interns made me wonder if this was how Grant, a pseudonym for fantasy author Seanan McGuire, saw fanfic and fanart going eventually, as well as traditional fiction.

But in the end it comes back to the news. Newsie write it, Irwins act it out and Fictionals respond to it in verse.

The idea that news and news alone, reported without commentary or opinion is enough to drive traffic. Early in Feed Georgia, our intrepid Newsie hero, does state that her site, the After the end times, gets more traffic as a result of her brother’s death defying zombie-baiting stunts and her friend’s “purple prose” fiction and poetry  both generate higher ratings percentages than her factual reporting. But when the trio stumble onto a conspiracy news becomes the main story.

At one point they reach the top 3% of all online sites – beaten only by porn (of course) and streaming media sites. Later on they make it to number one site in the world, at which point my brain short-circuited because even in zombies-roam-the-earth apocalypse I don’t see the wifi-enabled masses turning off the Pron for any level of corruption and conspiracy.

But this is a novel, so I’ll let that one slide.

Another thing is how they make their money. There are references to merchandising – especially for the Irwins, who it seems sell a lot of t-shirts as a result of their poking-zombies-with-a-stick antics. And content being syndicated out to other sites (the big blogging sites referred to as alphas and the bloggers who work for anyone big enough to have their own name on the masthead as betas) is a recurring theme, happening seemingly in real time as sites buy up ATE’s stories and feeds to drive traffic to their own pages. But there’s no commercial manager character so all of this seems to happen automatically – as if the network of blogging sites is so well established that there’s no need for negotiation over terms.

And every time a story breaks the characters end up “wrestling” with the forums, which apparently sprout conspiracy theories at the drop of a hat. But no matter how many times there’s a reference to bringing the forums back from the edge of paranoia, the characters never really talk about what that means. Are they dealing with trolls? Moderating arguments? Cutting out the spam? It’s unclear.

The world building is very thorough, but as someone who works in this industry and is tasked with finding ways to commercialise good content, I’d have loved a bit more detail.

One thing I would love to see step off the page into real life was the idea of mandatory weapons training for journalists. Yes, we’re not quite living in a zombie apocalypse yet, but just in case that happens, I like the idea that the news team sitting behind me in the office might have the weaponry to fight it off.

Just in case.

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One Response to News reporting after the end of the world

  1. I’m so going to download this! I love anything post-apocalyptic. If you’re into zombies, you should check out my blog: http://www.theapocalypsebites.com

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