People are funny. They often say one thing and do another. This isn’t more true than in the world of culture. My years as a cultural worker have shown me that people are not honest about how they would like to truly spend their free time. Ask most people what they would like to see and they may say concerts, art shows, performances, but then try to get them to attend and there’s always something they have to do instead of those noble cultural pursuits. We need to realize that the audience for culture, particularly specialized things like experimental video art, is rather small and that’s not a bad thing, it actually makes it more fun sometimes.
During my recent professional venture, Hyperallergic, I’m encountering the same problem. Ask people what they want to know about and they’ll tell you reviews, global issues, … but the stats don’t prove that online readers care. From what I’ve been able to discern, most people want to know about things that impact them directly and/or are an extension of themselves (their cultural group, their neighborhood, etc.).
There’s a great quote about the phenomenon from Newsweek editor Jon Meacham who recently spoke at an event organized by the Texas Monthly on how to get the news media to return to “intelligent” news, whatever that means:
He used PBS’s NewsHour an example, and said if the number of people who claim to watch the program actually did watch it, the show would have much higher ratings. “It’s fundamentally a supply-and-demand problem. There’s an infinite demand for something and a limited supply for intelligent something.”
But not everything is negative on the horizon for online content, according to the New York Times‘ Science article, “Will You Be E-Mailing This Columns? It’s Awesome,” which was reporting on the University of Pennsylvania’s study of online behavior by Times readers, there are signs of hope … awe, to be exact:
People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics … Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list.
So, do we all have to go the Gawker route of reporting on Lady Gaga’s vagina for major web traffic? Probably not. But have I seen the pictures — particularly the one super enlarged by AnimalNY – ummm, how could I miss it.