Freeploid clickbait FAIL

The Burlington Free Press is allegedly entering the Brave New World of Journalism’s Future: an age with resource-starved newsrooms, reporters scrambling to fill multiple “content streams,” Orwellian job titles like “Content Coach” and “Engagement Editor,” little or no copy editing, and a fixation on “audience analytics,” i.e. clickbait. Stories will be pursued, written, and even rewritten in response to the perceived interests of the audience. And note: we’re not readers anymore. We’re “news consumers” or something.

But if this is indeed the future of the Freeploid, it’s off to a rocky start. Yesterday, we learned the identity of Ebola Guy, the Vermonter who spent most of October in West Africa on a solo mission to fight Ebola.

It’s a big damn sexy story that pushes all the right buttons. It’s got important public policy implications: How did this guy get to Africa and back? How was his return handled by local, state, and federal authorities? What does it say about our Ebola containment efforts?

At the same time, it’s an eyeball grabber. Peter Italia is a full-on nutball who has claimed to use time travel and other “special powers” to cure disease and bring back people from the dead. His Facebook page is chock full of juicy stuff, chronicling his trip to Africa and detailing many of his cherished beliefs.

Also, I’ve heard that there are more dimensions to the story yet to come out — some on the serious policy questions, some in the “WTF” hot zone of audience curiosity.

The Freeploid’s Mike Donoghue managed to get quite a bit of detail yesterday and posted a story online last night.

But did they feature it on the website?

No. The primary slot on the homepage was about a high school soccer game.

Today’s print edition banishes Donoghue’s story to page 3; the front page has a run-of-the-mill piece on Vermont officials preparing to deal with Ebola cases.

And this morning, even after a solid 12 hours of “audience analytics,” the homepage STILL doesn’t feature Italia:

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 11.30.31 AM

All I can say is, c’mon, Freeploid. If you’re going to burn your journalistic soul on the altar of “audience analytics,” you could at least do a good job of it.

Postscript. The Freeploid pulls an old favorite trick in Donoghue’s piece: doggedly refusing to give credit to other media outlets. You wouldn’t know it by reading Donoghue, but it was WCAX-TV who first identified Italia and scored a phone interview with him. I’ve said it before, but this is the kind of thing that makes the Free Press disliked by many others in the media world. It’s arrogant, it’s wrong, and in the long run it does nothing to elevate the Freeploid or diminish its rivals.


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