An exclusive first look at The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason, the forthcoming book by the hosts of the podcast Chapo Trap House.
Throughout the 1990s, the Internet was a slumbering giant. Newspapers and publishers expected it to remain an alternative platform that mainly catered to Neopets enthusiasts and lovers of age-regression porn. In a 1998 column, New York Times elder wonk Paul Krugman summed up this frame of mind with his pedantic, antisocial flair:
The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”—which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants—becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.*
* Krugman’s column, disappeared from the regular Internet, can still be found here
Unfortunately, a different law of the market, “Benzino’s Paradox,” ended up proving that people have a lot more to say to one another than Krugman assumed. Things like, “My personal review of Halo 4: Too Many Black Aliens,” and “r u horni? cool!” This is the online landscape we have come to know, love, and take for granted. But back in the 1990s, before social media and shitposting, everyone running the newspaper and TV industries thought like Krugman. There was no real preparation for a massive shift in technology that would destabilize and ultimately destroy the print media’s business model and leave them selling themselves even harder than they did in the old days when they hawked reverse mortgages and Doctor Haines’ Golden Specific.
Instead, newspapers patted the newborn Internet on the head and gave it some of their print material to post online for free (including Krugman’s dumbass column above). They planned to make money off it, of course, but the industry saw the Web as a sort of bonus market, a medium where distribution would be free, unlike the expensive chain of materials that delivered papers to homes and newsstands across the country through a complex series of News Tubes. Paying for that distribution was part of why they always needed big bucks from advertisers like Rolex, Blackwater, and the Church of Scientology.
But our media overlords made the classic mistake of feeding a Gremlin after midnight: in a flash, the Internet mutated from a cuddly novelty into a grotesque monster that gored its masters to death in a way that was alternately scary and entertaining.
These companies started to panic when readers understandably decided to get more and more of their news from the free Internet rather than paying for subscriptions. And so began the death spiral: newspapers underestimated the Internet, posted their shit for free, then realized they would go broke unless they started charging for it. Problem was, readers had already tasted free and didn’t feel like suddenly shelling out for Gerald Fletch-Queefen’s latest column in the Wall Street Journal.
Blindsided, papers tried to make money off their new cyber-readers by running ads on the Internet the same way they did in print: banner ads, sidebar ads, and pop-ups, like the one you closed five minutes ago that tried to sell you fair-trade lube or the next generation of “Vapes for Latinos.” This gave birth to the metric of Web traffic, the numbers that would be waved in front of advertisers as the new (and false) analog for print-circulation numbers. After ad-blockers fucked up that plan, too, publishers set up paywalls. Foiled again! A new breed of sites with ridiculous names like Feed- Bag, NewsBoner, and Business Insider cropped up, supplying aggregated* stories from other† sources, gratis. Pretty soon the Web’s free real estate wasn’t so free anymore, and, watching their print and digital ad revenue shrivel like a chilly scrotum, everyone from the New York Times to the Mormon Science Sentinel scrambled to build from scratch an entirely new edifice of digital media production, sales, and distribution.
* Stolen. † Original.
Ever since then, a galaxy of news sites has exploded across the Internet: you have your BuzzFeed types, whose output is mostly memes stolen from Reddit, plus the occasional news article deciding whether the latest massacre in Syria is EPICWIN or LOLFAIL; your Politico types, which take the bullshit, “objective” tone of legacy media and ratchet it up 200 percent for an even more elite market of scum-sucking DC consultants; and your more “partisan” news shops, like the Huffington Post on the yuppie-left and the Federalist on the Francoist-right, who reliably distribute pellets of nourishing, ideologically agreeable information to their respective audiences. These media creatures were native to the Web Zone. To quote Christopher Nolan’s twisted philosopher Bane, the Washington Post merely adopted the darkness—Vox was born in it, molded by it.
Still, that hasn’t given the moguls of News 2.0 any better ideas for a business model. Eventually, they will stop receiving truckloads of venture-capital money just for appearing “innovative” or “having a presence” and they’ll be locked on the same ice floe as the old-timers. Everyone is fucked, with the exception of billionaire- backed sugar-daddy projects like Bloomberg, which exists because an insane elf manlet is willing to spend millions so he can see his name printed in a news outlet that isn’t calling for his banishment from public life.
In the interest of helping any young oafs make a two-year career for themselves before all this blows up, we introduce to you here a guide to success in New Media.
Journalism isn’t the stuffy career path it used to be: instead of covering a beat at your local paper, working your way up the totem pole to a national outlet, and enjoying comfy union benefits all the while, the contemporary journalist can now embrace the life of the common deer tick, jumping from host to host until being plucked off and left to die in a pile of shit.
Indeed, most young reporters observe their local papers foundering and look to start their careers at one of the many hip, VC- backed news sites online—hell, you’re a millennial, you know their names: Mic, Vox, Vice, HuffPo, BuzzFeed, Dang-That’s-News, r/creepshots, Sproing, and Fappe.
The market is volatile, yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t game the system with some lifehacks. Here are the steps anyone can follow to become part of the perpetually insecure floating labor reserve army of Digi-News.
1. A Good Twitter Avatar: People need to know that you’re a legitimate journalist whose opinions on Russia can be taken seriously. For your avatar, use a screenshot of the one time you were on TV talking to a congressman’s dumbest child about how the 2018 midterms are like Jumanji. If you’ve never been on TV, take a perfectly centered selfie from your chest up in which you have a smirking-yet-serious look on your face that says, “Sorry, we only serve facts here. But you can also get snark if you really want it.”
2. A Good Twitter Bio: As a media kid, you’ll need to signal-boost a lot of different news content, which will probably include some nasty right-wing cranks and racist bloggers. In your bio, warn your followers that retweets of these assholes aren’t endorsements, even though they will almost certainly end up as your colleagues and drinking buddies. If you’re under 35, include a fake job title like “Anti-cronut Activist” or “Honorary Canadian”; if you’re over 35, quote some turgid classic rock song with lyrics like, “Caught between left and right / Lookin’ for truth in this fallen world.”
3. Good Tweets: Don’t share too many spicy political opinions, for which you could get disciplined or fired. Instead, quote-tweet everything, adding only “This x100!” or “Big if true.” This is funny because the story is usually not true. Or, say something about the weather and then just write “Sad!” as Donald Trump would. This is funny because the user in question is someone other than Donald Trump. Keep 18-month-old puns and jokettes going—they’ll never get stale.
4. Good Tweet-ups: Now you’ve hit the big time. Thanks to trenchant observations like “Hmm, fake news much?” you’ve achieved a level of notoriety sufficient to earn you an invite to a bona fide Journalism Happy Hour. Hop onto the surface train down to one of the worst bars New York or DC has to offer; some kind of always crowded watering hole for dead-eyed people called the Lanyard Lounge or Capitol Cloak Room where you’ll get to meet the doughy whites behind the avatars. Regale the crowd with the latest memes and hot takes that everyone already knows because you’re all chained to the same stupid website, get a little too tipsy on $7 Amstels, and find yourself in a handicap stall desperately making out with a 37-year-old Medium writer who’s thinking about pivoting to improv comedy. You’ve earned it, rookie.
5. Good Journalism: Find some time to do this. Maybe post a C-SPAN video of a politician saying something different than what they’re saying now. That’s called an exposé, and it’s the highest form of journalism.
So much for the exciting new world of digital media, an industry that in 2018 appears vast and thriving but is actually financially dependent on getting enough people to click on links like “One Weird Trick for Putting Your Dong in a Light Socket.” With ad-blockers torpedoing the last scraps of traditional revenue, most news outlets are set to march into the 21st century as proud slaves to megacorporations like Facebook and Google, the last beacons of hope to get people to read anything.