Mashable’s Jim Roberts ‘Outraged’ By Politico Piece on Apocalypsticles

Are social-friendly listicles trafficking on tragedy? Or can they tell a legitimate story about news events like the Ukraine protests?

ukraine unrest
*image credit: Sergei Supinsky, Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Politico magazine recently published a piece that criticized social-friendly publishers like Business Insider, BuzzFeed and Mashable for turning the Ukraine protests into clickbait. The content in question? Listicles of apocalyptic pictures from the crisis, or ‘apocalypsticles.’ Sarah Kendzior writes in the piece:

One could charitably see the apocalypsticle as dumbing up. At least the pictures were of the actual people in the conflict, instead of, say, characters from The Hills explaining Syria. Western websites were giving Ukrainian activists what they wanted: foreign media attention. “I am a native of Kyiv. I want you to know why thousands of people all over my country are on the streets,” a Ukrainian activist said in a typical video pleading for coverage.
Unfortunately, the answer to the activist’s question of “why” is ignored in a clickbait competition where a picture is worth zero words. The only “wh-” word that matters is “whoa”: Look at the fire, the water, the bullets, the blood. Look, but do not listen.

The piece brings up some interesting questions at a time when the news industry has to compete more and more with social media for attention. As consumers’ habits continue to shift, news organizations must deal with issues of how to balance social-friendly presentation with the traditional mission of journalism.

“I was outraged by [the Politico piece],” said Jim Roberts, executive editor and chief content officer of Mashable, at a Social Media Week panel hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “It bothered me personally because I had invested a lot of real dollars in covering that story since December… To take a swipe [at Mashable] really got my blood boiling.”

Here, Roberts tells us more about Mashable’s Ukraine coverage:

Kendzior said in an email to SocialTimes that she was critiquing a genre and not any specific outlet. “Jim Roberts was not the author of the listicle I critiqued on Mashable. It has nothing to do with him or with Christopher Miller,” said Kendzior. “Every website puts out good content and bad content, and you cannot defend the bad content by pointing out that good content exists elsewhere on the site.”

The question then becomes whether the “bad,” clickbait content will increase the readership of the “good” content. Should news organizations use clickbait in hopes that the audience will stay for more serious content? Liz Heron, emerging media editor at WSJ, said: “It was a bit unfair to single out news organizations for using imagery to get people interested in the story… [That’s] not a new thing in journalism.”

“If these outlets think their apocalypsticles are quality journalism, then they should defend them on merit, not by pointing out the merit of reporting that was conducted in a completely different way,” said Kendzior.

Roberts, however, does see legitimacy in those types of posts: “Those stories that are created from photographs can be a story,” he said. “It’s not just a collection of photos, it’s a story told through photos.”

Readers, what do you think of apocalypsticles?