Facebook's Mike Hudack Rants About Media On Facebook, Only His Problem Is... Facebook
On Thursday morning, a rather important Facebook employee named Mike Hudack shared his feelings about the current state of news media and journalism with the world. And the world of news media and journalism wasn't too happy about it. Hudack, a high school dropout, serves as the social media company's Director of Product Management for Ads and Pages, which essentially makes him responsible for determining how to make Facebook valuable as an advertiser. And apparently, Hudack also believes that he knows how to make the media valuable as news outlets.
News flash: he doesn't.
In Hudack's rant, he laments the sad newspapers that are but "ghosts in a shell," simply "[reporting] what people tell them." He specifically calls out publications, writers, and editors, chastising them for producing unoriginal, non-meaningful "news." To Hudack, the media is a joke.
But what Hudack fails to realize, and what many of his respondents, including The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal and Al Jazeera America's Evan Hill have pointed out, is that Facebook serves as the culprit driving much of Hudack's frustrations. For all his apparent anger about how insubstantial stories reported by major news outlets are, he doesn't seem to recognize, or want to recognize, that it is his own company that determines not only what is of substance, but what is relevant.
Not everyone has the same following as Facebook — in fact, few media sites in the world can boast 1.28 billion users. So yes, Mr. Hudack, sometimes, we as journalists, must succumb to the wishes of our readers — the wishes that you and your colleagues at Facebook have made so public and so important for us.
Let's take a closer look at Hudack's rant.
Go ahead, Hudack. You, like the rest of us, are a privileged recipient of freedom of the press. And given that your Facebook privacy settings appear to be on the lowest possible rungs known to man, not only can you rant, but your rant can reach at least 1.28 billion people.
It's true — journalism has changed significantly since it first began in, you know, the 1400s, when European businessmen wrote and distributed leaflets that detailed the important events of the day. And while Hudack praises the live reporting of Peter Arnett in Baghdad in the early 90's, what he doesn't point out is the number of journalists who are still doing on the ground research for their stories, and just how dangerous their work is.
In 2013, the number of journalists who were kidnapped while on the job more than doubled from 2012, rising from 38 to 87. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 70 journalists were killed last year, 25 of whom died in crossfire or combat, 14 of whom lost their lives on a dangerous assignment, and 31 of whom were murdered. Journalists have not stopped doing what Hudack considers real reporting. But they are losing their lives more frequently doing it.
This is not necessarily to say that journalists should be given a free pass when it comes to reporting hard-hitting news, but to ignore the undeniable risks associated with such a job is a travesty, particularly when Hudack rants from Facebook's posh California offices.
Breaking news is one thing, but breaking news is not the sole purpose of newspapers, broadcasts, or other news media. In fact, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms are incredible resources for us human reporters, who unfortunately, cannot be 10 places at once. Utilizing available tools is not laziness, it's resourcefulness. So yes, let Twitter break the news. Journalism will tell the story. And sometimes, we can't do it at Internet speed.
What is most confusing about this part of Hudack's rant is his apparent distaste for The Daily Show. What is so wrong with Jon Stewart? If he is able to package and deliver news to an audience that would otherwise be disengaged and uninformed, who are we to judge? And by the way, Tom Brokaw's replacement is Brian Williams. And it's not Williams' fault that Hudack didn't know that.
Most Internet sites have trackers for how many Facebook shares each article acquires. So before Hudack condemns the listicles as being irrelevant, maybe he should consider how Facebook contributes to their popularity.
Here, Hudack is speaking of Vox, Ezra Klein's new news site. And Hudack criticizes it for writing pieces its readers want to read. Yes, some people care more about jeans than about Boko Haram, or the VA scandal, or the protests in China. But our job, as journalists, is not to dictate what our readers find interesting. If it were, our society would be a very dangerous place indeed. Rather, we seek to disseminate information. Facebook shares are what keep news relevant, so if Hudack's users decide that jeans are a worthy topic, then we will write about jeans.
It's really not hard to tell, Hudack. It's Facebook. And as for fixing it, until you decide to tell Facebook users what they can and can't read, good luck with that.