August 2, 2016
The Chronicle of Higher Education today had an interesting article about innovation in some colleges and universities. Some professors are now having students submit "assignments" to the website Buzzfeed for posting.
In case you haven't heard, Buzzfeed is, using their definition/explanation, "a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment that generates seven billion views each month." Like most virtual platforms these days, it is completely free.
In case you haven't heard, The Chronicle of Higher Education is, using Wikipedia's definition/explanation, "a newspaper and website that presents news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty and Student Affairs professionals (staff members and administrators)." Access to its premium articles, including the one cited above about Buzzfeed, comes from a paid subscription, $93 for one year, $160 for two years.
So, The Chronicle is charging its readers to read an article about college professors encouraging students to submit articles to free platforms. Oh, CHE dost thou not seest the irony?
The other part of this conversation, though, is whether Buzzfeed publication is truly something for academics to emulate, or are we simply trying to bear relevance for academic work through mindless media.
The latter certainly appears to be the case. As I click on Buzzfeed right now, the first article (not counting the standard Trump story at the top of the page) is called "This Is The Next Book That Oprah Wants You To Read." Click on it and you don't get a whole lot of text; there is a book reference, some pictures of book jackets, a link to Oprah's video announcement, and the standard "everybody gets a new car" GIF that accompanies every Oprah story.
Below that, I am encouraged next to take a quiz entitled "Do You Have Garbage Taste in Cheese?" I picked Cheddar over American for the first question and found out that I agree with 84% of other people surveyed. I choose that Brie is "Yummy" over "bad" for the second question and find that I am with a majority of 74%. I choose Co-Jack over Pepper Jack for the next question and ultimately choose to go back to the home page rather than answer more asinine questions about my tastes in cheese. (However, I do scroll down to the comments and the first one is from someone affiliated with the University of Charleston blessing the cheese(quiz)makers.) Sigh!
The next story down, apparently trending, as it has been given an upward graph arrow, is "This Guy Did a Photoshoot in a Swamp and Now It's a Huge Meme." The entire article encompasses 4 pictures of a Russian dude sitting in water and a few lines of text. We already know the pictures are borrowed; just how much time did it take someone to write 5 lines of accompanying text?
Occasionally, Buzzfeed features their ubiquitous "can we guess" quizzes, where using sometimes as little as one question, something about the quiz-taker can be guessed. I quickly typed in "can we guess" into the search box and found this typical example: "We can guess how you will die with one question about sex." It asks where you last had sex and depending upon your answer, you get some stupid response (my response led me to the answer that I will die in a fire; I don't know if they are deducing that I am a very sedentary person based upon my answer).
I could go on with the quality of the stories, but I sense you can get my drift. I am hard-pressed to see an article about tenement houses and the American literary imagination finding a place on the busy, let's face it, very busy Buzzfeed website. And, yet, this seems to be what these professors are getting from their students:
"15 Funny Lines That Somehow Slipped Into A Scientific Journal" (with apparently 75,000 views in its first week). (For the record, I did a search for this article, as frankly it sounded like something I would want to read, but nothing came up through the Buzzfeed search function. I would prefer my work to have a more lasting value.)
A quiz comparing Ovid to Taylor Swift. Perhaps Tristia (Sorrows) more accurately translates to "we are never ever getting back together again."
An "article" (I think we need to come up with a better term) on family planning that used memes and gifs from the cult comedy "The Office."
However, in doing my own research, I did get a taste of some humble pie.
It turns out that if you actually click on the link to "More" at the top of the Buzzfeed page, you find a lot more serious articles. The "Science" link has stories about actual health risks in Rio this summer; CDC statement about birth control and Zika virus; an HIV prevention drug; government spy planes during the Democratic National Convention; Zika cases in Miami; and so forth. So, there may be some legitimacy.
Still, this trend (upward arrow, please) sounds like one more example of the dumbing down (oops, make that a downward arrow, please) of America. Granted, the professors cited in the article are not English professors, more media and marketing professors. I suppose I should hold back on my scorn. I am just not sure there is much intellectual merit when your work ends up next to "15 Things Actually Worth Putting In Your Mouth" (which is the lead Buzzfeed article as I close this blog). As with our mouths, just because we can put things in Buzzfeed, it doesn't mean we should.