‘The Dress’ illustrates ‘viral sameness’ among news organizations
On Thursday, Business Insider's Hunter Walker reported on the origin of "The Dress," a viral story broken by BuzzFeed that has seized the attention of readers and news organizations alike.
"There's not even humour in it." pic.twitter.com/YG7ohUXDbY
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) February 27, 2015
The obvious answer, of course, is that readers are interested. As of Friday morning, the original dress post on BuzzFeed had 26.3 million views and 6,500 comments. A related story on BuzzFeed has nearly 8 million views. A number of news organizations — The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Wired and Poynter — have advanced their own coverage of "The Dress," including, as of this morning, The New York Times.
But what does this copycat coverage mean for news outlets? Writing for Digiday, Brian Morrissey writes that "The Dress" proved a kind of "litmus test" for publishers, a determiner of whether they'd be willing to aggregate content for the sake of the traffic:
But would such a re-aggregated aggregation really fit with a storied brand like, say, Time? Who cares. Time did a copy and paste job. So too did Cosmo. Gawker, a digital publishing brand that’s suddenly feeling very old, cast aside its identity crisis debate over viral popcorn to post a quick rewrite, bank the pageview and not dwell on it. Slate live-blogged the Internet kerfuffle like it was a presidential debate.
He goes on to point out that this viral bandwagoning is contributing to the same-ification of news outlets, the gradual loss of identity organizations experience when they cover the same viral stories to generate buzz among readers.
It’s hard to differentiate any sites from each other. Designs are mimicked, viral content is regurgitated. The result: viral sameness.
This phenomena of sameness Morrissey alludes to has been pointed out by others recently. Writing for Nieman Lab Monday, Joshua Benton wrote that news websites that aspire to national prominence often publish similar content because they need a share of the large audience that it affords. Benton was responding to a post by graduate student Fredrik deBoer, whose piece on the sameness of prominent news websites like Fusion, New York magazine and The Atlantic was the subject of much discussion on Twitter.
So, why did so many news organizations cover "The Dress?" With so many of them vying for a slice of the massive audience viral stories generate, maybe they think they can't afford not to.