A review: It’s Not News, It’s Fark.
What it is
Fark as most of you know, is a news aggregator website, of sorts. You see an article such as “Road crew bludgeons hurt deer on I-440” and you retitle it If you were ever curious about how many shovel-hits it takes to kill a deer, the Tennessean has an article for you. The goal is a humorous headline for the article in most cases – only the occasional serious articles (usually earning the tag of “News Flash”) generally escape the usually-dark humor of it.
Fark isn’t just a small-time news aggregator slash blog slash forum, though. It started that way, as a website for friends. But then a few radio DJs started surfing the page to find the weird news to discuss on their shows. Now, according to the website’s stats, just about every major news source (radio, newpaper, television, cable, other Internet news sites, collectively the “Mass Media”) uses Fark as a touchpoint to know what’s going on and find out what their competitors are saying.
Having run Fark since 1999, Drew Curtis has seen a lot of Mass Media-produced “news” articles hit the web. Sometime around 2005-2006 (based on the content — I’m guessing on the date) he decided to write a book about the news, and the not-news that overwhelms it. He mentions toward the back of the book that some folks had wanted him to do a “Best of Fark”, but what he’d really wanted to do was a Media critique. This book is both. It breaks down the news that we devour every day into eight categories, or media news patterns: News, Media Fearmongering, Unpaid Placement Masquerading as Actual Article, Headline Contradicted by Actual Article, The Out-of-Context Celebrety Comment, Seasonal Articles, Media Fatigue, and Lesser Media Space Fillers.
Or, if we wanted to be realistic about it, News and Entertainment We’d Like To Pretend Is News — what Drew calls Fark.
Since the book is not about news, it’s about Fark, News gets very little coverage. Sadly, there’s a strong case made for the fact that in the real world News gets very little coverage as well.
Why you should read it
First, it’s funny as hell. Each pattern is broken into a series of articles that illustrate the pattern: a Fark-ified headline, a summary of the story and its context and how it fits the pattern, and then (in most cases) comments by Fark members on the article.
Second, it’s frighteningly accurate. When you finish reading this book and then turn the TV to CNN or pull up the news online (or even pick up the paper), whether you like it or not you’re going to start seeing the patterns in what you’re reading and viewing. You’re not watching the news, you’re watching Fark. If you get ten minutes of brand-new news out of a 60-minute show you’ll be doing very, very well — and my guess is that if you then changed the channel to any other news show, you’re going to see that same ten minutes of no-longer-news-to-you running somewhere else. Almost verbatim.
The only downside was that small portions of the book are a little repetitive. The writing style reminded me a bit of research papers I read (and wrote) for college – tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. On the other hand, when you’re making the case that “these patterns are everywhere – look, they even overlap!”, it’s hard not to repeat yourself if you’re doing a good job.
Summary: Read it.
If you’re interested in the news, in marketing, in the “spin” put on events covered by Mass Media, or on selling content, you need to read this. If you’re wondering why we spent more time covering Paris Hilton’s jail time than actual important news, you’ll find your answers in this book. If you want to laugh your ass off at the news and the people who pretend to bring you news every day, this is the read for you. If you’d rather get the latest update on Jessica Simpson, please go pick up a tabloid – there’s nothing here for you.