LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Time magazine, U.S. circulation -- 20 million, historic significance level -- top tier, cover images -- iconic, media classification -- old media, elite status.
January was big for Time, because it was during that month that the magazine had the single busiest website day in its history. Why was that? Did it unearth a blockbuster story in Ukraine? Did it publish an impossible-to-get profile of a major American newsmaker? Did it wow the nation with deftly crafted prose?
No. No. And no. What Time.com did, was publish a Facebook quiz titled, "How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook?"
I suppose at the outset I should congratulate Time, Buzzfeed, The New York Times and others who have followed the "quiz" route to web-hit success.
You've seen them, if you spend any time on social media. "Which Harry Potter character are you?" Or "What's your stripper name?"
The Courier-Journal ran a successful one during Derby week: "What's your Derby horse name?"
The interactive quizzes ask a few questions and then spit out an answer that most people then take to social media to share.
The thing that amuses me about all these is that the options, in such personality quizzes, are always positive. You don't see too many quizzes like, "Which Breaking Bad drug washout are you?" I'd like just once to see, "Which washout from 'The Wire' are you?"
These quizzes prey on the need of most folks to draw attention to themselves, and to align themselves with some kind of celebrity or popular book, movie, group, whatever.
And if you've taken these quizzes, I'm not knocking you. I've done it. I got on the website, "I write like" to find out whose style my writing might approximate. My last entry on my books blog, the site tells me, resembles David Foster Wallace. One piece of fiction, Mark Twain, another J.D. Salinger. None of them returned some obscure man or woman I'd never heard of. I can tell you right now, none of it is Twain, Salinger or DFW.
Just like you're really not Harry or Hermione.
The quiz that brought Time magazine 3.8 million web hits in one January day at least offered some insight. It asked readers to take a survey and then dug into their Facebook feeds to approximate how much time they'd spent on the social media site since its founding a decade ago. (Just over 25 days here. Someone confiscate my phone.)
Slate.com had a huge hit with its "Travoltify your name" generator after John Travolta butchered Idina Menzel's name at the Oscars. The New York Times' most read web feature last year was not an article at all, but an interactive dialect quiz.
In a story looking at the phenomenon on March 5, The New York Times jumped head-first into the question: Is this a good thing?
Slate editor David Plotz took to Twitter as the Travoltify generator started to reach the 10 million hit mark. "Definition of ambivalent," he Tweeted, " The John Travolta name generator is the most popular story in Slate history."
Ambivalent? How about apprehensive? As a writer, you'd better believe this development is perplexing. Instead of a column about how the University of Louisville's first participation in the Atlantic Coast Conference spring meetings is progressing, I'm strongly considering trying to build a quiz titled, "Which ACC basketball coach are you?" and calling it a night.
More reason for writer paranoia: The Associated Press on Tuesday announced shorter story lengths for all of its wire copy. In fact, it plans to offer only 300-500 words on most stories, with 500 to 700 for its biggest stories of the day in a given state.
I have to tell you, one reason I left the newspaper is that I wanted to write more than 600 words at a time. Yes, I appreciate the skill of being succinct, but my feedback from readers is that they appreciate a few more words now and then.
If you were to cut this column off at 700 words, it would be done at the end of this sentence.
No, wait. Get back here. I'm not finished. The point AP is making is that with so many people reading on tablets and smartphones, there's a frustration with longer pieces. That's certainly a consideration in what I do in writing for a web-based publication.
So what's left for journalists? Dust off our resumes? Get into the quiz culture?
The ending isn't entirely unhappy here. Times writer Leslie Kaufman reminds us that crossword puzzles in the newspaper didn't kill journalism. Just because a newspaper had comics didn't mean it could not fulfill its role on serious topics.
Yesterday's Family Circus is today's, "Which Sunday comics character are you?" It's disconcerting. But it doesn't have to be a bad thing. TV has used interaction with viewers, in the form of giveaways and contests as promotions, for some time. Turns out, older media are embracing those things too.
In the meantime, as journalists feel more at home with online interaction and gaming of this type, we're likely to see richer and more useful interactive features as time goes on.
I can't say I'm thrilled that these are the things that are beginning to dominate the online landscape. But that doesn't much matter. The quizzes are here. Expect more of them, not fewer. Don't argue with me. I'm Twain, Salinger and David Foster Wallace all rolled into one.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see which city I should actually live in so that I'll know where to go when the media apocalypse comes.