You know. For all their biting criticism of legacy media’s curmudgeonly refusal to get with the times or afford others respect, a lot of new media journalists - often pretentious, straight-out-of-j-school white dudes - can be just as arrogant.
Lookin’ at you, micdotcom’s Scott Bixby.
Covering the “I’m gay, it’s pretty unfortunate” vine debacle, he writes:
“It’s hero worship at its most pathetic and terrifying. So-called "Larry ‘Shippers” have been obsessed with the notion that Tomlinson and co-Directioner Harry Styles are secretly in a relationship, and have gone to dramatic lengths over the years to prove their suspicions.
Although Tomlinson, Styles and the rest of the band’s members have gotten used to the perennial cries of 'shippers, the drama has occasionally spilled over into the lives of normal people.
[…] Although it’s refreshing that teen girls, who were on the receiving end of the condescending marketing of non-threatening boy band members in the 1990s, are now celebrating the inaccessibility of celebrity men (with a queer-positive conspiracy to boot), the obsession is out of control. Today’s Larry 'Shippers are tomorrow’s 9/11 truthers, people dedicated to moulding evidence to fit preexisting narratives that don’t stand up under scrutiny. The world would be a smarter place — and Tomlinson’s life a whole lot easier — if the fans toned down the crazy and took this Vine at face value.“
He highlights some tweets from particularly vocal fans, because no fifteen-minute trend piece is complete without humiliating a few teenage girls.
It’s lazy, condescending, lifeless reporting. I’d also argue it’s irresponsible and unethical.
Bixby’s bias is obvious and unapologetic - not the type of bias that comes with knowing that humanity precedes journalism, but a visceral and unquestioned predetermined position that serves as the basis of an entire article. Obviously there’s nothing more to the Larry Stylinson community than there is to Louis and Harry’s public image. Obviously anybody who questions this is fair game for ridicule.
Here’s the kicker: Scott Bixby doesn’t quite fit the straight-out-of-j-school mold. He’s done respectable work for respectable publications, many of my favorites among them. He started off fact-checking pieces as an intern for GQ, made The New Republic’s payroll years before its recent and unfortunate downward spiral (#rip), spent ten months with The Daily Beast.
And now he’s a News Editor at micdotcom, four months into writing for a publication that is quickly becoming one of the most reputable in the game. His LinkedIn page lists civil rights and social action as causes he cares about.
It’s equal parts interesting and disappointing, then, that his flagship piece on the Larry Stylinson community and the phenomenon at its core leaves so much to be desired. His reporting is far below Mic’s demonstrated standards and ignores the extensive work Larry Stylinson shippers do to fundraise and advocate for social issues.
Look. I’m biased. I have significant emotional investment in people-first reporting and, yes, Larry Stylinson. I’ve spent the better part of the last four years following the latter with much of the same enthusiasm and skepticism Bixby derides - a dedication that has stayed strong even when life changes and existential crises have taken me away from journalism for the time being.
Maybe that’s where my want of better reporting on One Direction comes from. I’ll entertain that possibility. Hell, I’ll own up to it. No matter what new and legacy media alike will have you believe, there’s no shame in being a fangirl.
But I think - as years of lurking in this fandom have taught me to - there’s more to it.
You want to talk "moulding evidence to fit preexisting narratives that don’t stand up under scrutiny?” Look at this article. There’s nothing more primal in entertainment journalism than 1) blindly perpetuating a brand’s PR narrative and 2) viciously deriding teenage fans. Bixby manages both in one fell swoop. There’s no reporting here. There’s no analysis. There’s no observation of the different populations within the fandom or even a moment’s consideration towards the shallow sample it does present.
Whether you examine it in the context of entertainment journalism or One Direction reporting specifically, this is nothing new. The world at large has had enough “lol, look at these hysterical fangirls” articles to satisfy it for a lifetime and Larry Stylinson shippers know better than anyone how off-base some theories and meltdowns can be. Scrolling through my dashboard, all of the criticism I saw when the Vine went viral was from members of the same community that popularized it. Trust us: we know.
It’s high time reporters began acknowledging Larry Stylinson shippers as a large, growing, and diverse cohort. Take the famous “always in my heart” tweet: it’s quickly approaching one million retweets.
Within this community, there are scholars, media professionals, and kickass thinkers by the hundreds. But we don’t need that justification. Respectability politics are never the answer. Even the least rational of fans deserve journalistic courtesy - if nothing else, they deserve to be portrayed as the multidimensional humans they are rather than tired, exploitative caricatures of manic “fanatics.” Beatlemania called. It wants its tropes back.
When I hover over “Arts” on Mic’s expertly-designed interface, I’m told the article in question is among the most-read. If that’s the case, maybe Bixby did his job.
I don’t think Mic is that kind of girl, though. This isn’t some poorly-designed rag bent on milking the age of Google AdSense for all it’ll render. This is a publication with its fingers firmly on the pulse of what today’s readers want and need in journalism.
Maybe my idealist j-kid is showing, but I want to believe Mic and Bixby are both better than that. You don’t represent new media by biting the hand that feeds you. You don’t prove that legacy media is dead by resorting to the same tactics that killed it.
Here’s the thing: if I wanted a privileged dude on a high horse exploiting and ridiculing teenage girls, I’d turn on Fox News.
So come on, Mic. Once more, with feeling.