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A 5-part series. Sure, there are a number of ways in which any writer you enjoy on the Internet can do their work better. However, there are also ways in which readers can improve how they interact with the content they consume, and in doing so, improve their own experience and the experience of fellow readers. (Obviously, my opinions are my own – this is my blog, after all – and are not endorsed in any way by any outlet past or present for whom I write or have written.)
As you’re probably aware, I’m an Assistant Editor over at The Mary Sue, where I have the pleasure of writing about all sorts of geeky and fun things through a feminist/social justice lens. 9 times out of 10, we write about things we love – new films/books/TV shows we’re excited about, inspiring women and girls doing cool things in all fields, cool new products we love, or discoveries in tech and science that we’re super-jazzed about. We really, really do.
But sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes, we hear about something in the news about which we want to use our platform to be a voice for change, equality, and a better world. And so, sometimes our writers will write pieces about films or TV shows, or even public figures and how they can do better in relation to things like sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or issues of class. These are important concerns to us (and hopefully to all of you, too), and we believe it’s important to use these stories as stepping stones to start conversations .
That said, we’re well aware that, since there is so much wrong in the world, there’s always the danger of us dwelling on those things. It’s something we, as individual writers and as a site, fight against every day. We want to provide readers with a balance.
Determining that balance proves difficult, however, when what our readers respond to seems lopsided. We write so many stories about things we love, do interviews with amazing female creators doing awesome things, and tell the stories of awesome women and girls. Things that many of our readers say they want. And yet, those are the pieces that get the fewest “hits.” They’re often the pieces with the fewest comments, conversation, and interaction. They’re the pieces shared the least (unless they somehow involve a big-name celebrity like Chris Pratt).
Yet, whenever we post a social justice piece of any kind where one of our writers expresses a strong opinion about how someone or something could be or do better, we’re accused of writing “clickbait” (it’s amazing how often people mistake “an article they find interesting enough to click on” for “clickbait.” They’re two different things); accused of using important issues to “manufacture controversy” and get views for our site. Or, alternately, we’re accused of “always being negative;” harping on the wrong in the world without acknowledging how far women, LGBTQ+ folks, or ethnic minorities have come.
First of all, our intention with pieces like that is always to inform, educate, and start larger conversations in the hopes of making the world a little better than it was yesterday. Yes, of course we need to worry about things like our numbers – but that isn’t why we choose the things that ultimately end up on the site. We choose them, because they’re things we care about and they’re things we think are important – as evidenced by people having so much to say about them!
Secondly, we do write more celebratory things. If you look at our site, you’ll probably notice one or two “controversial” pieces every day while the rest is stuff we think is cool! And yet, the majority of posts get the least interaction, while the minority of the posts – these longer-form pieces featuring strong opinions about the world’s ills – get all the comments, shares, and interaction.
Many of those comments saying things like, “You’re always stooping to writing clickbait!” or “Why are you always complaining about stuff? I remember when you used to write celebratory things about things you like!”
We still do – often – you just don’t read those things.
What You Can Do: If you want to see a certain type of content more often, make sure you check it out when it’s offered, make positive comments, share it often, and engage people in discussion over it. If you only offer negative comments on things you don’t like, but don’t visit/comment on the things you do, you know what that means? It means that the thing you don’t like got a bunch of clicks, but that the thing you do like got shown no internet love. And so which of the two do you think we’re going to think our readers find more engaging?
When we look at our stats, we don’t see who came specifically to complain versus who came to love the piece. All we know is that people – for some reason – responded to this piece in a way they didn’t to others. As we’re trying to give our readers content they find engaging, we strive to replicate the kind of content our readers want to read. And while it’s great to receive feedback from individual readers about what they like and don’t like, the individual feedback is a small sampling of people who read our site. Stats (or “clicks”) are the easiest way for us to look at the entire picture.
Going to articles you hate to complain is less effective than visiting and interacting with the articles you do like.
This is not to say that you should never disagree with articles. By all means, disagree with the ideas in anything I write. But if you don’t like a type of post – rather than telling me you hate when I post stuff like that, support the stuff you like instead so I know you like it. Both you, and your fellow readers, will be better off for it. If you want to be a good reader and Internet Citizen, vote for things with your support rather than against them with your criticism.
Now, feel free to let me know if I missed something in the comments below! :)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Be a Better Reader tomorrow!
(This post is supported by Patreon)