Why LOLCats Are Not the News Model for the Future

In the past couple of decades, we have seen almost every possible flavor of would-be savior of the world of journalism from Tina Brown to the robots that run Google News. So it’s no surprise that we have a new would-be savior of journalism: a guy who built his empire on cat photos with funny captions.

Ben Huh of ICanHasCheezburger fame is set to launch a new site called Circa that he says will revolutionize the way news is produced and consumed.

If we have to re-look at how people’s behaviors are changing, there are enormous opportunities for companies like us to recreate media in a native format for the Internet.

Huh says that the next generation of killer news sources will be “like teenagers.” Except that, when you look at actual teenagers, a strange pattern is beginning to appear. Rather than being digital-only creatures, a lot young people are actually reading newspapers. Not the shiny, digital versions, but the old-school kind that stains your fingertips and carries that wonderful scent that reminds you that you’re dealing with something from the physical world that was lovingly crafted by professionals.

NPR’s Katy Pape got into some recent data and found that while Millennials aren’t heavy newspaper readers, more than three-quarters of them get stained fingers every month, even if it’s infrequent. A quarter read at least every other day. And it’s this quarter of readers that is important: they are twice as likely to be “influentials”: the kind of people who are attending public meetings and running for office.

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to attend a dinner party that included a teenager, the bright child of two bright parents, and someone far more engaged in the world than I ever was at that age. The guests started discussing the merits of iPads and Kindles and such, and I asked the teen if she ever read anything on paper. “Of course,” she said: books. And the local paper.

So while the digital revolutionaries are trying to figure out how the lessons of FAILblog’s success can be applied to get people to care about whether or not austerity policies in Europe are effective, it turns out that there is a group of news professionals that is already effectively reaching a massive audience of young people ready and willing to change the world.

That group? Newspaper editors, who have quietly maintained their hold on the single most important audience in the country. And all without a single, silly cat caption.

Brian Reid
Brian Reid