These stupid, useless photo galleries are stupid, useless
If you follow me on Twitter you know that since Tuesday night I’ve been highly critical of a photo gallery that appears on numerous Tribune Company sites. The gallery contains photos of poorly parked cars found on and downloaded from Flickr, and, when available, captions written by the original Flickr users. (Did you catch the part where I said the gallery features pictures of poorly parked cars? That’s right, poorly parked cars.)
Clearly, the gallery is nothing more than an inane way to drum up meaningless page views that earn effectively nothing, but I’ll get back to that. I had two narrower, more immediate criticisms of this particular example of a Stupid Tribune Gallery™. First, while each picture included the Flickr username of its owner, neither the name nor the photo itself linked back to the original photo page on Flickr. That changed early Wednesday morning, and the username under each picture now links to the owner’s Flickr photo page.
The bigger problem was that nearly all of the 50-plus photos in the gallery as of Tuesday evening were licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license. That’s non-commercial as in, “You may not use this work for commercial purposes.” The gallery has been significantly revised several times since then, but a handful of pictures with the non-commercial use provision remain as I write this.
While there is not a single, all-encompassing definition of what constitutes commercial use, the overwhelming view of both content creators and users is that advertising, such as the multiple ad positions on all of the pages that feature the bad parking photo gallery, qualifies.
I tracked down some of the original photos used in the bad parking package and created this Flickr gallery. At least one of the users whose photo was used in the Tribune gallery was not happy about it, but his picture remained there for an entire day.
In July my former colleague Will Sullivan wrote on Poynter Online about Tribune’s use of Creative Commons-licensed photos from Flickr. The commercial use of non-commercial Creative Commons-licensed photos was not raised in Sullivan’s column, but Tribune Interactive’s content director noted that the company’s “Awkward Tombstones” gallery had been a top 10 traffic driver. (Did you catch the part where I said the gallery features pictures of awkward tombstones? That’s right, awkward tombstones. Also note that the gallery does not link to the original pages on Flickr.)
And that’s the real issue, isn’t it? We all know Tribune is not alone among media companies in packaging utter nonsense such as famous bears or bad tattoos into galleries for the sole purpose of generating page views. And we all know that those page views are empty, meaningless and almost entirely devoid of sustainable monetary value.
As recently mentioned by Time, my own employer doubled its page view haul when it introduced one of the early mug shot photo galleries. Obviously, digital revenue did not double, as any of my co-workers laid off in the most recent round of cutbacks three weeks ago can attest. (The need for more meaningful metrics for local online news sites is a separate post in itself, and, fortunately, Joe Murphy has already written it.)
So why do it? Why stumble, lurch and flail so thoughtlessly, so shortsightedly? Why ignorantly and brazenly appropriate the work of others who maintain at least a default position of not allowing it to be used for a commercial purpose? Why hasten your own irrelevance by posting material such as underage high school girls wrestling in chocolate syrup or well-endowed, bikini-clad school teachers?
We are all ashamed of the sometimes vile, often offensive, always inane refuse that gets packaged like putrid factory-farmed waste meat into meaningless page view-inflating photo galleries on all too many of our newspaper websites.
Why do we exist? What do we do that justifies our continued existence as going concerns? Newspapers and other traditional news outlets, like any organization, should be able to answer those questions in as little as a single sentence, and strive in confident, unwavering accordance with that statement to decide their own fate.
Attempting to answer those questions in a way that accommodates these idiotic photo galleries, on the other hand, would require many paragraphs of equivocation, and page after page of impotent self-justification.
Let’s choose to be something worth fighting for, or let’s just give up right now.