No one cares about the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls

This past weekend, a number of folks on Twitter were complaining that the media wasn’t covering the story of the 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Islamic militants in Nigeria a few weeks ago.  And there’s a reason no one is covering it.  No one cares.

Don’t me wrong.  I care. And I suspect you care (or you likely wouldn’t be reading this story).

But in order for a blog, a news site, a news network to survive financially, it needs to sell advertising.  And the way it gets money from advertising is by writing and producing stories that people want to watch.  If people don’t come and check out those stories, the media enterprise goes bankrupt.

And the same thing happens to a blog or a news Web site.  Bloggers have mortgages too – if they write about “important” stories that people don’t read, they won’t be blogging for long (and then you’ll never hear about those important stories).

Which brings us back to the 300 kidnapped Nigerian girls.  I agree that it’s an important story, so I looked into it this morning and wrote about it.  And the story went absolutely nowhere. It got a handful of retweets on Twitter, and a handful of “likes” on Facebook — that’s it.  As for the story’s impact on today’s traffic? The term “traffic killer” comes to mind.  Zilch. Nada. Niente.

It reminds me of the night the Trayvon Martin verdict came out, and George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder.  Around the same hour came the news that Glee star Cory Monteith had died over an overdose. So I wrote about both, at midnight on a Saturday night.  Here’s how much traffic each story brought in.  Zimmerman got 9,000 reads. Glee got 43,000.  About 5x the traffic (which isn’t exactly 5x the money, but it can be).  And here’s the social media response for each:

finn-glee by-default-2014-05-05-at-3.07

And there was some story a few weeks ago, I’m pretty sure it was the news that the Iraqi government is looking to legalize marital rape and lower the legal age of marriage to 9.  That story got, I believe, around 4x less traffic than the update I wrote about “the plane” 36 hours earlier.  I’m talking, the old news about the plane was still getting more traffic than the new news about women/girls in Iraq.

There’s a reason CNN won’t stop talking about the freaking plane.  They’re giving their audience what it wants.

We have a problem.  And I’m not entirely sure how to fix it.  For ten years now, we’ve built a progressive Netroots that big donors simply do not want to assist.  They’re happy to give money to a multi-million dollar liberal organization, but to mom and pop activists making a difference on the ground?  Not so much.

So now we’re seeing more and more blogs simply die.  A lot are gone already.  And I can’t tell you how many bloggers have approached me privately because the ad-revenue-model simply no longer works.  I’ve written about that before — it’s complicated, but media overall is no longer a lucrative job.  And by lucrative, I mean “one that pays your mortgage.”  And it’s all well and good for people to say “you shouldn’t be in it for the money” — and when someone figures out how to pay the mortgage without making money, our phone lines are open.

And the problem goes far beyond blogs.  We’ve seen newspapers close across the country, or be bought by political partisans or big corporations (or both).  That can’t be good.  And as much as it’s chic on the left to criticize “the media,” the American press is a lot better than Fox News and what goes for “media” in parts of Europe.  At least the media in America (sans Fox, the Washington Times and a few others) tries to get the story right.  And they won’t be trying much longer if we can’t figure out how to make the media business profitable.  The only media left will be bad media.

In the end, chastising potential readers isn’t going to get any of us more traffic or viewers.  But I think there are a number of micro-topics involved here that warrant further discussion (recognition) on the left.

1. Sometimes the media doesn’t cover the “right” stories because the public at large simply doesn’t care about those stories.  And the micro group of readers who do care, aren’t enough to pay the bills.

2. Maybe media, and activism, as social goods shouldn’t be “for profit.”

3. The left in America needs to figure out how to fund people who do good work, rather than give all their money, year after year, to the .org version of the 1%.

4. And America needs to figure out how to stop losing so much good media, and replacing it with tabloids and outlets, some of which, try even less to get to the truth.

To paraphrase Mitt Romney, and Soylent Green, the media are people.  They have bills to pay just like the rest of us.  And if any of us worked a job where our paycheck would be cut in half if we chose path A vs choosing path B, most would choose path B rather than risk losing their home because they couldn’t afford the rent.

It’s all well and good to criticize the media when they don’t do their job.  But sometimes the American people aren’t doing their job either.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Paul

    Yes, what happened to the girls is sad. But also remember that there were a large number of BOYS that were slaughtered a month before the kidnappings as well. I wonder where THEIR hashtag is…

  • sebastian

    preparation h is a sponsor of this page

  • Ana

    When the Malaysian plane went missing countries were worried and got themselves involved in the so called ”search” well aren’t those missing Nigerian girls part of the human race? Don’t they deserve a chance to be rescued i know it’s not that simple but hey at least i care. I’m from a small country where there is no such things as guns, war, assassination attempts taking place but at least I’m concerned about what is happening globally. It’s posts like this that give people hope.

    Thank you Mr John Aravosis and bloggers for caring.

    My heart goes out to the victims families.
    May God Be With You…

  • Drew2u

    In the span of, what, 48 hours on this story – at least within 3 or 4 days – the story went from something obscure to an international outrage that garnered the attention and condemnation of the president and vice president. My question to you is, since it happened a month ago, what was the tipping point that turned this into a firestorm of a story over the past couple days?

  • RexTIII

    Excellent post John, and a load of great comments as well, all of which leaves a sinking sense of hopelessness! Not a place to stay and linger, of course, but every once in awhile, it sure looks like shit out in the world at large. My heart breaks thinking of these young women, their world torn right out from under them by ruthless men, religious men of course – within a culture of extreme social abuse codified in law. With midterms coming our way, we will witness – again, a very large portion of our citizens making the choice of non participation. The icing on the cake of indifference for more than a few.

  • erma652

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  • 4th Turning

    Same day yesterday. Puzzling to me that women can’t be bothered to turn out in crucial midterms
    or primaries.

    http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/05/05/unmarried-women-voters

    These adverts aren’t funny. We are still staggering around in a mighty hangover daze.
    Tea party women voters who will turn out have this legacy strapped on their backs

    http://www.viralnova.com/incredibly-sexist-ads/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=aweber

  • annatopia

    thanks john. really appreciate that. for me it was partially a revenue issue, but i also had the opportunity to devote time to college. five years and two degrees later and i considered starting up again. unfortunately some dumb bot stole my domains and i’m not sure it’s worth the trouble to reclaim them. i think i’d much rather write for someone else, though, as maintaining one’s own site is time and money consuming as you well know. *sigh

  • annatopia

    john, not sure if you heard morning edition today but they’re running a pretty in depth report about this event.

    granted i don’t think they’re big/mainstream media, but it’s something.

  • Indigo

    One after-thought . . . the ugly underside of this story is staggering. Not only has the warlord threatened to sell the girls into slavery, he has expertly focused our attention on the fact that slave markets actually exist. He isn’t talking about a porn fiction, he’s talking about a commercial event.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I think this an interesting post and good info by John that’s important for us to be aware of, but I have to say that a little part of me cringes at this particular story being used to launch this particular discussion. When 300 girls are abducted from their school at gunpoint and sold into slavery and international interest seems muted then yes, we do have a problem, but it has nothing to do with whether that story can be converted into advertising revenue.

    As far as some stories generating more traffic than others, I think blogs do best when they focus on their strengths. The things I share from Americablog are the things that don’t get covered elsewhere, or which get covered with unique commentary or a unique angle. I think it’s very challenging, to say the least, to create share-worthy content on breaking news stories that are being covered extensively by big media, local media and blogs that specialize in the particular area of the breaking story.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    I was trying to think of an elegant way to say essentially this, but you’ve done it better.

    And it’s only going to get worse, as mere subsistence becomes a full-time occupation for more and more of us.

  • Indigo

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that no one cares, people care, people care a lot. But this is also a very good example of the fact of overload in the media stories, events and atrocities world-wide that clamor for constant attention. We have to put filters in place just to keep our personal lives and perspectives on track. It isn’t a matter of i-have-a-balloon-and-you-don’t so much as it is a matter of there being only so much any one person can assimilate at a time. We are mostly bound to our projects, earning our livings, distributing what pittance the mighty allow us to the aspects of our needs, and keeping our lives from going completely off track. Horrible things happen, it’s true. It’s also true that a constant focus on horrible things that happen can erase our ability to deal with the day-to-day of our lives. People care. People also have plenty to do just to keep the wolf from the door here at home.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yeah I was watching that. Chaffetz is ugh.

  • 4th Turning
  • Silver_Witch

    Sadly, most days I am embarrassed by my species….today is another of those days.

  • Drew2u

    Is this a type of circling the drain situation? People are tangentially drawn to fluff stories as escapism, news outlets pick up on that and start airing more stories, people watch fluff stories because that’s what’s on the news, news outlet broadcast more fluff tories because that’s what people watch…. ?

  • cole3244

    no double jeopardy in our screwed up world.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yeah, if you’re a famous NFL football player, you could post a potato and it would be shared. yes, :)

  • 4th Turning

    This is where some of the billions spent “fighting the spread of communism” got spent.
    American support for leaders who would not interfere with the pipeline flow of raw materials/natural resources left behind a sorry legacy of despots, dictators, tyrants, warlords,
    thugs.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrcfPdTRu0M

  • http://musephotos.wordpress.com/ GarySFBCN

    I shared the story about the kidnapping from posting on Facebook by Brendon Ayanbadejo. By mid-morning, my share had been shared 15 times. People ARE interested in this story.

    Fox can talk more about Obamacare, CNN about Malaysia Air 370 and MSNBC about the NJ lane closure.

    I no longer watch. And please, don’t get me started on the sincere but insipid Democracy Now.

  • 4th Turning

    Notwithstanding such an understandable and forgivable condition as atrocity overload/compassion shutdown, there is another factor addressed by Fareed last week which I feel goes some way in explaining the weird dilemma you raise. Americans are simply increasingly unable to understand any “currents events” as they are unfolding now at light speed.

    “The picture of the United States is deeply troubling. Despite having the second-highest per capita GDP, the country does poorly along almost every dimension. It is below average in literacy and technological proficiency, and it’s third from the bottom in numeracy for 16- to 65-year-olds. Interestingly, France, Piketty’s country, also fares poorly in most categories.

    Inequalities of skills are also becoming generational and entrenched. The United States had a wide gap between its best performers and worst performers — though it had a smaller percentage in the top range compared with countries such as Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. And it had the widest gap in scores between people with rich, educated parents and poor, undereducated parents.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-americas-educational-failings/2014/05/01/b61eaa22-d15c-11e3-9e25-188ebe1fa93b_story.html

    http://go.hrw.com/venus_images/0640MC28.gif

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8b/Cold_War_Africa_1980.PNG

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Of course. And that’s what people read. Or at least the critical mass of people you need to keep a media outlet alive financially.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    And you’re an example of an example blogger who finally moved on. LIke so many.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yes, I noticed the comment difference too, which was intersting. It may simple mean that while there’s a core group interested in real news, they’re just not a big enough group to bring in enough money for anyone but the biggest sites (and even them, who knows how they’re really doing financially).

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    …and the wrong gender in a sexist world.

  • cole3244

    the little girls are the wrong color in a racist world.

  • Indigo

    It feels so politically incorrect to feel this way about Africa but doggone it! they really need to decide whether human rights are for everybody or just the well-dressed who live in the palace.

  • Thom Allen

    Interestingly, from your screenshots above, “Finn” may have gotten more reads and tweets/FB favorites, but “Zimmerman” got 334 comments to “Finn’s” 20-something. Looks like there’s a big lurker population that reads the more sensational stories (though both of these were sensational, though in different ways) and a commenter population that’s smaller and may not think that Finn>Zimmerman, So, we need to think about how to capture the lurkers.

    We seem to be more interested in the Malaysian Airways plane than the family members of the victims, many of whom returned to China.

    For a few years I’ve been watching what’s peaking on Yahoo as far as interest levels in that people have about other people (politicians, celebrities, etc.) or stories. Incredibly, unless it’s a huge story (like the Malaysian plane) what peaks are things like the latest: Bieber/Lohan type stories (the Beebs was driving too fast, Lohan was driving too drunk) or they’ll be stories like “Does Cher have a double chin?” “Does Weir look good in feathers?” or that type of nonsense. It’s like the “National Enquirer” online. And the stories seem to follow the Republican precept of “just make something up if you have no facts.”

    Maybe some sensationalism with your stories. Something like “ZImmerman Innocent! Read the story then watch the video of the XXX_rated outtakes from “Magic Mike.”

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    As the Rude Pundit pointed out this morning, Fox News and the GOP keep flogging the dead horse of Benghazi. Not whether or not four American embassy employees died there, but whether or not the White House attempted to coordinate a particular spin on the news.

    Yet every weekend, in nearly every major American city, we have way more than four people being killed in crime violence, always gun related. Sure, some of it, especially if it’s a gruesome or large event will make the news. Local news for sure; national only if there’s something especially horrific…but then we’re all told we mustn’t discuss that maybe it’s way too easy for criminals and the criminally insane to acquire firearms… Hey! Look over there! Squirrel! Wearing a Benghazi t-shirt!

    Let’s face it: News has become entertainment. My Cliven Bundy posts generated a fair amount of traffic here, even over a weekend. I write about women’s issues or connect the dots between Mark Regnerus (et. al.) and the anti-gay lobbying effort that, having failed to sell their message here in America, are gladly peddling it to nations who take that message to it’s logical conclusion: Kill the gays. Sadly, people seem to pay about as much attention to that as they have on those poor girls being sold as bonded sex-and-labor slaves. (Make no mistake: This is what it means to be forcibly married under those conditions. It is slavery.)

    But no, people want to read about the lunatic in Nevada who will probably be wearing prison orange before too much longer, or else end up shot dead by his ‘supporters.’

  • dcinsider

    Well you won’t find me donating to any causes for Africa. I’m not spending hard earned gay money to feed another future homophobe or terrorist. If that makes me a bad person, I can live with that.

  • Drew2u

    Click-bait stories.

  • Drew2u

    I remember hearing about China buying up millions of acres of land in Africa as the next area of economic growth. That was a few years ago now, I think. But has the U.S. media spent any time at all in covering anything in Africa that isn’t Egypt?
    In fact, besides the Middle East and Russia vs Ukraine, is there any international news anymore?

  • Hue-Man

    National public broadcasters are also under attack and disappearing from TV, radio, and the internet. CBC/Radio Canada is implementing a $130 million funding cut imposed by the Conservative government (which is ferociously anti-CBC). 587 employees will be cut, almost entirely front-line workers – managers never lose their jobs!

    The CBC French TV flagship show yesterday, Tout le monde en parle, invited 9 TV and radio hosts to talk about how the cuts affect French radio and TV programming. Coverage of Africa, including the many French-speaking former colonies, has been reduced by eliminating the CBC Africa correspondent. With the loss of NHL hockey to Rogers, there will be no sports programming, including amateur sports. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/tout_le_monde_en_parle/saison10/document.asp?idDoc=336851&autoplay=1&preload=7075722#leplayer

    I don’t know what the solution is for newspapers, TV, radio, internet but the pure “market solutions” response seems to be one of the least effective. Local TV news has been reduced to a YouTube showcase because the content is free and viewers want to watch it. Network TV programs have become more “white bread” in all the ways you can imagine – no actors/actresses of color, no controversy, no LGBT, in short, whatever, it takes to generates advertising revenue. I don’t expect classic newspapers to be survive into the 2020s.

    The Nigerian kidnapping is symptomatic: the government which has 200,000 military and 300,000 paramilitary (according to wiki) has not acted, the world community has not reacted or acted, and it’s difficult to keep reading about a horrendous situation that nobody else in the world seems to want to confront! It doesn’t help that Nigerian school girls and their captors are beyond my Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Yet another inconvenient truth. This one isn’t a left/right issue. You would think conservatives could make a lot out of a “look how terribly Muslims are” story like this. They aren’t covering it because no one is interested and there’s really not a lot most of us can do about this. My Australian friends are discussing their country’s serious refugee crisis. Haven’t heard about it? Neither have most Americans. I had the sad chore of explaining to my friends that no, there wouldn’t be a downturn in tourism from the US over this issue because no one here is aware of any such problem. Too bad those 300 African girls weren’t a single blonde-haired American girl. Then they would get round the clock coverage of their plight. Some days I’m embarrassed for my species. This is one of them. It’s convenient to blame the media (and some of that is warranted) but in this case they really can’t afford to cover stories that will cause most people to change the channel. And yes, it does mean we need more nonprofit news sources to cover important rather than profitable stories. The problem will be who pays for that. What nonprofit media we have now (PBS and npr) has for all practical purposes been bought out by the right wing corporate interests and can’t really be said to be independent any more.

  • annatopia

    an excellent post and points well made. unfortunately i don’t have the spare cycles to give the well thought out comment it deserves. but needless to say, i feel you brother.

  • Indigo

    I feel that way about the entire continent of Africa.

  • Indigo

    They’ll have an update within the hour.

  • Elijah Shalis

    Well good luck getting CNN off the topic of the missing plane.

  • Damien Scott

    Yet let one American suburban white girl disappear overnight and 24/7 coverage on the all-panicc-all-the-time media of the United States.

  • dcinsider

    Perhaps our Christian friends who have worked Nigeria into an anti-gay frenzy might be of assistance. I have to admit, John, that when I read this story, my immediate reaction, after thinking how horrible this is for the girls, is how appropriate this is in Nigeria. You reap what you sow I believe the bible states.

    Nigerians have been quite happy to buy into the African homophobia that is sweeping the continent, and now that religious extremists are calling all the shots, these actions are the natural and expected consequences of the life these Nigerians chose.

    These girls are victims of the vile society in which they live, and while I have great concern for their safety as innocents, I also see this as Nigeria’s penance for its past behavior. If you accept and embrace extremists, you can’t complain when the extremists act like extremists.

    So before I get too invested in the story, I can’t help but prefer to distance myself from it, as I believe Nigeria and Nigerians must figure this one out for themselves.

  • AndyinChicago

    The lack of coverage might also have to do with the fact that no one wants to have to take responsibility. The situation in Nigeria is as bad as it is partially if not largely because of foreign companies exploiting the gas and petroleum, creating inequity, corruption, and strife. People would have to take a bit of responsibility for the kidnapping of children if they realized Western demand for cheap petroleum without helping the nations we take it from is creating unrest.

    Who’s going to seek out small voices in the media saying that we have to do something when it’s easier to listen to CNN talk about a plane that you have to do nothing about?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I wonder if they have money. I don’t know how they’re structured, but it’s been terrible since the economy crashed and it’s just not getting (enough) better. I’m starting consulting again, in a big way. I don’t think this is a good shake out we’re seeing. I think we’re losing a lot of good people, from small blogs to big media, and it’s being replaced with top-10 lists and kittens.

  • Island In The Sky

    Appreciate your honesty on this, John.
    Thank goodness outlets like Democracy Now exist to pick up the slack (if not lead the way).

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