Link bait story calls ag majors useless; works for Yahoo writer
Did you hear the news? Agriculture, horticulture and animal science degrees are worthless. That assessment comes via a gormless article posted on Yahoo.com by writer Terence Loose. Loose sifted through some numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and deduced that out of the top five most worthless college degrees on offer in our institutions of higher education, three of them were studies of agriculture. Mind you, he fine-tuned those statistics with another source: a Newsweek media property called TheDailyBeast.com and its “20 Most Useless Degrees” report. Newsweek sold in 2010 for $1 cash and $47 million in liabilities, but journalism escaped the list of most useless degrees—
if just barely.
Loose reported that agriculture degrees were the No. 1 most useless. Animal science ranked fourth and horticulture fifth. Also among the top tickets to Nowheresville were degrees in theater and fashion design.
Just after the story was published, there was a mass rebuttal. From aspiring college students with FFA credentials to ag college presidents, and plenty of horticulture, animal science and ag majors, Mr. Loose got a swift response. I didn’t see much protest from theater majors or fashion designers.
Good for the aggies for speaking up. I read a number of the published responses, most of which were well-considered and impassioned. Yet, eventually they began to blur together.
The volume of responses shows how times have changed in the past 20 years. In the Internet Age, when a perceived injustice is dealt, response to it can be swift and overwhelming. No longer does the man who buys ink by the barrel win the argument every time. This new leveling spirit, the social mediascape, sweeps past all of us who choose to plug in. Online these days, published point meets counterpoint and the counter-counter-counter point isn’t far behind. And when the points stack up, we see another new phenomena—the Infinite Bandwagon.
What’s fascinating is just when the bandwagon gets fired up. It is interesting to see which stories create outrage among people engaged in agricultural pursuits and which stories get a yawn.
When a copy-churner like Loose borrows a formula from Newsweek, skims a labor report and then stirs in a few words of snark, we get offended. I saw many more responses to this throw-away article by Loose than I did to news that animal rights activists had burned 14 cattle trucks in California a few weeks back.
This is the danger of online bandwagons. We get on when it’s easy. And we often give power to the offense we ride against. The Yahoo article by Loose was a cynical grab for attention. He was only doing what the experts say to do. Here is some advice from a national journalism teaching organization, the Poynter Institute:
“Want to be featured or get the top buzz on Yahoo? Make a list. Want to drive page views and lower your bounce rate? Make a list. Want to get tweeted? Make a list. Want to get stories written about your organization? Make a list.”
Get the picture? Loose made a list, and as the rebuttals rolled in (each linking back to the original article from Loose), his story grew more relevant to search engines. Some writers get paid by the volume of traffic a story creates. If you are studying online opinion shaping, this saga is an object lesson of the intricacies of modern communications.
For my money, Holly Spangler over at Illinois Prairie Farmer had the best response. As the online kerfuffle Loose created intensified, Spangler did what real journalists do. She called Loose for an interview. On her blog called My Generation, Spangler economically described her exchange with him:
I called [Loose]. It went like this:
Me: “Hi, is this Terence Loose?”
Me: “Hi! This is Holly Spangler with Prairie Farmer magazine. Do you have a minute for a couple questions?”
Him: (pause) “No…I’m sorry, I don’t.”
Me: “Could we schedule another time for an interview then?”
Him: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.”
Me: “Can I ask if you’re the author of a Yahoo story on college degrees?”
Him: “I’m sorry, I really have to go now.”
Me: “OK, I’ll just try you back another time then!”
Off all the lines written in response to Loose’s article, Spangler’s 76-word interview tells you all you need to know.
You can see the original article by Loose here: http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm.