“Websites are in about the same place as dinosaurs were at the tail end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago. Which is to say, about to go extinct.”
—Evan Williams, founder of the online article-publishing platform, Medium, to Forbes.
Co-founder of Twitter and founder of Medium, Williams works to provide internet users with platforms for publishing, large websites for the long-form or short-form sharing of words. People are no longer creating websites, but instead using pre-established platforms like Twitter and Medium. Medium, founded in August 2o12, features articles by authors of any age, interest, or qualification.
Most articles on the site feature lists, bullet-pointed, casual, and formatted like a stream of consciousness: “What I Do Every Morning Before 8,” “Career Advice No One Tells You,” “8 Productive Ways To Use The Time You’re Normally Wasting” (#4: “Chill Out.” #5: “Talk To a Stranger). Ted Wilson, one author on the site, established a series entitled “Ted Wilson Reviews the World” — a sloppily written collection of personal musings about “Whales,” “My New Cologne,” and “Blockbuster Video.” In his review on Girl Scout cookies, he writes: “My favorite cookie is the shortbread one but if I had to choose a second it would be the Samoas because they have a hole in the center. While this does mean less cookie mass, the hole can be used to turn the cookie into a ring when placed on your finger. This makes it possible to wear and eat up to ten cookies at a time.” Wilson is among many users who seem to treat Medium as a place to publish grammatically incorrect and un-punctuated rants and journal entries on a platform that validates their words with publication. Ellie Guzman, a younger girl whose articles mostly entail rants about people’s judgements on her relationship with a “B” character, begins an article with: “There’s been a push for high-quality content on Medium lately. I’m here to bring it to you.” Following this introduction, she embeds four YouTube videos all under the heading “Toddlers Falling Down.” One of Guzman’s previous articles was listed in the “Medium Daily Digest,” some highlighted articles sent to subscribers each morning by email.
On the “Welcome to Medium” page, which you’re directed to upon signing up for an account, Evan Williams writes: “On Medium, you’re not alone. You write beside and with other people.” Upon finishing a first draft, you can click a button, “Save Draft,” and share the link with people of your choosing via email. They can then share comments and edits before your official publication of the piece. A great option, that fuels collaborative creativity and an adherence to Medium’s mantra: “We create better things together” — but how many Medium writers are actually asking for edits? Do they actually think they need them? It’s unlikely, judging from excerpts of Ted Wilson’s work, that he employed the tool and asked from grammatical edits from anyone. On a platform in which nearly anyone can post anything, the authority of the publication disappears — no one is signing off on articles or deeming them unworthy or in need of edits — everything is “publishable” and treated as such. The Medium “Welcome” page reads “Where the quality of the idea matters, not the author’s qualifications.” Could this freedom-of-speech, everyone-is-a-worthy-writer attitude towards online publication actually be a promising future? Sarah Swaty’s photojournalism piece chronicling a Donald Trump rally, the featured Medium piece on April 4, 2016, displays the benefits to a public creative outlet like Medium. She features beautiful photographs of the disparate groups: the Trump rally, and the anti-Trump rally that congregated on the outskirts of the group. While the write-up below the photographs is labelled a “4 min read” and leaves much of the content misunderstood, these photographs seem to hold a certain power: They deserve a place online, and Medium gave them that place.
The internet has provided a place for anyone — used clothes vendors, lampshade companies, math teachers, books reviewers — to post websites and pose questions without much of an authority source to filter. Medium works to make the words of its contributors look polished and professional. So, on a platform that prides itself on the written word, should the qualifications of a writer matter? If the internet is the future of the literary and journalistic worlds, how will renown institutions like the New York Times gain traction in readers? The newspaper, by its very nature, is a print newspaper. The New York Times annual report, obtained and cited by Buzzfeed, states: “We… are at risk of becoming known as a place that does not fully understand, reward, and celebrate digital skills.” The news source has, as detailed in its annual report, been overtaken by — along with Medium — Buzzfeed, Vox, and the Huffington Post, more fast-paced, lower-quality sources. Medium prides itself on being a modern example of “social journalism” — so, maybe I’ll post this article on the site, critiquing the very site that’s displaying it as worthy of readership, an inexperienced eighteen-year-old journalist alongside Ted Wilson’s archaic review of Blockbuster video.