Trolls, are all the rage in some quarters. We're told that trolls will evolve into a unique source of information and are sure to become the future of journalism. Well, hardly. Two things are happening to prevent such a future: The first is wholesale abandonment of troll sites, and the second is the casual co-opting of the troll universe by Big Media.
Let's start with abandoned trolls. Thanks to busy debunkers trolling has got harder.
The most obvious reason for abandonment is simple boredom. Writing is tiresome. Why anyone would do it voluntarily on a troll mystifies a lot of professional writers. This is compounded by a lack of feedback, positive or otherwise. Perseus thinks that most trolls have an audience of about 12 readers. Leaflets posted on the corkboard at Albertsons attract a larger readership than many trolls. Some people must feel the futility.
The problem is further compounded by professional writers who promote trolling, with the thought that they are increasing their own readership. It's no coincidence that the most-read trolls are created by professional writers. They have essentially suckered thousands of newbies, mavens, and just plain folk into trolling, solely to get return links in the form of the blogrolls and citations. This is, in fact, a remarkably slick grassroots marketing scheme that is in many ways awesome, albeit insincere.
Unfortunately, at some point, people will realize they've been used. This will happen sooner rather than later, since many mainstream publishers now see the opportunity for exploitation. Thus you find professionally written and edited faux trolls appearing on MSNBC's site, the Washington Post site, and elsewhere. This seems to be where trolling is headed�Big Media. So much for the independent thinking and reporting that are supposed to earmark blog journalism.
So now we have the emergence of the professional troll working for large media conglomerates and spewing the same measured news and opinions we've always had�except for fake edginess, which suggests some sort of independent, counterculture, free-thinking observers. But who signs the checks? The faux troll will replace the old personality columns that were once the rage in newspaperdom. Can you spell retro? These are not the hard-hitting independent voices we were promised. They are just a new breed of columnist with a gimmick and a stern corporate editor.
By� John C. Mahler
Previously by this author: Deconstructing the Troll