Yesterday, after work, I grabbed some drinks with reporter friends and talked about the subject that fascinates our ilk: The predictable tastes of readers. One friend had cobbled together a story he was pretty proud of, involving well-sourced reporting and some diplomatic history on North Korea-U.S. relations. He'd also filed a quick story about the president's P.R. stunt, handing back 5 percent of his salary in solidarity with the people suffering from sequestration. (There's no average sequestration salary cut. Some people are getting furloughed; some people are getting pay cuts up to 27 percent of income.)
The North Korea story did okay. The silly Obama story did 10,000 Facebook shares in an hour.
The point of that anecdote is that this National Republican Congressional Committee initiative is going to do just fantastic.
Staffers at the National Republican Congressional Committee are finishing up a site redesign that'll likely be rolled out this weekend. The new NRCC.org does away with all the typical features of a political website, emulating instead the style of the Web juggernaut whose top headlines currently include "10 Easter Bunnies Straight From Hell" and "14 Photos Of George W. Bush Touching Bald Men's Heads."
Yes. The committee that elects Republicans to the House is taking BuzzFeed's advice to heart... by copying BuzzFeed itself.
It's going to work, because quick-fix Internet readers only share the stories that make them feel something. If they laugh at it, they share it. (This NRCC meme got 12,000 shares in a hurry.) If they're outraged, they share it. If they're amazed by how stupid it is, they share it. And a lot of government spending sounds really stupid. Polls show us that voters wildly overestimate how much of their tax dollar funds government waste and foreign aid. Highlighting the stupidest-sounding spending has been a trope for decades, ever since the "Golden Fleece" awards of the 1980s, on to the Citizens Against Government Waste "Pig Books," on to John McCain tweeting the 10 dumbest-sounding items in the stimulus bill, etc. The NRCC had been sending out sort of bland emails asking Democrats to defend "robotic squirrels" and other goofiness, but only reporters see those emails. Memes? Listicles? That's how you make this stuff famous. (Gerritt Lansing, the NRCC staffer cited here, came there from the office of Rep. Paul Ryan. Before that he was at the Heritage Foundation. He's seen a lot of these "check out that waste" campaigns sort of plateau for lack of virality.)