By writing this, I am preempting a planned, well researched and well thought out diatribe I have been planning in my mind for quite some time.
By writing this, I am directly attacking a formidable force in journalism, new media, and hip hop, all areas where I am working feverishly to implant Birthplace Magazine. It may not be in my best interest to step into such an arena, with little more than my own site and my pride to protect me.
However, due to my already smoldering discontent, fueled by a disturbing recent development, I do not wish to hold my e-tongue for a later date.
Global Grind (www.GlobalGrind.com), in my humble opinion, you have done yourselves a disservice for some time, and yesterday, you stooped particularly low. While my long-standing personal feelings toward the bastardization of your self-proclaimed alignment with, and authority on, “hip hop” and your unethical approach to online journalism were already deep rooted, yesterday (Sept. 22, 2010) your site teetered precariously on the edge of the sexual exploitation of an underage girl in a thinly veiled attempt to drive page views. As a journalism professional, hip hop head, and father, none of this sits well with me.
Jasmine Villegas is 16 years old, yet you paraded her provocative photograph on your homepage, as well as the primary item in your daily newsletter, going so far as to proclaim this young lady “quite the catch”. The writer of the accompanying piece suggested that the Villegas’ apparent boyfriend, pop superstar Justin Bieber, also 16, take her to a hotel room. This, after the young lady and Bieber were photographed “making out” in the back of a car in California.
When I am not running BirthplaceMag.com, I am a professional new media specialist working in the field of journalism. I am well aware of the tactics that Global Grind have discovered and actively engaged in recently, as it struggles to find a voice in the digital world. You know, the tactics that have veered the company away from its initial mission of delivering “The World According To Hip Hop” to that of its current catchphrase, “The New American Mainstream,” in a scattered attempt to reposition itself after failing to do what WorldStarHipHop.com and MediaTakeOut.com have been able to do.
Claiming initial allegiance with a culture where “selling out” is so vehemently shunned, it always struck me as ironically shocking what Global Grind has become. GlobalGrind.com, announced in September of 2007, promised at the time to use a “proprietary relevance engine” to “provide the web’s most rich and dynamic integration of all content formats of interest to the hip-hop community”.
In simpler terms? Digg.com for hip hop.
And so “the world according to hip hop,” (and by hip hop we mean co-founder Russell Simmons, pronounced Editor-In-Chief in 2009, and veteran journalists Kim Osorio, briefly, and Datwon Thomas, now with Vibe), was aggregated and delivered to its ever-growing audience in an ethical, helpful and honest method, establishing GlobalGrind.com as a pioneering force in new media journalism, giving hip hop a strong foundation of technological credibility.
Well… Not quite.
After copying the methodology already in place with Digg, internet aggregator-in-chief at the time, GlobalGrind.com seems to have gotten a bit greedy. A fantastically thorough piece by Patrick O’Keefe called GlobalGrind.com out for “shifting their strategy” in early 2010, engaging in an unethical practice called “scraping content”.
You can read O’Keefe’s detailed post (and I suggest you do) to fully grasp the scope of the infraction perpetrated by GlobalGrind.com, as well as somewhat of a response by Michael Skolnik, co-president of GlobalGrind.com. At least it seems that once called out, some fixes were implemented.
But let’s not lose sight of the not-so-subtle changes that Simmons’ “world according to hip hop” hub has gone through, from the top-level down, regarding the overall content and mission of Global Grind. From the addition of “celebrity” blogs (often inane ramblings of B- and C-list personalities), to the heavy shift away from aggregating “hip hop” to the full-court press of covering TMZ-style pop culture stories, GlobalGrind.com has obviously jumped full force into the game of simply securing page views, with no particular affinity whatsoever toward the “hip hop” world, despite the continuing existence of that tagline in their branding and literature.
Yesterday’s egregious affront further amplifies the site’s clear intent to simply piggyback, and often, sloppily, off of the hard work of other journalistic outlets, particularly those modeled after the “gotcha” style of journalism invented by the National Enquirer and perfected 2.0 style by TMZ.
And this offends me, Global Grind. As a longstanding follower of a hip hop lifestyle, a participant of hip hop music and culture, and now, as a serious-minded purveyor of hip hop news, particularly with my current work documenting the struggles and successes of New York area artists.
It is clear that you have decided it is more profitable to become “The New American Mainstream” than to remain true to the mission of delivering “The World According to Hip Hop”. That’s cool. But then do so completely. Remove that old tagline from your emails, and the site’s “About Us” section. Those “Daily Grinds”? Of the last twelve emails , only two featured items of any relevance to “hip hop”. The rest? Justin Bieber, Glee!, Lady Gaga, Aly Michalka (the 20 year old Disney starlet, led by the nearly-as-suspect headline “Aly Michalka is the Sexiest Disney Diva Yet.” Real classy.), Gossip Girl, Fashion Week, Willow Smith and Snooki.
This is the world according to hip hop?
Ah, but surely the actual “hip hop culture” sub-section of the site would be chock full of hip hop, right? Like for instance, featured stories from the same day: a new Land Rover (with plenty of photos, aka, page views), Fashion Week in Sweden (with plenty of photos, aka page views), a new fashion brand (with plently of photos, aka page views), a new BMW (with plenty of photos, aka, page views) and a real big, expensive house in Spain (with… you guessed it, plenty of photos).
Look, I work in news and I run what is quickly becoming a very successful blog/e-publication. I know all about SEO techniques, driving traffic based on trends, writing web-friendly (and whenever possible, super salacious) headlines and other practices not necessarily meant to inform readers, but to attract readers, and provide information culled from other sources. Even with reputable news organizations, it has become fairly commonplace. It works, but I’ll leave the discussion of the benefits vs. drawbacks of this new school type of journalism for another time.
However, to practice these techniques, with a slant that borders on the sexual exploitation of a minor, almost proudly, with a subhead exclaiming that said 16 year old girl, who is prominently displayed with as provocatively suggestive a photograph as could be found, is “quite the catch”, enters an area I don’t particularly care to share with Mr. Simmons, who I otherwise admire professionally. To have author Blogxilla suggest, “Justin Bieber you’re rich take her to your hotel room playboy,” and then instructing to us to “enjoy these amazing pictures of Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend Jasmine Villegas” just seems to cross a bit of a line.
If this is what is important “according to hip hop,” then one of us has a very flawed definition of what hip hop is.
I can almost close my eyes and imagine that if I was hip hop watching these developments, I might conjure up a noticeable, Rakim-like sneer curling the edge of my mouth. I might gruffly implore Russell Simmons, one of my oldest friends and allies, and his GlobalGrind.com, with a slightly cocked head and pinpoint glare, that if this is going to be the way you are going to pursue the delivery of the “New American Mainstream,” then more power to you, but when doing so, make sure you take my name out your mouth.