In Praise of Fluff


I seem to spend a lot of time at journalism conferences defending cat pictures. 

I believe that those kinds of stories — often derided as “fluff” — are precisely what creates the community around the tough stories, the hard stories.  

I really admire journalists like AC Thompson. I’ll never be like him, and in truth, I don’t aspire to be — because I know what I’m good at, the native thing I came with. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring the fluff.  

And? Secretly?

I believe in fluff.  

I used to believe in something else.  For most of my life I had a very intense and entirely private religious faith.  I believed that if I strived, and if I suffered, it was okay even if nobody ever noticed or cared, even if I failed, because someone Up There was taking note and approved of my efforts. 

Why I stopped believing that is a long story, but once I didn’t, something changed.  

Happiness, delight, and pleasure — not in a far off future, but right now, today — became much more important to me.  I went from being a Stoic to being an Epicurean.

And I thought, If heaven on earth is the only heaven we’re going to get, then we’d better get busy making it. 

This has occasionally led to activities like me covering the Town Council with puppets.

And to get back to journalism — many folks are trying to figure out how to build an online community around a news organization, on their site and on services like Facebook and Twitter.  Two important facts: a community is not when people come to your site to talk to you — it is when they come to your site to talk to *each other.*  Two: that means they use news items as ways to evoke emotional states in each other — ire, interest, and yes, happiness.   If people were presented with a feed of news items from NPR and asked to share items that they felt would make one of their friends happy, what would they share?  With whom? The answers to that question would be very enlightening to someone trying to form a community around a news organization, not just for the fluff, but the hard stuff, too.  

Projects that make people happy are more interesting to me now.  A coding project that creates something that allows people to make each other happy is very, very interesting to me.  

My core audience — my perfect target user — is someone with a crappy mobile phone who has been waiting for a long time at a bus stop in the most bitter February cold. I want that person to be able to open their phone and always — ALWAYS — find something happy.  

Because sometimes you just want something happy, you know? 

We can use the Internet for so many things.  I want to use the internet to let people make each other happy.

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    y’all don’t be too jell, but i’ve had this lol xo
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About Me

Lisa Williams

Founder of | Winner of Knight News Challenge | Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab | Cambridge, MA | @lisawilliams on Twitter | lisawilliams on Github