“Yo my man Biggie! While I’m chillin’ in Tibet I need you to be lookin’ after the store!” And so it came to pass that once more the Big Sleazy found himself on editorial duty. Now, before we go any further, I feel I need to clarify the situation regarding the Doc’s whereabouts. Whilst he maintains that he is in Tibet, the sharp-witted amongst you may have noticed that he continues to update the editorial blog and the flow of stories for The Sleaze carries on unabated. Of course, he has an answer for this, claiming that they even have internet cafes in the Himalayas. Nevertheless, that can’t explain the numerous sightings of him in the Ruptured Bear public house and a various other hostelries. Although he may babble on about becoming immersed in ancient Tibet meditation rituals and Tulpas (a kind of doppelganger created by the power of meditation), the sad truth is that he is in a ‘metaphorical Tibet of the mind’, or as those of us who know him prefer to describe it: ‘wallowing in self-pity’. This state of affairs is usually the result of some alcohol-induced self-revelation about his private life, generally involving unrequited lust for some unfortunate woman or another. Of course, there is a very slight chance that he has gone to Tibet, in which case he is probably drunkenly dressing up in a gorilla suit and jumping out at unsuspecting backpackers in the hope of generating some more newspaper stories about the Yeti. I’m just thankful that he hasn’t gone to Scotland again, otherwise there’d undoubtedly be a repeat of his Loch Ness monster impressions. Trust me, the less said about that, the better. In any event, I confidently predict that the Doc will be back here on editorial duty next issue. In the meantime, you will just have to do with me.
As ever, I’m content to leave the ranting to the Doc and instead return to my favourite subject: the state of online so-called satire. Now, I know that on my last couple of outings I was fairly disparaging about a lot of the field, but I promise that this time around I’ll try to be more constructive and more positive. I only said I’d try, mind. Whether I succeed is another matter entirely. OK, so do you know what really irritates me about so-called online satire these days? Those stories where the title is the story. You know the sort – some smart-ass has obviously spent hours coming up with an incredibly amusing, witty and clever (or so they think title), which will provide an amazing ‘hook’ to get readers in when it is displayed on an RSS feed. The trouble is that everything amusing about the subject has been summed up in that title, all the story itself can do is repeat, in slight variations, the title. You really might as well just have a site comprising nothing but clever titles. Ideas need to be developed if a story is to have any real substance. As readers with long memories will recall from my previous editorials, this lack of story development is a perennial gripe with me. A good satire story should (in my humble opinion) attempt to explore its central conceit from as many angles as possible. In some cases, it might even be that by the end of the story the original thesis or concept has been entirely inverted. In other cases, the initial conceit is simply a jumping off point and the reader is taken down unexpected routes to a completely unexpected conclusion. Sadly, there don’t seem to be too many stories like that around. One reason is the average web editor’s fear of length. There is received wisdom out there that surfers won’t read anything more than a couple of hundred words long. Interestingly, whilst many visitors to this site (which runs longer stories as the norm) also exit very swiftly, a very high proportion appear not only to actually read the story they enter on, but also to explore the site and read several other stories. All the available data points to the fact that readers of The Sleaze typically look at three to five pages per visit. Clearly, not only do we have the most discerning stories, but also the most discerning readers!
But what about the things which annoyed me about online satire in previous editorials? Have things improved, or is the majority of field still as dire as ever? Well, the rise of php script-based sites has continued. However, at least the owners of said sites are now, on the whole, customizing their scripts so that most sites no longer have that rent-a-script identikit look. Indeed, a lot of the script-based sites which sprang up a few years ago seem to have died a death. In fact, the attrition rate amongst satire sites remains high – continuously producing high-quality material is no easy task and many are simply not up to it. Amongst the casualties are some relatively high profile sites: Utterpants is but an archive, the Australian Times’ URL seems to have been reclaimed by its rightful(?) owner and Newshax seems to have given up updating altogether (and also appears to have dropped its links page – very antisocial). Another casualty seems to be The Satire Awards, a woefully misguided site which has gone through several changes of ownership and now seems completely moribund. Several other established sites seem to be updating less frequently than they used to, but there remains a thriving hardcore of sites (most of which, coincidentally, are fellow members of Humorfeed) regularly cranking out material of a reasonable quality. Basically, the past couple of years seem to have separated the out the wheat from the chaff. Not only that, but new entrants to the field, by and large, now seem to have a better idea of what running a satire site actually requires: good material and stamina. But how does The Sleaze stand currently in the world of online satire? Now, that’s a question which opens a very interesting can of worms. Whilst, despite the inroads made by a combination of sunny weather and the World Cup, traffic has held up reasonably well over the Summer, how does our traffic compare to that of similar sites? The answer is that there is no real way of knowing. Basically, very few site owners ever give accurate or honest traffic figures out publicly, making direct comparisons impossible. Many people set great store by the rankings produced by Alexa. However, all that these do is to rank sites on the basis of how many surfers with the Alexa toolbar installed on their browsers visited them. Alexa toolbar users may not be a representative sample of the surfing population as a whole. With that proviso in mind, according to Alexa, we’re doing OK. Not the most popular satire site by a long way, but still pretty popular and on a par with many other well-regarded satire sites. Bearing in mind our total lack of advertising resources and lack of ‘pimping’ efforts, I think we’re doing brilliantly! Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that another, religious-orientated, site, which I do know has similar traffic levels to The Sleaze, ranks significantly higher than us – clearly Alexa users are more likely to visit sites about Jesus than sites peddling sleaze! Draw your own conclusions! Well, I think I’ve written enough to pad out another editorial. I’m sure the Doc will be back from ‘Tibet’ next time!