Last night, I switched on my super-computer and booted up the new game “Media Mogul 2023.”
It’s an ultra-accurate business simulator, a game where you try to build a media empire, like Rupert Murdoch.
But you start from the bottom, with a lowly “local news site.”
I called mine Glasgow Scooped.
As I navigated the local landscape, to find out what the competition was like, I realised that there really isn’t all that much to fear if you can get off to a good start. Your rival businesses are rated by stars; if you’ve played Football Manager this will all be very familiar. The “highest rated” local rivals are the Newsquest titles; three star publications.
Well, I thought, “I should be able to catch them in no time at all.”
The Daily Record is a two star, which is about the level of the average Scottish red-top. Below that are the other “local sites”, one star publications of very little note. Still, they were established and I was not, but I had a cunning plan, one I’ve seen work elsewhere.
The first thing to do is staff your newsroom.
But I’d twigged in fact, before I started, that creating actual news is hard work. I felt like a bona-fide coach approaching the aforementioned Football Manager for the first time. If the mechanics were even similar to my established skill-set and understanding of the business – this is where my media degree was to come in handy – I’d breeze this.
So first things first; I knew I wasn’t going to run a news site at all. I was going to run an entertainment site disguised as one. For that, you don’t need wordsmiths. In fact, they’re the last thing you want on the team.
It’s like playing Football Manager in the lower leagues, where the player ratings are dire and so there’s next to no chance of you creating a working possession and movement based system. For those muddy fields you need big bruisers and battlers. Silky football is a secondary consideration when you can get quicker results with the long ball punt.
So I delved into what amounts to this game’s transfer market, and lo and behold I found just what I was looking for; a specialist.
A one star, but needs must.
This guy had the traits I needed to get business booming!
Under the unique skills tab, it said “cut and paste merchant.”
Brilliant! He had poor work rate, but you expect that with someone with that speciality. Who needs to work for a living when you can steal what other people have produced and pass it off as your own?
I signed that guy up immediately. I was going to make him my star man.
But then I saw another dude I liked. He was also a one star, but he had two specialities! He was both a “gossip monger” and a “wannabe novelist.” What a marvellous combination! Someone who trades in rumours and has the creativity to write lies!
Granted, he had low intelligence and poor spelling and grammar skills, but combined with a morality rating in the single digits those two specialities were gold and I knew I had found my midfield anchor so to speak.
What more could an aspiring “local news site” actually need?
I hired him too, and so slowly but surely started to build my empire. I eschewed the option to go into the print business – too many start-up and running costs – and based it all online. My head of personnel – chosen for you at the start – asked if I wanted to establish a sort of scouting network at university papers and journalism schools!
I laughed at the prospect.
Checking out actual upcoming talent? For what? I had no interest in that at all, my business was going to do just fine without it.
I had my eyes on the prize alright; I checked out “trending topics” to see what could bring in the advertising money quickest, spotted (as I had expected!) that football stories were high on the list and I immediately put my “cut and paste” expert on the job.
Before long, I was generating cash. I hired a team leader with a one-star rating but an 11 for “editing” and that was my first proper attempt underway.
There was, in fact, initially so much cash in the football stories that I hired a single writer to cover the “news” part of the site, based on skills like “true crime lover” and “likes a scandal” and threw everything into building the best sports department (haha! A single writer covering everything but football, based on the speciality “enjoys golf”) that I could afford.
Initially, my star man didn’t turn out to be any of the first two hires; he turned out to be another one-star guy with the twin skill-sets “likes video games” and “obviously biased.”
He started churning out stories about how his favourite club would win matches based on how they were simulated in FIFA. I am sure these stories were awful – the concept is awful – but they were doing reasonable business. At least at first.
But it turns out that the algorithm was more … sophisticated than that.
My simple minded ideas about how to build a news site kept running into little problems.
Like the obvious one about how the audience didn’t like reading obviously fictitious stories written about their favourite clubs, and by a guy who could not resist attempts at flowery language although his basic skill ratings for stuff like vocabulary were painfully, abysmally low and the more technical skills like contextual awareness were virtually zero.
I quickly switched him off of opinion pieces and onto match reporting; he earned himself a ban from a certain club’s ground for inventing a penalty incident and claiming it should have been given. Not great, but what you expect from someone with his traits.
But I think it was “FIFA guy”, as I nicknamed him, who really started dragging us down. His stories generated less and less traffic, and thus less and less money, with every one that he published. Instead of just focussing on the raw numbers I had to start focussing on the feedback from marketing; the average reader loathed his work.
I knew that if I was going to save my beloved business, I would need to turn around its ailing sports department; that’s where the numbers had cratered.
The rest of the site was actually doing okay; who knew that people would actually read the news section if all you did was fill it with stories about gangsters and local councillors fiddling their expenses and third rate celebrities cheating on their spouses?
No, the problem was in the sports department. I hired an ex-footballer with extremely low intelligence stats in the hope of turning the trick, but before long my “editor” guy was on the “injured” list from having to keep cleaning up his work; “stress induced absence” was the dry summary that the game threw back at me.
No, it was FIFA Guy and my wannabe Ernest Hemmingway who were the bloody issue here, but I had given them both contracts and I couldn’t pay them off, so the only hope I had was that some other site would take them off my hands … but of course no dice, because most other sites were trying to run something like a professional operation even if there were more than a few halfwits amongst their staff and their upper management.
The last straw, I think, was when FIFA Guy “simulated” the results of a big game and put it on the site. The numbers for the whole sports team crashed.
“Feels insulted” was the feedback I got from marketing about how the average person felt about stories like that.
I knew then I would have to resort to drastic measures.
So I spoke to my “scouting guy” and I told him “Find some up and coming talent. I need to actually put some writers on this team.” He went off and brought me back a one star with three star potential … a guy like that, who could work at Newsquest one day, would be a game-changer and a genuine leader in my newsroom.
He might even drag up the overall standards of some of the dreck I had working there.
His stats look promising; he could write in complete sentences, he had a reasonably good complexity rating, he could spell and type and edit his own work … yes, this was just what I was looking for. Perfect for saving the team.
So I opened negotiations and that’s when the final blow fell; he refused to even entertain the idea of working for someone like me, or a title like Glasgow Scooped. It was then that I realised that there was a stat I hadn’t been paying attention to, in many ways the only one that matters in a crowded field and an industry that’s always struggled with certain dilemmas.
Our credibility rating was zero. Not one star, not half a star … zero. Nobody with an ounce of talent wanted to be associated with us. Which meant that there was no prospect of turning things around, and from there on in, I felt like a cartoon character who had been getting by walking across a ravine simply because I hadn’t looked down.
The minute I saw that I was actually on The Titanic the water starting pouring in.
The readers we had left deserted in droves and they took the advertisers with them. The money in the bank began to dwindle.
Red ink started drowning me. It was over.
Media Mogul 2023 is a little invention on my part, but necessary for the purposes of making my point here which is that Glasgow Live is the worst website covering Scottish football on the internet. Its writers make Joel Sked (a two star) look like a Pulitzer Prize winner. Any site which continuously publishes articles on how its team “simulated” games on Football Manager isn’t even in the entertainment business but the “taking the piss out of advertisers” one instead. That site should carry ads for lobotomies. It wouldn’t lose a single intelligent reader, and if they offered them free in the newsroom it might not lose any intelligent writers either.