The scene: A tiny upstairs newsroom in one of Melbourne's less salubrious quarters. In it are crammed four desks, the largest and most imposing of which is lorded over by The Editor. The Editor's off-white striped shirt is stained at the pits with the sweat of editorial stress. His hair is thinning, but he retains the muscular frame of a weekend rugby player, though these days it's overlaid with a generous veneer of fat. His tie hangs from his chairback, and hasn't seen his neck in some time. Several stained whisky tumblers litter the desk, and the nearby wastepaper basket shows the neck of yesterday's empty bottle. It's Cougar Bourbon. His skin is sallow and takes on a yellow cast in the harsh flourescent light. The window behind him overlooks a crumbling brick wall, on which is painted the archetypal graffito, a cock and balls.
Overhead a ceiling fan turns lazily, stirring the stygian fug of cheap cigarette smoke which, despite strict workplace anti-smoking laws, hangs in the air like a cloying veil. An unruly pile of mismatched computers teeters dangerously in one corner, and is periodically fussed over by The Webmaster, a corpulent but active fellow, sweating profusely though a "No I Will Not Fix Your Computer" t-shirt, which is liberally sprinkled with biscuit crumbs. Occasionally, something sparks and the Webmaster, panicked, rushes to push, pull and prod, thus keeping the whole edifice online. Occasionally, he kicks something. His desk is a nest of interwoven ThinkGeek merchandise and Subway wrappers, offset with a generous supply of energy drinks in a small, USB-powered fridge. His Gandalf action figure is wilting in the heat generated by the server pile.
The Keyboard Monkey is nearby, tapping away at an outdated desktop PC plugged into a dangerously overloaded powerboard. He fusses over long, detailed candidate articles from unpaid contributors, cutting them down to size, gutting them of salient content and adding barely relevant keywords as determined by a list blu-tacked to his monitor. The list is provided by this week's D-List sponsor, Northcote Fasteners and Pins (Sundry) Pty Ltd, whose generous support enables the grandeur in which they all bask for at least the next few days. His desk is a litter of Pie Face paper bags and empty coffee cups. A picture of his family languishes undusted and unregarded at the back of the desk. Each face is clumsily redacted with a SharpieTM. The "Windows ME Missing Manual", provided by The Webmaster, lies open to the left of the keyboard.
The Social Media Expert Guru sits at the remaining desk, flanked by several mobile phones, two iPads, a Nokia n-gage and an aging netbook on which we see a sticker reading, in defiance of all probability, "I can increase yuor* follower count, ask me how!". He is wearing a Justin Beiber t-shirt with no visible sign of irony. His desk is neat, but scattered - he thinks artfully - with oddly-shaped business cards and promotional keyrings. A re-usable coffee mug is nearby, though it's never seen coffee. It's merely carried to work and back each day as a visible reminder that Social Media Expert Guru Guy is a right-on environmental type. He has a skateboard which he doesn't ride, which he keeps next to the unridden fixed-gear bicycle leaning on the edge of his Ikea desk. His beard brings to mind The Mexican Pet.
The Editor looks up from his beige CRT monitor. No-one is paying attention, so he slams a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (unread) onto his desk.
Editor: GODDAMIT WEB GUY! LEAVE THAT PILE OF CRAP ALONE AND GET OVER HERE!! THE REAL-TIMEY WEB ANAL-WHATSITS AREN'T WORKING. OUR NUMBERS ARE IN THE GODDAMN TANK!!
Webmaster: Sir, I think they're working OK. We're just not getting enough page views
Social Media Expert Guru: Guys, I can fix that. As you know, I am at the very cutting edge of synergising, strategising and leveraging current trends to increase yuor* follower count and make you number 1 (one!!) on the internet. Ask me how!
Editor: WHAT THE SAM HELL IS THAT ALL ABOUT?? SPEAK ENGLISH, YOU SMARMY HIPSTER ASSHOLE!!
Keyboard Monkey: I think we should hear him out, sir. These numbers are, as you say, "in the tank". It looks bad.
Editor: GODDAMN RIGHT THEY ARE!! AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT!! (he throws a stapler, which breaks open and scatters cheap staples all over the room. A computer in the Webmaster's pile emits a wisp of smoke)
Social Media Expert Guru: What you need to do is effectively co-adopt, co-adapt and paradigm-shift your brand to higher page view rates through the strategic adoption of trends-based lexical analysis techniques, and leverage negatively-oriented thoughtpiece generation, determined algorithmically. Winning. Bayesianly. (his arms flail in a blasphemous parody of the great Magnus Pike. Graves. Spinning)
Editor: SPEAK GODDAMN ENGLISH, ASSHOLE!! (He throws a battered copy of Strunk and White** across the room)
Keyboard Monkey: Sir, he means we should look at current trending topics on Twitter and write something needlessly contrarian about them, thus generating the required pageviews through cheaply-obtained pseudo-controversy
SMEG: I think I said it better. I framed it in terms of a winning strategy. Mine is easily worth $50 per hour more. Fuck you.
Keyboard Monkey: Nonetheless, it's what you said.
Webmaster (quietly): It's what you always say. It's what we always do.
Editor: WELL, I THINK HE'S A GODDAMN GENIUS. GET ON WITH IT YOU GUYS. AS I MAY HAVE MENTIONED, OUR NUMBERS ARE IN THE TANK AND THE SPONSORS JUST SENT ME AN E-THINGY TO MY COMPUTER BOX COMPLAINING ABOUT IT. IF WE DON'T FIX IT, WE'RE FUCKED, SO HURRY THE FUCK UP, YOU CUNTS!! THE ANAL-DOOHICKEY IS LOOKING DOWNY-POINTY AGAIN.
Keyboard Monkey: We're on it sir!
We notice, now, that the Keyboard Monkey's fingernails are bitten down to a painful degree, and occasionally the cuticles weep and bleed. We also see some loose hairs on his collar, and a certain thinness of pate. His wastepaper basket displays the necks of two bottles of cheap vodka. This is clearly an oft-repeated scene, and it's one that takes its toll on all participants. Except, it seems, the SMEG. The SMEG, smiling, types something into his netbook.
SMEG: I'm using my patented algorithm to determine the most valuable current trending term (he types "twitter.com" into a web browser).... and here it is, processing!
Webmaster: (whispered aside) I really wish he wouldn't make those modem noises while he reads the trends page...
SMEG: Processing.... processing.... nearly done. OK! The current best candidate trend is.... "#atheistcon"!
Editor: GODDAMIT, WHAT THE ALMIGHTY FUCK IS AN AYTHIESTCON?
Webmaster: Oh, that's the Global Atheist Convention going on over at the MCEC. I was going to head over there myself and see what's going on, because you see, I'm a nonbeliever myself...
He trails off. The room has gone silent. Three pairs of eyes, two pairs bloodshot, stare him into abashed silence
Webmaster: I mean, errr... nothing boss, sorry boss.
Editor: THAT'S BETTER, NOW GO POUR SOME WATER ON THOSE DAMNED CONPUTERS, THEY'RE GIVING OFF HEAT SOMETHING CRUEL!! MY TESTICLES ARE FAIR SHRIVELLING IN THE WARMTH!! RIGHT, KEYBOARD MONKEY!! WHO DO WE HAVE ON THE CONTRIBUTOR LIST WHO KNOWS FUCK ALL ABOUT THIS ATH-E-ISM THING??
Keyboard Monkey: Well, there's Chris Roe. He's reliably unschooled in the whole area, unwilling to do even basic on-the-ground research and according to his twitter feed he's available for the next ten minutes or so to squeeze something out toot-sweet. Guv'nor.
Editor: THEN GET THE FUCK ON IT, MONKEY!! WHAT THE FUCK DO WE PAY YOU FOR ANYWAY??
Fifteen minutes later...
Webmaster: OK, I've posted the article, but I'm not sure...
Editor: I DON'T PAY YOU TO BE SURE, I PAY YOU TO MAKE SURE THOSE SERV-O-MATICS DON'T RUN OUT OF HAY OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU FEED THEM FUCKERS. WHATEVER IT IS IT COSTS TOO MUCH, ANYWAY. FEED THEM LESS.
Webmaster: (quietly) *sorry sir*
Editor: THAT'S BETTER. HEY SOCIAL GUY! TWERP THE THING!!
Webmaster: (sotto voce) "tweet"
SMEG: Twerping it now sir, synergistically of course. And sending an invoice for that too, sir.
Editor: BRILLIANT! NOW TRUNK ME ON TO THE ANAL-WOSSNAMES AND WE'LL SEE HOW WE FUCKING GO!!
They gather round as Keyboard Monkey types the password (which is 'password') into The Editor's computer. They watch as the graph rockets upward past the line marked 'breaking even' and towards the line marked 'we get paid this week'. It fails to reach the 'also, the contributors get paid' line, but no-one seems to care. There is general rejoicing.
Editor: THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT, WHY DON'T WE DO THIS EVERY DAY?? YOU CUNTS, TAKE A TWO MINUTE BREAK, I'M GOING TO HAVE A GLASS OF COUGAR, TOAST ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL DAY IN THE NEWS MINES AND THEN FIND MYSELF A THINLY-DISGUISED PROSTITUTE ON THAT GUMTREE PERSONELLS THING I'M BEEN HEARING ABOUT. THIS CALLS FOR A CELEBRATION!!
The other three share dark, glowering looks. Like defendants in a kafka-esque nighmare, they know this is already what they do every day. It's what they did yesterday, and it's what they'll do tomorrow, but no-one is able to break the spell. They're trapped. The journalistic Godot will never arrive. The wheels will continue to grind. Rosencratz and Guildenstern will die at the end. Futility, ennui, despair.
The lights dim on The Editor, Keyboard Monkey and SMEG. A lone spotlight remains on the Webmaster. He speaks:
Webmaster: They used to aspire to such high ideals. We all did, I suppose. Once, they would speak in hushed tones of well-researched, salient, detailed and ground-breaking journalism, written by literate penmen well-acquainted with the subject matter, which would enrich the polity and inform a vigorous national debate. Now they just bicker and rant in a tightening spiral of trend-article-backlash-trend. No-one reads their stuff willingly, so instead they reflexively provoke the readership, like cheap prostitutes lifting their skirts for the Johns. It's only the analytics and the alcohol that keeps them going. Well I'm getting out. I want to be free.
There's only one thing for it.
A PINTEREST BOARD ABOUT ONE DIRECTION!
(CURTAIN FALLS, APPLAUSE, AWARDS, LOGIES, DRUGS, HIGH-CLASS ESCORTS, INEVITABLE DEATH FROM AUTO-EROTIC ASPHYXIA AGED 45. FAWNING EULOGY IN ONLINE PRESS, EVENTUAL LEGEND STATUS)
** Pre-battered Strunk & Whites are available for $16.99 on Amazon. Editor's wife bought his as a divorce gift.