A Deconstruction of Vulture’s Deconstruction of HGTV’s House-Flipping Shows

“HGTV was the third-most-popular network on cable television in 2016, a 24/7 testament to the powers of Target chic, the open-plan kitchen, and social conservatism,” begins Caitlin Flanagan’s Vulture tell-all about the TV genre that many of us are irresistibly drawn to, though maybe we should know better. “It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place.”

The article discusses the conceits these TV shows use to sell us the notion that if only we had “a house that looks like your friends’ houses look, only a little better,” that life will be grand–and buying a clunker and fixing it up is easy and fun! All the shows riff on this, but the piece of the article that illustrates it best is the embedded mashup of Fixer-Upper‘s Chip Gaines, “The Best of Chip Gaines Not Working”:Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 10.06.48 PM











Chip horses around with a machete, a floor sander, a two-by-four, and so on, while his wife Joanna rolls her eyes–but cheerfully.

Other than this video clip, the article is illustrated only with stills of each of the HGTV home-flipping couples. I wanted more video, since the story is a critique of a genre of television. Also, I found the placement of the photos and video confusing: they do not appear in the order of the article’s narrative. I couldn’t figure out why they were placed as they were.

It’s a long article, and text-heavy, with no pull quotes or design variations to break it up. The one exception is a turquoise bar that appears above and to the left of some (but not all) of the photos, attractively mirroring the color of the links in the article:

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The lack of sustained visual interest in the piece was a letdown after the banner across the top of the page. It’s a terrific photo, and I like that it takes up the whole screen. To get to the article’s title, the reader must scroll down and take in the image of a rolling billboard of a modest one-level bungalow being pulled away to reveal a bright new two-story Southern California-style McMansion behind it, with a happy couple beholding their new home and a cameraman capturing all of it.

As a critical essay, I really enjoyed the Vulture article. But as a piece of online journalism, I  don’t think they did enough to pull in video clips to demonstrate their points, nor did they choose interesting still photos or place them appropriately. The reading experience was too static. Except for the one video, I may as well have been reading a print magazine.


The New Yorker’s Gorgeous Social Media

The New Yorker can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, and their podcasts are collected on YouTube. They take advantage of the strengths of each channel, with different approaches to each. Below I go into more detail, platform by platform. I’d guess they are wildly successful on all of them, with the possible exception of Snapchat. I’ve loved the few Snapchat posts I’ve seen so far, but I am certainly not the target audience for Snapchat, and I don’t know whether droll New Yorker humor resonates with that demographic. Maybe?

I didn’t see very many instances of video on any of the channels—not surprising, I suppose, since they’re not in the business of covering breaking news. But here’s a gem from their Twitter feed

The New Yorker on Facebook

The New Yorker’s use of Facebook seems fairly conventional. They link to current stories and columns with a single, superb illustration together with a leading sentence and a teaser. One of The New Yorker’s regular features, Daily Shouts, put out a list of Robert Mueller metaphors, with this as intro text, above the link: “Robert Mueller is sunshine on a cloudy day,” and “He’s a St. Bernard lumbering up a snowy mountain with a barrel of brandy under his chin” included in the boxed link itself. Readers add in their own in the comments, with “Robert Mueller is an unscratched scratch-off,” “He holds the one true ring and not once considers putting it on,” and “Help us Robert S Mueller. You’re our only hope.” Not all metaphors, exactly, but all good! Even the troll who dared to wade in with “Lol he’s chasing manafort’s financials from 2006…….yawn wake me up with the breaking news” got a civilized rebuke: “he told Manafort he was going to be indicted…that’s going to be a short nap.”

New Yorker on Twitter

With the expectation of a constant flow of content on this channel, what’s a weekly to do? There are multiple links to their current offerings, of course, some repeated verbatim and some reframed with fresh teaser language. They also pull relevant stories from their archives, like this one from 2015:

Of course they run cartoons:

pre-tagged for Pinterest, and they make great use of audio by including readings of short poems together with an image of the poem’s text, like this one:

They rarely retweet; I see just one in recent history, a retweet from staff writer David Grann:

The New Yorker on Instagram

Not surprisingly, The New Yorker’s Instagram page is dazzling. The photography and illustration that makes their print edition distinct from any other publication are on beautiful display, and of course on their Instagram home page, out of context. With no text, a viewer is presented simply with a show of images that stand as works of art without explanation. Click through, of course, and you get a generous caption like this one:

The Instagram captions tell the whole story of the photo, and I did not find any that linked back to the original reportage on The New Yorker’s web page. So unlike Facebook and Twitter, The New Yorker’s Instagram page feels like something that can be enjoyed as a standalone product.

The New Yorker on Snapchat

One of my favorite things about The New Yorker is its civility, its highbrow tone in the best sense of that term. They just will not descend into sloppiness, even on the most seemingly casual of social platforms. Even their low-tech styling on Snapchat comes off as careful and smart, even if it’s silly. They clearly get it that the platform is supposed to be light and fun. Just look at their Snapchat post on Friday afternoon—oh, wait, you can’t, or not easily—which was an ode to autumn in spontaneous poetry form by assistant cartoon editor Colin Stokes and cartoon department assistant Rachel Perelman. They sit on a beige sofa and recite goofy lines like “the first sweater of fall is often itchy,” punctuated by spliced-in stills of cartoons from the week. Stokes ends with, “We’ll leave you with this,” and Perelman said, “This.”


The New Yorker

Gleefully urbane in its style, with lengthy essays and a tall, curvy headline typeface that’s straight out of 1920s Manhattan, The New Yorker is one of the most relevant and thoughtful voices in American politics, culture and literature, and has been since its founding in 1925. Its audience is highly educated and progressive: the epitome of the leftist elite that Red America points to as what’s wrong with our country.
The New Yorker’s weekly magazine mixes lengthy essays on politics and pop culture with shorter “Talk of the Town” pieces covering New York-centric topics, but in such a way that they are interesting and relevant whether you live there or not. “Shouts and Murmurs” and “The Borowitz Report” add humor and political satire, and several poems are included in each issue. The magazine’s signature cartoons are sprinkled throughout. Its covers are always illustrations rather than photographs, and are instantly recognizable. Throughout the magazine and also the website, The New Yorker makes liberal use of beautiful, original art. In fact, photography was not introduced until 1992, when Tina Brown moved over from Vanity Fair to become editor. She held that position until 1998, when current editor David Remnick took the reins.
In addition to its mix of political and cultural writing, the magazine offers extensive coverage of New York City’s cultural events, though its 1.1 million subscribers and additional 800K+ digital readers (according to AdAge) obviously hail from much further afield. It’s a practical guide to what’s happening this week in the city even as it maintains an enormous readership around the world. Its unapologetic regionalism is part of its appeal.
Now a Condé Nast publication, the magazine has been known from its inception as a home for the very highest quality writing and for responsible, thoughtful political coverage. In the AdAge article naming the New Yorker as 2016 Magazine of the Year, editor Remnick says, “We have a particular role in this society and in this democracy and it’s to be fair, and pursue the truth energetically and, above all, fearlessly. And the biggest job that a democracy provides the press — and you are not always loved for doing it — is to put pressure on power,” he says. “I know a lot of people read The New Yorker hoping for diversion, for relief, for fun, for comedy, and that won’t stop. I’m not turning the magazine into something it was not before. But when it comes to these central issues, we just have to redouble our efforts to be as tireless and fearless as we hope ourselves to be.”
The New Yorker also has a podcast and produces videos. It posts content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Snapchat.

Kim Kash’s Goals for Journalism 652

I’m a writer and editor with roots in the book trade and in journalism. I’m now the communications coordinator for the UMD School of Public Health, a role I enjoy because I’m on solid ground as a communicator, and I get to shout out about the good work that this institution is doing in areas that I believe are terrifically important.

In this course I hope to gain skills and confidence in all things multimedia: how to think about creating the best online content, what my options are, when to use which kinds of social media. I want to feel as confident online as I do in more traditional forms of media, as a content creator and also as a planner and decision-maker about how best to tell different stories.