The Best Front Door In The Business
There’s a saying in marketing that states, “You should always have the best front door in the business.”
With a tagline like ‘The Voice of Generation Y’ and a slick, photo-rich homepage, it sounds like the website Elite Daily has heard it. And it’s working for them.
The site is one of the most popular destinations for the 18–26 year old demographic, now receiving around 40 million unique visitors a month. It posts between 50–75 articles a day, and its content is absolutely strewn across social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Business Insider wrote that the site’s articles resonate so well with a young audience “because the headlines and content are a combination of Thought Catalog’s realness and The Huffington Post’s breadth.” During it’s short time on this planet, Elite Daily has begun to completely take over a very important, very influential audience.
And they must be stopped.
You see, this full-on Monet of a website was first brought to my attention while I was busy vigilantly monitoring Facebook for important political news and stumbled across an article called “Could It Be? Millennials Are The New Generation Of Hippies, But With Better Weed,” a hopefully satirical piece comparing Millennials to hippies that I knew I had to mock wholeheartedly. Somehow, my response to that article ending up being one of the most-viewed pieces I’ve ever written for The Daily Banter, but as I kept seeing the view count rise higher each day, I became more and more curious about the site that housed the original article that spawned this whole thing. I assumed at worst the site was another harmless wannabe-Thought Catalog, but with less EMOTIONS and more lists.
I was dead wrong.
Elite Daily is everything that is wrong with both online journalism and “Millennials.”
What makes it even worse is that they actually are so close to something wonderfully necessary, but they continuously choose the easier path, leaving any semblance of respectability buried under inept content and pretentious attitudes. They really are only a few steps away from realizing their true positive potential.
The Hidden Diamond And The Unnecessary Elitism
Now I’m not the first to take these 20-something trolls to task, as Jezebel has crushed them for their blatant sexism, and The Awl has a great rivalry with the site now thanks to a brilliant investigative report by a writer named Brendan O’Connor. But those sites purely reveled in the mind-boggling idiocy of the site, never taking the time to see if there were any diamonds shining somewhere beneath all that bullshit.
See, whenever an “online news site” or whatever they/we want to call it pops up, they have to decide how they’re going to balance high quality content with content that will get page views (which drives revenue). Some try and go purely high-end content, some try and find a balance between the two, and some are Buzzfeed.
Elite Daily apparently decided to go with a plan where they would definitely be a place for quality content like “Your Ultimate Cheat Sheet To What’s Going On With The Ukraine Protests,” but that they would actually pay the bills and build their brand with lowest-common-denominator drivel like “The 20 Mistakes Every Person Makes When First Moving To NYC.” They would publicly flaunt their high-brow pieces while actually raking it in with “opiate for the masses” lists about being gay or tattooed or Asian or gay.
As confusing as it sounds, it’s the business plan they chose, and for the moment it seems to be working (though we’ll get to the complications with this in a second).
But then they went and added an unnecessary and detrimental wrinkle to their entire brand; they decided to valorize elitism (in other words, being an asshole for absolutely no necessary reason).
Do they not know why people laugh at, not with, sites like The Rich Kids of Instagram? Did they not read all those articles about how Lorde’s song “Royals” was the official end to the gaudy faux-lavishness that Watch the Throne and The Great Gatsby got everyone hooked on for far too long?
Don’t they know that everyone else knows that elitism stems from insecurity?
And that’s understandable because they are a bunch of 22–25 year olds who still have no idea what they are doing, and their CEO is a young rich kid who got in way over his head when it comes to understanding the ethics of online journalism and whose pride is now preventing him from correcting this course (or he’s just a greedy asshole…).
The Head Of The Snake
This is David Arabov, the CEO of Elite Daily:
He is either 22 or 23 years old, he graduated in 2012 from Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, and he’s the son of a famous jeweler named Jacob “the Jeweler” Arabo who had strong connections to the hip-hop world and who also “served two-and-a-half years in prison as part of his plea deal to get out from under accusations of conspiracy to launder $270 million in drug money for the early-90s Detroit-based ‘Black Mafia Family’.” Jacob now runs Jacob and Co. Jewelry, a company that seems to find its way onto the pages of Elite Daily every now and then, always affixed with a glowing review or a mention of what celebrity was seen wearing their products.
David Arabov is the kind of kid that had this conversation transpire while he was being interviewed by TechCrunch (the same interview where he lets some shady business practices slip):
Jordan: Is it true that the people who work for Elite Daily, the writers, um, have worn Jacob and Co jewelry before, and watches?
David: Jacob jewelry and watches?
David: I mean…
Jordan: Were they given those as gifts?
David: No, they were not given those as gifts.
Jordan: Some of them do or do not wear them?
David: They wear them if I give it off my wrist, like, to go hang out, like but they don’t wear them as gifts. I mean, I don’t give anybody gifts that expensive.
Jordan: So do some of them buy them on their own, maybe, and own them?
David: Nobody has them.
Jordan: Nobody has them?
David: I mean, two girls have them. I gave them a little necklace for Christmas, a little [inaudible] necklace for Christmas. It’s literally nothing. Silver necklace.
Jordan: Which girls?
David: They no longer work here.
Jordan: They no longer work here, OK.
He’s also the kind of kid that thought it would be a good idea for his burgeoning media empire to have he and his fellow editors and writers create alter-egos so that they could publish under pseudonyms.
David Arabov created the alter-ego Preston Waters, complete with a fictional bio that reads “Preston Waters is the ultimate man’s man for Gen-Y”. Writer Edin Veljovic concocted the character of Eddie Cuffin, “the persona of a man who gets the people talking, with his cynical and satirical take on New York City and American culture.” And these are just a few examples. While many defenses have been given as to why this decision was made, there is a noticeable trend that pseudonymed writers seem to publish a majority of the incendiary, objectionable, and most importantly viral content that the site is known for.
Because they feared judgment and ridicule — and rightly so; starting out writing on the internet is like constantly getting thrown in the deep end in order to learn how to swim — David preemptively placed his site above all mockery or scorn with the help of the Swiss Army Knife of insecure Millennials:
David’s site takes the sexism in articles like “21 Signs She’s Expired” and “How Men Are Like Dogs: The Steps To Getting What You Want From Your Man” and attributes them to satire. It laughs off the uncaring celebration of flaunted wealth and promotion of immoral behavior as something done purely in jest. It sugarcoats the outlandish pseudonyms with ironic dispositions.
Elite Daily has figured out that irony is an escape from accountability.
It’s what lets you distance yourself from the real truth.
But if David has any chance of earning credibility for himself and his site, he needs to go through the natural 20-something maturation process, shed that insecurity, drop that ironic protective shield, and begin course-correcting immediately.
And fortunately for him, no one in the world would hate a 23-year old kid for suddenly waking up one day and realizing that there is no excuse for anyone to own a 125 ct. diamond Lamborghini model car when there are millions of people starving in the world. All he needs to say is, “Yeah, I grew up a bit and realized my values were misplaced,” declare a content overhaul for the site, and people would hail him as the benevolent new heir to the online journalism throne.
That is, if it isn’t too late…
The Virus, The Sweatshop, and The Infinite Monkey Theorem
You see, the real genius behind Elite Daily isn’t just the douchey attitudes copped in order to shock and offend — radio station DJs, stand-up comedians, and Tucker Max have been doing that since David Arabov was spending his time in AOL chat rooms — it’s that they have an endless supply of content from a worldwide collection of contributors at their disposal, and they are throwing all that shit at the wall and just hoping something sticks to it (and to your wall too, and your friend’s wall, and your friend’s friend’s wall, etc).
You know how many people want to be writers? A lot.
You know how many other people think they “easily could be a writer” if they really wanted to and had the time? Even more.
But where other journalists might just bite their tongues while dying a little on the inside whenever people start talking like that, Elite Daily capitalized on this situation and gave them all a forum, a form, and a formula for (internet) fame:
“If you write like this, for free, you can be a contributor to one of the largest online publications on the web! You will be validated!”
They shouted this to expanse of the infinite internet, and now they have over 500 worldwide contributors helping to keep them at that 50–75 post a day average. Those contributors turn more people onto the site, multiplying its readership and potential future contributor pool like a virus. Elite Daily effectively created the internet’s snazziest-looking sweatshop and got people to sign up for volunteer shifts. In fact, a posting for a Copy Editor position at the site says that that editor would be responsible for editing, revising, and proofreading up to 50–60 articles per day.
Elite Daily is actively scientifically proving the Infinite Monkey Theorem, and it’s kind of amazing they pulled it off, even if they did steal the idea from Mr. Burns:
Somehow, the Politics section has nailed the perfect tone and writer Claudia Fisher has great taste in music. Aaron Kaufman is one of the best talents they have, and Dan Scotti has been so singlehandedly carrying their Sports team these past few weeks that you should just call him Durant..
But all those great pieces that they put effort into, the work that they are accountable for and to, is getting placed on the shelf right next to “You’ve Never Been As High As This Olympic Skier With A Tray Of Cheeseburgers at McDonalds,” and it sits there only until the next fresh batch of hopefully-viral content knocks it off.
Elite Daily likes to refer to itself as a platform, a nice bit of legalese to escape the responsibilities that come with the bold decision to declare oneself a legitimate publication; it justifies the quantity that has been chosen over quality. However, if it’s ever going to become the legitimate journalistic enterprise it claims it already is, it needs to be the one, not the reader, that sifts through the endless “If You’re A True Stoner, You’ve Definitely Had One Of These 10 Posters In Your Room”s of the world to find the worthwhile “GM’s First Female CEO Will Make Less Than Half Of What Her Predecessor Made“s.
But more importantly, Elite Daily needs to seriously think about the influence it has on a sadly very impressionable demographic and what it really wants its reputation and legacy to be.
The Baby Steps
Right now, their reputation is pretty terrible.
The Awl, one of the few sites to really dig deep on Elite Daily called the site “the first true editorial product of the post-sex-tape era,” and said, “The site is the flagship of ill-making consumerism, the rap video-inflected fever-dream of the suburban upper middle-class who can catch a glimpse of the actually famous but can only dance on the tables near them.” (When reached for comment about this story, the author of The Awl piece reiterated to me his belief that “Elite Daily’s still a cesspool.”)
TechCrunch essentially wrote a mea culpa to the site and even still said, “There’s no question of whether or not Elite Daily serves up low-brow, consumer-driven, misogynist content.”
Right now, as I type this sentence, the top 5 search terms directing traffic to the site are: “ass” at 22.47%, “elite daily” at 7.49%, “best ass” at 4.63%, “elitedaily” at 1.96%, and “asses” bringing up the rear with 1.87%.
David and his team have been accused of (and semi-caught) fudging details around everything from their site traffic numbers to the sources of their funding to their incessant need to pretend like they aren’t shamelessly plugging David’s dad’s company (read The Awl story, as it’s covered well and in-depth there).
A former employee even went on record saying, “I came to Elite to write articles I hoped would empower and enlighten people, not the trash that’s posted every five minutes… It just makes all us young folk look like damn fools and arrogant ones at that…Elite is now a bully pulpit for those who’d take it.”
Elite Daily’s motto may be that it’s a ”medium for people tired of disingenuous content“, but the kind of stuff written above is the reputation the site and its team has after only basically a year of existence. And the unfortunate thing for David is that even if tomorrow he made immediate sweeping positive changes, reputation is built back up in baby steps.
Repenting is a cakewalk when it comes to redemption.
The Road Ahead
But Elite Daily is close to something.
Millennials do need a place that understands that while they may want to know what’s going on in the world, they’re also really distracted by wanting to learn the 10 reasons why they don’t understand what true happiness is. But that place can’t then take advantage of that understanding and cater its content to the basest of procrastination’s desires.
If David Arabov and the Elite Daily team want to do something not just influential but something important, than they have to make three big changes (and I hope you’re paying attention Elitists, because I’m breaking the fourth wall for you and coming from a place of love):
1) You need to drop the elitism and pseudonyms thing and admit what all writers should admit to themselves early on: you are uncool.
You aren’t ballers, no matter how many unique visitors you get. Didn’t you learn anything from The Social Network? Hell, one of the commenters on The Awl’s piece who claims to have seen your office outed you as “a room full of dorky looking guys and a couple of girls all sitting around the table, lit up by their laptop screens. Heavy on the pudgy, pimply white dudes and skinny South Asian types, none of whom at least in passing bore any resemblance to the people on the website.” And this is what the Tucker Max-for-a-new-generation Eddie Cuffin is really like.
And slight shallowness and stereotyping aside, that’s ok. Because we’re all uncool.
I’m incredibly uncool. Daily Banter editor-in-chief Ben Cohen isn’t cool. Chez Pazienza isn’t cool (…actually, Chez is pretty cool, but whatever).
We’re writers. We don’t have to be cool.
We have to be smart. We have to be fair. And we have to strive for the truth. But we definitely don’t have to be cool.
And when you stop having to pretend to be cool all the time, it really frees up your creativity and your time. Plus you feel zero urge to lie about things like traffic numbers and funding sources. And you can finally give up the charade that it’s important to document which celebrity wore your dad’s watch at the Billboard Music Awards.
2) Your editors need to actually start actually editing.
You know how a copy editor can go through 50–60 articles a day, like the job description mentioned above brought up? They do a spelling check, a quick grammar check, and spend less time thinking about each article than they do deciding what salsa to put on their burrito at lunch. At this point, Elite Daily has the readership numbers that outlets salivate over and they have a small army worth of contributors. If the audience is already there, and if there is already unarguably worthwhile content sporadically adorning the site, then there is no reason to keep up this corporatized trolling machine.
Let’s face it. No one in the history of the world has had their life significantly altered because of something they read on the “The 10 Things You Should Leave Behind In Your Late 20’s” list written by a person named Patty Rivera who, after very light observation, is very obviously an idiot. Learn the art of discernment.
Find your best writers, treat them well, and rely on the fact that one of their well-written, well-researched articles is worth six “The # Things You Need To ____ When ____” lists.
Have a vision, not a formula. It’s what makes it more like rewarding fun than tedious work.
3) You have to start using your powers for good.
Did you notice above when I said “find your best writers,” there was no mention of subject matter? That’s because I get that you need to have the occasional viral post that might not live up to the quality of a featured story. We here at The Daily Banter even started posting the occasional #UpBuzzViralFeedWorthy article. But with the kind of reach and influence your site has, it’s your responsibility to do something good with it. Once you cut down on the filler contributor posts and stop letting the inmates run the asylum, you’re going to get to fill that new silence with direction. You’ll have the chance to send your message, clear and direct, to undistracted masses. The big question, then, is what’s your message?
What do you believe in?
Now, I’m an optimist — and I feel a kinship to any and all Millennial writers — so I really believe that if you, David Arabov and company, take a few minutes the next time you’re alone to really think about what kind of things you want to stand for, you’ll realize that your site is probably pretty far off from that at the current moment. But I also believe that you can fix this.
Remember, it’s never too hard or too late to completely change course.
Originally posted on The Daily Banter on February 14, 2014