Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tips on Getting Fark Greenlights (or, an unexpected Fairfax Times Twofer)

I was catching up on this week's Fairfax County Times (Reston/Herndon edition -- the print version comes out mid-week), and I saw a couple of stories that I thought were potentially Fark-main page worthy: The first because it involved beer pong/beiruit and offsetting stupidity; and the second because it hews to one of Fark's favorite current ideological punching bags, "millenials as precious snowflakes."

I like submitting items to Fark -- partly to contribute to the community (in the realm of the Fark top 100 commenters, I'm solidly in the 9-percent portion of the 90-9-1 participation inequality ratio side of things), but mostly to test out my writing chops, to see if I can generate a funny or interesting wordplay, or one that otherwise fits in with the current Fark zeitgeist -- something that stands out among the thousands of submissions.

The headlines I submitted this afternoon, though, were not particularly interesting. So I was surprised to see that they were both greenlighted to the main page, back-to-back, in a Fairfax Times two-fer:

(Some Guy) Stupid School groups protest forthcoming beer pong game for Wii. Game company claims beer pong actually discourages drinking because, "If anything, you're going to be drinking less" (67)
(Some Snowflake) Asinine Fairfax County, Virginia schools abandon "valedictorian" in favor of groups of "honor graduates." Reactions range from, "This is a communist system" to "I'm glad I don't have to give a speech." (145)
I wonder if the Fairfax Times people are scratching their heads trying figure out where the traffic spike is coming from. (They seemed to handle the load okay, though they didn't get any comments -- most likely due to the required registration.)

So that takes me to 24 greenlit headlines. Not a lot, but a respectable number.

I've never had any success trying to pitch anything I'm working on professionally (and rarely try), but here are a few strategies that seem to have worked for me in general (this is in addition to following the submission suggestions in the Fark FAQ):

* It doesn't have to be new, but it has to be interesting: My very first Fark greenlight was in 2004, referencing a 1997 article about Army lessons learned from the 1992 LA Riots. Not at all current, and the the headline was pretty straight. However, the straight headline invoked some very comical imagery, and was therefore funny: "Lesson learned from the 1992 L.A. riots: Cops and marines understand "cover me" to be two entirely different things"

If you try to submit breaking news or something that's already being highlighted on another popular social linksharing site, you have to be fast and funny (funny enough -- by the time you craft the perfect comedic gem, you will probably have already lost out to someone else). There's a lot of competition around the time-senstive stories, so I try to stay out of it.

* Submit outside of peak times: Since I'm a night person anyway, I'll take a look at the BBC News to see what they've got going on that the US will get to in a few hours. Also, the next-day's Washington Post top stories are usually up on the Web by then. (I submit a lot of Washington Post items, mostly because I'm reading it anyway.)

It's somewhat paradoxical, but if you submit during a slower time, when fewer items are flowing through the submissions queue, there's a higher likelihood of your submission catching someone's eye.

* Know your Fark community: Admins tend to pick topics that they know will generate lively discussion. As I said before, Farkers lately like to beat up on the perceived "everybody gets a trophy" stereotype of the millenial generation, though boomers are also pretty common targets. Hence a lot of "precious snowflake" and "get off my lawn" references in headlines.

Other discussion drivers include guns, driving, fat people, female teachers having sex with students, and bad parents.

Here's another example -- after an April 2007 redesign caused some problems and complaints from some folks, a Fark employee ill-advisedly told people, "You'll get over it." It's made it into Fark folklore and at least a few headlines (including a recent one of my own).

* Crowd-pleasing headline constructions: There are certain headline conventions that are pretty popular on Fark. Most of them are now tired cliches used by unfunny people trying to be funny. But when used carefully (especially if you can turn a headline cliche around and do something different with it), they'll resonate with the community.

The Fark FAQ has a list of Farkisms (though a lot of them have aged out by now). Other headline constructions I'd note:
  • [Alarmist story.] EVERYBODY PANIC (bonus points for clever wordplay variations)
  • Having solved all other problems, [politicians wasting time on trivial matters]
  • [Something strange in an otherwise mundane story. ] Wait, what?
  • *Shakes Magic 8-Ball* used in connection with a reason for a change in oil prices
There's a bunch more, including backwash/blowback from 4chan, SomethingAwful, and other internet memes. Keep an eye out and you'll see some trends that you can dovetail your submission into.

* Rhyme and alliteration are the province of hacks: Of course, anyone can be a hack at any particular time, and a good use of rhyme, alliteration, puns, germane movie quotes, etc. can be worth a cheap laugh. And a cheap laugh is still a laugh. Just don't try to force it too hard.

* Be useful, be interesting (or best of all, be both): You don't always have to be funny. In fact, if you're not funny, you probably shouldn't even try. Just play it straight, but be informative. And brief.

Things I wouldn't recommend doing:
  • Sometimes, a headline will be so miserably spelled (or otherwise incomprehensible), the administrators will approve it just for the entertainment value. I wouldn't call it a good strategy.
  • Seeding a comment to get your submission into the "Commented" category (as opposed to the full-on regular queue) -- I don't do this, and I have no idea if it would help anyways.
Oh, and you can also try looking at the profiles of some of the more prolific submitters -- they tend to highlight their favorite headlines (braggarts, the lot), so you can see some samples.


Susie said...

This is a really interesting window into Farkdom. Also -- congrats!

But I guess I wonder, why do people do it, exactly? Where be the glory?

Also, I guess I am jealous and want you to submit any tips to me. I don't have meetup parties, it's true. But I won't call you "some guy"!


Joelogon said...

Hey Feb -- for me, it's the challenge of crafting an interesting headline. Also wanting to see who else thinks something is interesting.

I note that Smoking Gun stuff (like the weekly mugshots) usually does pretty good on Fark...

Susie said...

Ah, OK.

ya, TSG is huge on Fark. But their stuff is always quality.

But in future -- never hesitate to tip me, especially if it doesn't farking go up the charts!