'Times' might do well to give up pursuing Internet minutia

The New York Times has issues. Unsurprisingly, considering the humans trusted with populating the publication with content, The New York Times makes mistakes.

The New York Times has issues. Unsurprisingly, considering the humans trusted with populating the publication with content, The New York Times makes mistakes.

Those who point out the Grey Lady's fallibility like to cite the Jayson Blair wing of mistakes, but that is an outlier at the Times - and at the other publications caught with fabricators and fabulists.

It is, however, '80s redhead crooner Rick Astley who underscores the Times' big challenge. Those with a dedicated RSS reader (or a prankster friend) already know all about Astley's recent resurgence. His painfully dated video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" is a form of digital tomfoolery called rickrolling.

To rickroll is to send a link of a video to someone, claiming it leads him or her to a video they want to see. The link is accompanied by text, such as "Check out the leaked trailer for Iron Man," or "Check out this obscure Roxy Music video." But, when the recipient follows the link, he or she confronts Astley's terrible song and terribly misinformed dance moves.

While this phenomenon has been discussed on blogs for months - and been known to some (in other permutations like duckrolling) for as long as the Internet has been around - the Times was late to the initial party. To comment on the phenomenon alone would make the Times appear hopelessly late. It needed a hook.

So a student from Eastern Washington University purported to provide it - by claiming he interrupted a March 8 basketball game with a "rickroll." In a video placed on YouTube, the student dressed as Rick Astley with a jukebox, seemingly interrupting a women's basketball game. Shots cut to fans and players looking in either bemusement or bewilderment.

One problem - the video was cut with scenes from other games. There was no interruption of a game, as reported in the publication, according to Washington radio station KHQ.

You could sense the frustration at the Grey Lady for leaving it to Gawker and other upstart new media to introduce rickroll to the broader, media-savvy audience. And they couldn't just let it slide. So they grabbed this first "newsworthy" element to take their rickroll story to the masses.

But why is The New York Times even bothering to cover such an inane thing? Amidst the low stock price, board-of-directors turmoil, and other industry pressures, the Times should focus on weightier issues than an already old fad. But the Times likely feels that solidifies people's perceptions about the entity as a stodgy newspaper of yore.

But the Times only devalues its brand if it goes chasing the minutia of the Web. If it covers something like rickrolling, it is invariably days or weeks late to the party. Actually, the Times better serves its brand by not covering such trivial matters. If an Internet meme goes unmentioned in the Times, people probably assume it was because it was too busy to cover such nonsense.

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