We all know that web traffic is the lifeblood of online media, giving rise to such essential reporting as “Which Game of Thrones Character Are You?,” “Which Breakfast Club Character Are You?” and every imaginable variant on this gambit. It is, of course, clickbait, designed to get you to interact with a site and see some advertising and increase page views, engagement time and other such metrics. Frankly, after finding out which Muppet I am (Beaker, if you must know), I stopped taking the bait.
But there’s some more high-minded clickbait out there, and The Hollywood Reporter is engaging in it right now. Via SurveyMonkey, THR is asking people to vote for what they think are the Best Drama Programs, at the high school and collegiate level (there’s no distinction between undergraduate and graduate for the latter). While I couldn’t find the survey on their website, it was being tweeted around, so I have the survey sans preface, sans methodology, sans everything. The fact that the schools you can choose from are pre-selected could be the top results of a larger study, but as it travels the tubes of the Internet, there’s not necessarily any way to know. (If there is any science behind this, I challenge THR to append it to their survey, and I’ll amend this post accordingly.)
To put it simply, I think this is preposterous and rather insidious, because when the resulting article comes out, a number of aspiring young theatre artists just might think it’s based in some degree of expertise, rather than the result of a narrowly defined popularity contest. A few schools might even cite it in promotional materials, and you can be sure the results will go zipping around with both pride and dismay.
So I’d like to say simply this: if you come across it, ignore it. Don’t fill it out. Don’t share it. Don’t comment on the results when they appear. Recognize it for the clickbait that it is, far beneath the sometimes excellent reporting that has been a part of the truly resurrected THR. If they exist to report on the industry, then they surely could commission a real study, or build a special section about drama education, not exploit us for our eyeballs. Offering a list of schools (and classes and even summer camps) with a slight nudge towards the fame of a few graduates (mostly actors, some of whom graduated decades ago) isn’t designed to inform anyone, it’s designed to get people to read and talk about The Hollywood Reporter. It doesn’t even offer the opportunity for write-in candidates, which would at least make it a fairer popularity contest. And who thinks the resulting article, revealing the skewed results, is likely to come out right around The Tony Awards, when theatre’s profile, like it or not, is at its highest nationally? I sure do.
What’s the harm, I hear some of you say? Isn’t it just another benign internet survey? No, because it will be the basis of boasting, of decision making, of aggravation, depending upon who you are and how you relate to the results.
While I’ve reproduced the survey, you’ll notice I haven’t linked to it. I won’t give them the satisfaction. I hope you won’t either. And if you want to give them a piece of your mind, tweet them at @THR.
P.S. I don’t mean to suggest that THR is the only site to do such spurious surveys. There are others. But this one is happening right now.