No crusty journalist complaint here: Caine's Arcade is more than a distracting fad

We sometimes complain that fickle Internet fads drive our news coverage. But Caine's Arcade made the virtual front pages for all the right reasons. The phenomenon provides another example of how the Web 2.0 world informs media coverage – and better yet – inspires action.

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Caine Monroy poses in front of his cardboard arcade – the subject of the short film 'Caine's Arcade,' which went viral this week. The Caine’s Arcade phenomenon makes me happy that some of our news coverage is at the whim of the web this time. America chose right with this trend.

“Caine’s Arcade” first popped up on my Facebook newsfeed on Monday, with endorsements like: “one of the most beautiful, incredible things I have seen in a long time. I cried my eyes out.”

I clicked and watched the 11-minute film, tears swamping my guarded cynicism as a 9-year-old boy created an arcade made from cardboard boxes in the front section of his father’s autoparts store in East LA – his very own small business.  

Then I let out mental fist-pumps when hipster filmmaker Nirvan Mullick organized a flash mob to bring little Caine Monroy some customers. I tagged my own subsequent post of the film “Best. Thing. Ever.” Nuanced, right?

By the time something makes it to my Facebook newsfeed, I know I’m already a bit behind the 8-ball on a trend. I wondered how long it would take mainstream media – so driven by Internet trends – to pick up the story: Days? Hours? Is this the next Kony 2012?

By Thursday afternoon, most of my immediate family members had seen the video and exchanged gushing emails, texts, and Facebook mentions with comments like “restores my faith in humanity” and “evidence that God exists” (literally) and “reminds me of something we/you would have done as kids.”

On Thursday, too, the isolated corners of the Monitor’s newsroom were abuzz discussing “Caine’s Arcade.” Not the Fox mole writing for Gawker. Or Ann Romney the stay-at-home mom vs. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. Or charges against George Zimmerman. Or North Korea’s impending rocket launch. Or talks with Iran. By the afternoon, the Monitor’s National News editors were discussing the next “Caine’s Arcade” story angle.

We “serious news organizations” sometimes complain about the ways in which crowd-controlled web currents and Google traffic trends dictate our coverage. Veteran journalists have been known to grumble that they’re at the whim of the lowest common denominator – Internet fads driven by fleeting public curiosity. 

But the Caine’s Arcade phenomenon – and the mainstream media coverage that has followed – makes me happy to be at the whim of the web this time. America chose right with this trend.

That’s because the “trivial” trend we’re covering this week doesn’t look like a TMZ-derivative. Nor has it inspired ire a la the Kony 2012 backlash. And I’ve seen no self-righteous finger wagging at us for covering such “fluff.”

Studies indicate that news consumers want the positive stories – spotlighting hope, highlighting progress. While “Caine’s Arcade” flirts with “fluff,” its evolution from web trend to news topic bears noting. Its emergence speaks to the symbiotic relationship that “we the people” have with “the new media landscape.” Public interest fuels the news cycle, which, in turn, feeds public interest.

For all our crusty journalist complaints about the new era of news coverage, Caine Monroy made the virtual front page for all the right reasons. The film recalls universal threads of a great American story: ingenuity, hard work, goodwill, community.

The Caine’s Arcade phenomenon is more than an opiate to distract from “bad news.” It provides another example of how the crowd-sourced web-based world can inform media coverage. And better yet – how the social, viral nature of Web 2.0 inspires action.

Interconnected youths fomented Arab Spring uprisings via Facebook and Twitter. A petition helped bring the Trayvon Martin case into the light. Online rage encouraged Bank of America to recall its plan to charge $5 monthly debit card fees. 

And Caine Monroy now has more than $100,000 in a college scholarship fund.

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