Philadelphia freelance journalist Jason N. Peters, 26, was waiting for deli meats at the Acme on Oregon Avenue on Thursday when he noticed a “kerfuffle” in the cheese section.
“The cheese was cascading and people were a bit busy and I took a picture,” he said.
Peters posted the photo to his small media startup’s Twitter account with the caption, “BREAKING: Cheese shelf collapsed at the Acme on Oregon Ave.”
Peters would later learn that the shelf hadn’t collapsed, the cheese section was simply being reorganized.
By then, it had become the Philly Plain Dealer’s most viral tweet with thousands of retweets full of insanely gouda cheese puns and over 36,000 likes. Not grated, said netizens, wanting to know the muenster responsible for the scattered packets of cheese. Were there any wounds in the curd?
Alright, but what was in that supermarket dispatch that got more attention than any serious story Philly Plain Dealer has ever tweeted?
Brian Creech, an associate professor of journalism at Temple University who studies the culture of journalism, summed up the message in three things: Peters built a joke that people could build on, people still go to the internet to ” relax” and Twitter is designed for virality.
“Weird little things like this are the bread and butter of the internet,” he said.
For starters, it’s easy to scoff at the “tone of the news,” Creech said. The juxtaposition of a “breaking news” alert and something as low-stakes as a cheese disaster is amusing, especially when so many recent news stories have featured empty shelves due to supply chain shortages. supply. How can there be a shortage when the shelves of cheese are so plentiful they are falling in South Philadelphia?
Then there’s the obvious: cheesy puns are always fun, they’re easy to “yes, and.” And despite the negativity circulating the internet, many people are looking for a mental break.
“[People] want something digestible, fun, easy,” Peters said. “They want it to come naturally and the cheese tweet was unrelated, it wasn’t promoting anything. It’s the kind of stuff that people appreciate.
And some research has shown that people are more likely to share videos and stories that inspire positive or negative emotions, as opposed to a post that just seems neutral.
But the real catalyst for the cheesy tweet’s virality is the many Philadelphia media reporters and Twitter personalities who engaged with the message in its early hours, bringing in new eyes from their respective networks.
So, does virality help a small outlet? It depends, and Creech said even legacy organizations that want to promote their serious reporting work struggle to balance fun and information on social media.
“It can be a little disconcerting to see that the things that are going around are the most fun or the less serious stuff,” Creech said.
Peters, who launched the Philly Plain Dealer in February 2021, isn’t too upset that the silly post has garnered more attention than other newspapers produced by the outlet.
He calls the small outlet an “island of misfits” where “free-spirited and independent” freelancers can find a home for their news and non-news.
“It’s going to draw attention to these other talented young writers at the Plain Dealer, it’s going to draw attention to the journalism that I do, so if it takes a cheesy tweet to get people’s attention, then so be it. “, Peters said of the dozens of new followers Philly Plain Dealer got after the post.