Despite declining traffic, @ArthurKade is a story, what that means for media

If you leave your car door unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, and your car is stolen, I don’t believe the crime is any less heinous.

Stealing is wrong, no matter the level of difficulty.

I read that somewhere recently and it resonated with me, reminding me of a Philadelphia story that speaks to the importance of old media, the power of social media and the future of them both.

Former Center City financial planner and current aspiring actor Arthur Kade has become a story. Since February, he has been chronicling the throes of his plight charging toward the spotlight through long, personally-involved and mildly misogynistic missives on his blog and in YouTube vidoes of increasingly cartoonish self-admiration.

He’ll lead posts with things like “My game with girls is so sick, but even I couldn’t get through the situation that I had to deal with last night…” and is getting attention for his Kade Scale for rating women.

HOW HE GOT HERE

Whether Joey Sweeney likes it or not, the brains behind Philadelphia culture blog Philebrity first gave the world Kade and has continued covering Kade. That led to Kade, who grew up in the Rhawnhurst neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, taking the virtual tour of the Jersey Turnpike when New York’s Gawker took notice. As you might have guessed, a flood of other blogs then followed, yes including popular Hot Chicks with Douche Bags, though the site doesn’t have permalinks. He spent 45 minutes on the Danny Bonaduce nationally syndicated radio show.

What thrust him from Web 2.0 quasi fame to a degree of Philly regional mainstream attention was the profile of him and his plight in this month’s Philadelphia magazine — broken by freelance writer Brian Hickey, who himself had quite a tale in the mag.

Last week, he was an attention grabber for an otherwise anonymous fashion show in a city not known for its fashion shows, and then he was the focus of a rather aggressively named Q&A with the popular city blog Phawker. The final regional touch came with an appearance on a smaller TV news outlet — though it, too, proved critical.

But, what, pray, does this all mean?

THE IMPORTANCE TO OLD MEDIA

Back in early March, I pitched Kade to an editor of mine — not a profile, but, I suggested, a take on what he means for social media. I was shot down and, really, I wasn’t terribly concerned. Then, he was just blog fodder being tossed around and ridiculed in the comments of his site, so part of my pitch was suggesting to my editor that he was too ridiculous and the social media star isn’t trite enough — trite, yes, but not trite enough — so he would find mainstream coverage.

Frankly, I said, I was concerned some New York rag desperate for online traffic would suck it up and do the first actually reported piece on him, rather than the blog links and Kade quotes. My editor didn’t buy it, and part of me was happy with that, so I didn’t put up much of a fight.

Because there’s a power in old media. Folks always wanted to sell newspapers or magazines, but to many, there are what they’d probably call standards. While I defend Kade’s right to write openly, if hilariously, just as I would defend someone’s right to keep her car door open with the key in the ignition, he is still just an aspiring actor with a few extra roles behind him.

He’s not the first criticized story that came almost entirely through social media — I wrote about rising hip hop star Asher Roth back in April. So Kade the story isn’t much more than buzz.

It is, of course, like rapper Roth, a reminder of the already known platform democratization of the Web. Kade the story was made by Philebrity and Gawker. We still need magazines, and TV news and radio to make it “mainstream,” but clearly those rules are lessening.

I pitched to my co-editors at Technically Philly, which covers technology and innovation in Philadelphia, the idea that I do some real reporting on Kade to, firstly, make certain he’s real — a very real part of me still believes Kade’s persona could be one of the greatest and most elaborate practical jokes of all time.

But we decided it would only be seen as link baiting. We also decided it was a bit off our coverage focus; while we want to cover social media and the community it has in Philadelphia, we can’t do it too much — last month I profiled adult film star Stoya for Technically Philly, which became the site’s best read story ever, but that happened without much support, it seemed, from TP’s most loyal readers.

So Kade has yet to make even a mention of an appearance on TPhilly.com. Not out of spite, but because he isn’t truly star enough to make the social media angle work, nor is he otherwise fitting a piece on our site.

That thinking was, we thought, a nod to old media and our hope that we can develop into a news site, not a blog — though there is very real value in both, I say. When newspapers were king, Kade-like stories would be told by certain types of newspapers — tabloids, perhaps — and that exists on the Web, too.

It’s good that there are outlets to cover those stories, but the value of the leaders of old media was always their packaging, their decision of what was news. The benefit of the Web is that there is more information available than ever,  but, of course, the danger is deciding when someone like Arthur Kade is deserving of celebrity.

Those old media brands still need to dispense labels of success, I think. I hope online news startups can continue to develop — like Politico — to be able to take over that label-making power (I humbly assert that I hope Technically Philly could someday serve that role in the future for the Philadelphia technology community if we continue to make responsible and respected choices about coverage).

For now, we need old media standard-bearer brands to carry weight and not fall into the social media buzz stories too often.

WHAT HE MEANS TO SOCIAL MEDIA

Kade probably won’t be a satirical persona — that would be too fantastic. Although, if imitation is the highest form of flattery, Kade has won some flattery — a spoof Twitter account has more followers than his own.

But, yes his growth is a big victory, I say, for those who enjoy the bootstrapping possibility of the Web. He is, others will counter, a real dark spot. He’s gone to the lowest level.

Because of absurdity and Internet communities who love to condemn and criticize under anonymous handles, Kade’s traffic spiked. An aspiring actor in a region of the world chock full of them catapulted in attention for being arrogant, base and overly focused on cookie-cutter images of female beauty. What message does that give other struggling actors in Philadelphia, or New York or Omaha? That social media is a tool, yes, but also that social media can be most powerful for the most obscene.

For all the hate that spews on his site’s comment fields, people continue to tweet his name.

THE STORY OF HIS ONLINE TRAFFIC

arthurkade-traffic

But there’s another lesson to be learned and, here, I think is where social media can be defended.

According to the May numbers from Compete, Kade’s site pulled 18,000 unique visitors, a 54 percent decline from its high of nearly 40,000 in April. Numbers from Quantcast, which are pooled differently (to be fair, his site isn’t quantified, which means the data are even more rough), say he brought in 1,500 people — that seems low, but the point is made, as it shows a precipitous decline after a late April high water mark.

The attention from the Phillymag story will no doubt help and one month is hardly a trend, but it might not be unfair to say the likely brunt of his past readers — casual voyuers and passersby interested in his audaciousness and vanity — have seen enough.

So, yes, social media rewards the worst, but only in small doses. There is no shortcut to real stardom, even on the Internet, at least not in any real, sustained and respectable way. If Arthur Kade really builds a brand online, it will be because of added value or real successes, decided upon by real, established brands, not blogs and certainly not anything I say.

You can rise to prominence quickly with social media, but it’ll be fleeting, unless you’re really adding value. And in that way, working humbly, consistently and persistently, it will take time, like real success always has.

The values do transcend. We’re just learning the normative respones to it all.

I remain enthralled with Arthur Kade and likely others do, including some of his most critical, albeit often purposefully subtle, commenters. But I suspect we’re in the minority. Ten thousand monthly uniques is a fine number for the personal site of an aspiring actor without any major credits on his resume, but it isn’t the star that might warrant the degree of mainstream attention he’s received. (That total rivals traffic for the personal sites of Will Smith and Ashton Kutcher).

The reality is that, as much as I like his story and will defend someone’s right to — even obnoxiously — put their life on display, he isn’t, I’m afraid to admit, a very good actor.

So, my voyueristic interest in a man putting his entire life online — and in an amusing way, albeit in a shock and ironic way — is real, but his successes aren’t — at least not yet.

Maybe he’ll model, something I could see him accepting as an alternative, although he has written about trying to distance himself from past modeling he’s done. But unless that or something else extraordinary happens, I suspect his online traffic — which made him an actual story — will fade.

So, that means, he will too.