Beyond cute: How the Dodo wants to elevate animal journalism

“We don’t just want to laugh at animals—we want want to understand them too."

Mar 2, 2020, 9:28 am*

Tech

 

Molly McHugh

There are a few constants of the Internet, things that, no matter how much the Web evolves, will keep up with it. There’s porn, for one, and sidebar ads, which we’ll never be able to outrun. Email (in some way, shape, or form) is probably safe.

And then there are cats. And dogs. And birds. And horses… and sloths, obviously. The Internet’s love affair with animal-kind has less to do with the Internet than it does with us. We just can’t get enough of the furry stuff. Combine them with the sharability, creativity, and viral potential of the Internet, and you have a potent match. And the brains behind the Dodo know this.

Launched last month, the Dodo wants to become the premier name in animal journalism, adding real voice and story to what up until now have usually just been cute pictures.

“We don’t just want to look at animals or laugh at animals, we want to know more,” CEO and Editor-in-Chief Kerry Lauerman said. “And if it’s cute, then it can be cute, but we also want to have a little more information there. … People don’t want to just look at cute, they want to understand it too.”

Announced last summer, the Dodo immediately caught the Internet media’s eye. With some notable names behind it (BuzzFeed and Betaworks Ken Lerer backed the project, and his daughter is a cofounder and editor at large), there was plenty of early excitement about what this new site focusing on animals would do…because, honestly, didn’t we already have plenty of animal content on the Internet?

But the Dodo was determined to do animal stories differently. Lerer said the team took several months to line up their freelance network, as well as connect with animal academics and seek out some killer launch pieces (king of which was the Justin Bieber monkey story, a huge coup for any site).

Lauerman noted that the “intersection between humankind and animals” is what inspired the Dodo, and what the site wants to talk about. The idea of “real” animal journalism—beyond the stuff of CuteOverload.com and BuzzFeed’s Animals vertical (and so many of us are happy to admit we enjoy that stuff)—is relatively unexplored. Sure, the intense and fast rises to stardom of a handful of popular pets has quickly escalated our interest in “Internet Animals,” namely Grumpy CatLil Bub, and Boo the Pomeranian. These cuddly creatures have become household names thanks to their online started-stardom. And while feeding us with a new meme courtesy of the sour-faced Tarder Sauce isn’t the Dodo’s objective, Lauerman admits the site has taken cues from this trend.


 

“It’s part of the whole shift that inspired the Dodo. I don’t know if the celebrity animal will take hold forever,” he said. “What I suspect will happen is that our standards will go up.  

“Not that I mean that as a slam on Grumpy Cat.” No, never.

He has his own favorite star among them as well, though his preference further explains the Dodo’s purview. “I’m a big Maru fan. There’s so much character in that cat, you can literally see him thinking.”

“The videos [of animals] that really take off are the ones that seem to suggest some kind of cognition or deeper intelligence,” he continued. “It’s  more than just a dog being cute. We react to it in an emotional way because that dog sounds just like us,” he said, referring to a recently gone-viral video of a very convincing husky.

“We want to have a process, and talk about why we obsess over the animals that we do. What are the features that attract us to them, why do we have our reactions to them.”

Lauerman explains that understanding more about the science of animals and the science of humans’ interactions with animals will be a driving force behind the Dodo.

That science comes with plenty of the feels, too. Just because you want to do serious animal journalism doesn’t mean you can ignore the squee factor—and the Dodo is just as susceptible to it as you are, but it’s trying to approach “cute” in something of a responsible way.

“For the most part, you’re not going to see a lot of ‘adorable for the sake of adorable,’” Lerer added. “[The content] will usually be provocative or interesting beyond cute.

“We don’t just want to laugh at animals—we want want to understand them too. We want to be compassionate.”

Illustration by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Feb 3, 2014, 1:29 pm