Reddit provides cancer sufferer with early showing of Star Trek: Into Darkness

"The last thing he got to do that gave him pleasure was watch the new Star Trek movie."

I spend a lot of time here highlighting some of the worst corners of geek culture, so I thought it would be time to switch it up a bit.

Two weeks ago, Grady Hendrix, who goes by the name ideeeyut on Reddit, posted on r/startrek, about Daniel Craft, a friend of his who was dying of cancer. Dan's wife, Paige, described her husband's aggressive leukaemia, multiple surgeries and rounds of chemo, before a second unrelated cancer was found. The tumour in his liver was the last straw, and at 41, Dan had just weeks to live. And on top of everything else:

He was hospitalized and had to exchange our HOBBITT tickets (where the 10 min Star Trek preview was supposed to be shown) we were able to put him in a car and get over to the HOBBITT but NO PREVIEW????

We, his friends and family, the love of my life - WOULD LOVE him to be able to see the Star Trek movie but even the 10 minutes of the trailer would be AMAZING.

The post hit the front page of r/startrek, and a day or so later, according to a follow-up post from Hendrix:

Paige… got a voicemail from JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof that was very nice and very straightforward: a producer for the movie would get in touch with them. The next day, one of the film's producers showed up at the door of their apartment with a DVD containing a very rough cut of Star Trek: Into Darkness in his hands. Paige had made popcorn, Dan had spent the previous day resting so he could sit through the movie, and after signing about 200 non-disclosure agreements they watched the film and had a blast.

Afterwards, Dan got back into bed, exhausted, and didn't get out again. Yesterday he was pretty non-responsive and Paige took him to the hospital for hospice care. Last night, at 10:15pm, with Paige and his brother in his room, Dan died. The last thing he got to do that gave him pleasure was watch the new Star Trek movie. And it's because of you.

Hendrix spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about his friend, with whom he had co-founded the New York Asian Film Festival in 2002:

Like the other directors of NYAFF, it was merely fulfilling a passion; Craft still had a day job: He worked in the data department for MTV until, due to his illness, he was no longer able to work. The film buff was also fluent in Mandarin, and even tried his hand at acting in a few Chinese television series. "He always played the evil white guy," Hendrix says. His biggest claim to fame might have been as an extra in Kill Bill Vol. 1, where Hendrix says Craft was "the bald white guy dancing on a dance floor."

"Dan would be rolling his eyes at being 'the inspirational cancer story,' but he's done a lot for movies over the years," Hendrix says. "It's nice that the movies finally did something for him."

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Clickbaiting terror: what it’s like to write viral news after a tragedy

Does the viral news cycle callously capitalise on terrorism, or is it allowing a different audience to access important news and facts?

On a normal day, Alex* will write anywhere between five to ten articles. As a content creator for a large viral news site, they [Alex is speaking under the condition of strict anonymity, meaning their gender will remain unidentified] will churn out multiple 500-word stories on adorable animals, optical illusions, and sex. “People always want to read about sexuality, numbers of sexual partners, porn habits and orgasms,” says Alex. “What is important is making the content easily-digestible and engaging.”

Alex is so proficient at knowing which articles will perform well that they frequently “seek stories that fit a certain template”. Though the word “clickbait” conjures up images of cute cat capers, Alex says political stories that “pander to prejudices” generate a large number of page views for the site. Many viral writers know how to tap into such stories so their takes are shared widely – which explains the remarkably similar headlines atop many internet articles. “This will restore your faith in humanity,” could be one; “This one weird trick will change your life…” another. The most cliché example of this is now so widely mocked that it has fallen out of favour:

You’ll never believe what happened next.

When the world stops because of a tragedy, viral newsrooms don’t. After a terrorist attack such as this week’s Manchester Arena bombing, internet media sites do away with their usual stories. One day, their homepages will be filled with traditional clickbait (“Mum Sickened After Discovery Inside Her Daughter’s Easter Egg”, “This Man’s Blackhead Removal Technique Is A Complete And Utter Gamechanger”) and the next, their clickbait has taken a remarkably more tragic tone (“New Footage Shows Moment Explosion Took Place Inside Manchester Arena”, “Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and More React to the Manchester Bombing”).

“When a terrorist event occurs, there’s an initial vacuum for viral news,” explains Alex. Instead of getting reporters on the scene or ringing press officers like a traditional newsroom, Alex says viral news is “conversation-driven” – meaning much of it regurgitates what is said on social media. This can lead to false stories spreading. On Tuesday, multiple viral outlets reported – based on Facebook posts and tweets – that over 50 accompanied children had been led to a nearby Holiday Inn. When BuzzFeed attempted to verify this, a spokesperson for the hotel chain denied the claim.

Yet BuzzFeed is the perfect proof that viral news and serious news can coexist under the same roof. Originally famed for its clickable content, the website is now home to a serious and prominent team of investigative journalists. Yet the site has different journalists on different beats, so that someone writes about politics and someone else about lifestyle or food.

Other organisations have a different approach. Sam* works at another large viral site (not Buzzfeed) where they are responsible for writing across topics; they explains how this works:  

“One minute you're doing something about a tweet a footballer did, the next it's the trailer for a new movie, and then bam, there's a general election being called and you have to jump on it,” they say.

Yet Sam is confident that they cover tragedy correctly. Though they feel viral news previously used to disingenuously “profiteer” off terrorism with loosely related image posts, they say their current outlet works hard to cover tragic news. “It’s not a race to generate traffic,” they say, “We won't post content that we think would generate traffic while people are grieving and in a state of shock, and we're not going to clickbait the headlines to try and manipulate it into that for obvious reasons.”

Sam goes as far as to say that their viral site in fact has higher editorial standards than “some of the big papers”. Those who might find themselves disturbed to see today’s explosions alongside yesterday’s cats will do well to remember that “traditional” journalists do not always have a great reputation for covering tragedy.

At 12pm on Tuesday, Daniel Hett tweeted that over 50 journalists had contacted him since he had posted on the site that his brother, Martyn, was missing after the Manchester attack. Hett claimed two journalists had found his personal mobile phone number, and he uploaded an image of a note a Telegraph reporter had posted through his letterbox. “This cunt found my house. I still don't know if my brother is alive,” read the accompanying caption. Tragically it turned out that Martyn was among the bomber's victims.

Long-established newspapers and magazines can clearly behave just as poorly as any newly formed media company. But although they might not always follow the rules, traditional newspapers do have them. Many writers for viral news sites have no formal ethical or journalistic training, with little guidance provided by their companies, which can cause problems when tragic news breaks.

It remains to be seen whether self-policing will be enough. Though false news has been spread, many of this week’s terror-focused viral news stories do shed light on missing people or raise awareness of how people can donate blood. Many viral news sites also have gigantic Facebook followings that far outstrip those of daily newspapers – meaning they can reach more people. In this way, Sam feels their work is important. Alex, however, is less optimistic.

“My personal view is that viral news does very little to inform people at times like this and that trending reporters probably end up feeling very small about their jobs,” says Alex. “You feel limited by the scope of your flippant style and by what the public is interested in.

“You can end up feeding the most divisive impulses of an angry public if you aren’t careful about what conversations you’re prompting. People switch onto the news around events like this and traffic rises, but ironically it’s probably when trending reporters go most into their shells and into well-worn story formats. It’s not really our time or place, and to try and make it so feels childish.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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