“America’s largest classroom” needs to redo its GIF lesson plan. Produced by PBS, the short “Off Book: Animated GIFs” charts an error-ridden history of the animated GIF, and offers unquestioning belief in the mythology that new technology and new art necessarily represents progress. Two artist collaborative teams using the file format are invited to talk: Pamela Reed and Mathew Rader of Reed+Rader, and Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. They present little more than cliches. Patrick Davison and TopherChris of Memefactory and Tumblr, respectively, also offer their perspective, though TopherChris is the only one who offers any insight at all.
Given the number of problems with this piece—there are so many we literally don’t know where to begin—we transcribed the short in full and annotated it as a public Google Doc. Anyone with this link can also comment on the piece. This may seem a little extreme, but PBS isn’t just some small publisher pushing out an occasional fluff piece. They are a publicly-funded organization with an educational mission that reaches over 21 million people online, and they have a responsibility to meet basic journalism standards. That PBS’s storyline developer, Mike Rugnetta of MemeFactory, and producer Kornhaber Brown did no fact-checking to ensure that the piece presented an accurate historical timeline of GIFs should be an embarrassment.