I’m learning sensational tabloids and over-the-top magazines are a lot like weeds. If one gets pulled others simply go on and flourish.
Patty Siddall might have some good advice on ridding weeds from the garden in her column on Page 24 but in the world of newspapers it’s not so easy.
Witness recent events.
Across the Atlantic, the News of the World, which boasted almost three million subscribers, closed its doors amid the phone hacking scandal.
The newspaper is alleged to have hacked into phones of celebrities, politicians, royalty, family of murder victims and even people who grieved after losing a loved one in the 9/11 attacks.
The reason? Get that sensational story, eye-catching headline, the water-cooler topic … oh yeah and get everyone buying your newspaper.
A little closer to home, albeit still with a British angle, the Toronto Sun opted to publish a picture of Kate Middleton’s dress blowing up revealing a little more royalty than expected.
The Sun’s editor-in-chief James Wallace called the picture “compelling and newsworthy.”
While the furor over how much skin was revealed pales in comparison to photos of certain celebrities in various intoxicated states, one has to wonder about the editor’s claim that the photo was newsworthy.
“We promise readers news with an edge and attitude,” he told The Canadian Pres, which, by the way didn’t circulate the photo to its members.
However, therein lies the problem with Wallace’s view – that news needs an edge and attitude.
I don’t think Walter Cronkite or Lloyd Robertson needed to bang on their desk or wear earrings in their noses to give the news an edge. In the real world, the news does have an edge, be it sad, happy or thought provoking.
Dressing it up with bells, whistles, alarms and gunfire only makes it more packaged and processed for the couch potato/tabloid public.
While many people shake their heads that a newspaper would stoop low enough to tap into a murdered girl’s phone messages or print a picture of a royal’s skirt flying in the wind simply to sell copies, it’s that same reading public that keeps those tabloids in business.
Recently I had a discussion about the value of the Internet for newspapers and used an example of how readers are drawn to sensationalism online but not always in the paper.
A beefy headline saying “Out of control truck slides down Rossland hill,” won’t generate a lot of newsstand sales if it showed the truck simply skidding a few feet into a ditch.
But post that headline online and watch it zoom to the top of the “most read” list. There’s no mention of how many people quickly left the link after realizing it was only a minor story with a major headline.
Like the accident on the highway, everyone has to take a quick look.
Sadly it proved the point that many people are still out there looking for that sensational, bizarre story that hopefully checks all the boxes of sex, drugs and death and bonus points if it involves a celebrity.
Fortunately those people don’t subscribe to real newspapers. They’re looking for that quick tabloid fix and don’t need to be informed on what’s actually happening in their community and the world around them.
I applauded the advertisers in the News of the World, like Ford, which withdrew its advertising because of the negative connotation of being associated with such an unscrupulous publication.
For once money was talking and making sense.
Media lord Rupert Murdoch would have survived all the uproar, after all it sells newspapers.
But once he noticed money leaving through advertisers he quickly moved into damage control and closed the doors to the News of the World.
Meanwhile, the Kate Middleton photo generated the buzz the Sun was looking for and supplied the type of trashy content its readers revel in.
One can only imagine if the Sun editor’s wife was photographed doing something embarrassing, I believe it wouldn’t provide the news with edge and attitude the paper promises.
Still there are people out there who will happily switch to whatever wrapping the News of the World will come out with now and the readers of the Toronto Sun will eagerly await the next lurid photo that is deemed newsworthy by the editor.
Capping it all off was last Wednesday’s announcement that the Sun was leaving the Press Council, stating the council was taking political correctness too far.
For those unfamiliar with the Press Council, it’s a voluntary organization, made up of member papers, which included Sun staff, whose aim is to apply some standard on ethics and reporting in the media.
So there you go, in one big week we saw the demise of a scandalous tabloid and the flourishing of another.
It’s like pulling a weed. Sooner or later, thanks to an abundance of fertilizer available on a daily basis, another one will rise up in its place.