While other newspapers desperately add gardening sections, ask readers to share their favorite bratwurst recipes, or throw their staffers to ravenous packs of bloggers for online question-and-answer sessions, The Onion has focused on reporting the news. The fake news, sure, but still the news. It doesn’t ask readers to post their comments at the end of stories, allow them to rate stories on a scale of one to five, or encourage citizen-satire. It makes no effort to convince readers that it really does understand their needs and exists only to serve them. The Onion’s journalists concentrate on writing stories and then getting them out there in a variety of formats, and this relatively old-fashioned approach to newspapering has been tremendously successful.
A part of the problem, for me, has been the newsmedia’s endless parade of “What Do You Think?”s — the slew of worthless interactive content, the endless ratings, and, dear God, the comments, the comments on fucking everything…. they just turn even the most serious subjects into mere entertainment for a certain kind of person who may not know too much about a subject, but now has the ability to argue passionately about it.
Which is a pretty good description of some interactive sites, particularly those newspapers whose comments sections are usually populated by idiots, bigots and bores. *cough*Evening Times!*cough*
In the current issue of NUJ house magazine The Journalist, Victor Noir writes about viewer interaction:
I gather from a BBC source that half the images they get are of people’s cats…
Another who worked at a BBC regional studio says that viewers were asked to send in pictures illustrating the weather. What did they get? Snaps of bedraggled-looking moggies in the rain.
It’s the future of news!
It wouldn’t be so bad if the desire for interactivity at all costs didn’t infect pretty much everything. A good example of what I mean is last week’s Location Location Location: Best and Worst Live programme (hey, I’m waiting for baby Bigmouth to come along, I’m bored…). It’s a fairly lightweight bit of TV – various stats (crime, average salaries, percentage on sickness benefit, that sort of thing) compiled into a league table of the best and worst places to live in the UK. And it was interactive, so when a particular place was mentioned, the viewers were exhorted to get in touch and have their say. And they said one of two things:
MY TOWN DOESN’T SUCK YOU SUCK
MY TOWN SUCKS
Which meant a 20-minute programme lasted for three and a half days (although to be fair, some of that was phone-in-scandal-induced panic of the “If you’re watching this on video and you’re too stupid to realise that this is no longer live, don’t call! Don’t text! PLEASE, IN THE NAME OF GOD DON’T GET IN TOUCH!” variety, which amused me immensely.)
There’s nothing really wrong with it, you know, it’s just shooting the shit and we all do it, but now it’s not really just shooting the shit. It’s being published and legimitized, and this middle of the road, well-meaning but ill-informed drivel is pretty much setting the tone of the debate.