How tabloid journalism works (pt 934)


3:44 am - July 29th 2008

by Septicisle    


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It’s the silly season, it’s a Sunday, and you haven’t got anything approaching a front page story. Do you: (a) put in the effort and attempt to find a new angle to the problems facing Gordon Brown? (b) continue to go on alarmingly about the moral decline in society because a rich man who enjoys being spanked has won a court case or (c) turn the most innocuous addition to a social-networking site which just happens to be a rival to the one owned by your own proprietor into a super splash?

There’s just no contest if you’re a Sun “journalist”, is there? I’m not on Facebook as I don’t have any friends, but even I know there’s a whole plethora of “poke” applications, such as giving one of your friends a virtual sexually transmitted disease, as well as literally dozens of similarly hilarious things. There isn’t however at the moment a moral panic about STDs, but there certainly is about knives.


“TEENS VIRTUALLY KNIFE EACH OTHER ON INTERNET” still doesn’t quite cut the mustard though; no, you have to go the classic tabloid route of getting a quote from an organisation or an individual who has suffered through whatever it is you’re railing against. Hence the Scum made a call to the uncle of murdered teenager Robert Knox, and what do you know, he’s disgusted by it:

“The stupidity of having this on their site is unbelievable. And they deliberately use the street term ‘shanked’, which is even worse. They are targeting the kids who are on street corners carrying knives.”

Yes, of course “they are” gramps; keep taking the pills. This brilliant quote however gives the paper their headline though: ‘Shank’ website is aimed at the kids who carry knives.’ And voilà, where there was previously no story, have we now got one for you!

To call this pathetic, shoddy and disingenuous journalism is to put it too lightly. Not even in the wildest of imaginations can anyone begin to claim that this glorifies or is likely to encourage anyone to commit a crime involving a knife; it’s nothing more than a joke between friends. It does however serve another agenda, which is the Sun’s continuing low-level campaign to run story after story which is either critical of Facebook or a horror story about something that’s happened relating to it, while the paper never deigns to mention its humongous conflict of interest.

Indeed, when probably the biggest bad news story of them all involving social networking websites was released last year, involving the number of sex offenders who had profiles on one of them, the Sun strangely didn’t run with it. It couldn’t have possibly been because the site was MySpace instead of Facebook or Bebo, could it?

Still, perhaps it was worth it for this comment, which is either a quite brilliant piece of satire, or something rather more frightening:

Some of you appear to be missing the point – young people are becoming acclimatised to knife crime as a normal part of life, the more it is treated like a bit of a joke the more it becomes subconsciously acceptable.

We have a group here in Sheffield petitioning to get the Sheffield United’s nickname changed from ‘the Blades’, knife crime should never be associated with fun. Also we want the swords removed from the badge, it’s only a matter of time before it progresses from knife crime to sword crime.

Probably even more hilarious though this weekend was the former Archbishop of Canterbury writing in the News of the Screws that the other victim of the Max Mosley judgement was public morality.

On the same page as Carey’s bilge you can read such enlightening and moral stories as “RONALDO: Blonde had sex with Cristiano in hotel room” and “VICE: Student had sex with 3 men while high on valium.” Such reporting is not of course salacious, sensationalist or purely to make money out of other’s behaviour, however depraved, but obviously to shame them into altering it.

You can far more effectively make the case that the News of the World for decades has been coarsening the public sphere with its warped sense of what is and isn’t newsworthy, or indeed, that its practice of “public interest journalism” has directly led to the celebrity culture which Carey would doubtless decry, but none of this is of any consequence when you’re doubtless being paid a hefty sum for only slightly more than 250 words. You have to wonder whether even Carey was being serious. The reality is that it is not Mosley, judges or the HRA or ECHR that are “dangerous or socially undermining” as Carey puts it.

Dennis Potter never put it better:

I call my cancer Rupert. Because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time (I’ve got too much writing to do). . . I would shoot the bugger if I could. There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press. And the pollution of the press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it’s an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.

The same can be said of the deeply immoral but “moral” Daily Mail, the same Daily Mail that thinks nothing of going after lower-class targets that have just lost their daughters, but which sympathises so deeply when life deals “their people” a bad hand.

There is only one freedom in which Murdoch and the Mail truly believe in, and that is the freedom to make money.

Related
Gag (snigger) on press puts society in peril, writes former Archbishop in the News of the Screws

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info on politics and general media mendacity.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Media ,Our democracy ,Technology

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Reader comments


One of the few laws – regarding press freedom – I’d back, would be to make it compulsory for publications to declare any conflict of interest. The Express, too, has become little more than a mechanism for corporate cronyism.

Mind you, I’d expect Ian Hislop to oppose the law. Hell, what would the Eye write about then?

3. Planeshift

“It’s the silly season”

This implies the press actually have a sensible season.

Complaining about a game played on facebook?

Sounds like Political Correctness Gone Mad to me.

It so angers me that the NoTW and their stable mates have proceeded to publicly attack and besmirch the name of the judge who decided against them purely because they don’t want to admit that they are wrong. They even managed to build it into their opposition to Europe. It amazes me how a paper that films people having sex can comment on morals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I came to the same conclusion as Sceptisisle (shameless plug).

Look on the bright site — Facebook’s got more users than Murdoch’s crappy MySpace, on which he’s wasted loads of money.


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