There are two bumper stickers that always make me laugh, no matter how many times I see them:
Is that the truth or did you read it in the Telegraph?
Is that the truth or is your News Ltd?
Politicians and Fairfax/ABC journos are asking if Murdoch’s Australian newspapers have the same culture as the UK’s, but there’s a different problem here. One that won’t be solved by John Hartigan saying someone is going to check three years’ worth of receipts to see if anyone paid a private investigator. (And if someone did, as if they would make that info public. The journo would be given a nice big cheque and quietly shown the door. And then snapped up by Fairfax for their ability to break big stories.)
On the Daily Telegraph‘s homepage at midday, we have the following stories:
Since you need to scroll down the page to see any other news, most readers will assume that these are the most important stories:
A Herald Sun story about a truck driver who says he once met a man who is now in jail for murder.
Advertorial for Myer.
A swimmer losing weight.
At the Herald Sun we have this:
A car accident.
An AAP story about a man being jailed over a car accident.
An AAP story about Keating saying something colourful.
A Courier-Mail court story.
And the Myer advertorial.
And at News.com.au we have this (sorry it’s so tiny but it was the only way to get a full screen-grab):
The Daily Telegraph Falconio story.
A carbon tax story from The Australian that appears to be based on a media release.
A Murdoch story from The Australian that only includes quotes from Murdoch saying it’s all lies and rubbish.
A tourism story from AAP.
A talking doll story from AP.
A Daily Telegraph story about a tv show.
And, of course, that Myer advertorial.
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The problem in Australia is not that we have journalists and editors doing dodgy shit, but that we have too much sharing of trivial content. That instead of using their journalists to chase stories, and to fact check claims being made by politicians (which is particularly important at the moment and something that journalists are supposed to do), News Ltd tabloid websites are all running the same sensationalist stories. Online editors will say that no one wants to read “worthy” or “serious” stories, but that just shows their lack of imagination. That they lack the ability to present everyday stories in any way other than a long page of text.
About half of the traffic to news websites comes from links to individual stories (through Google, Facebook, twitter etc), and most of those readers just check out that story and then go. Of the half that comes through the homepage, many of those readers don’t bother clicking on anything. And, to my knowledge, in discussions in newsrooms about how to get readers to click on more stories and stay longer (for ad revenue purposes), no one questions whether there’s a problem with the quality of stories being presented to audiences.
You know, I wish we had problems of criminal behaviour by journalists and editors. At least then we could have arrests and court cases and parliamentary inquiries. Sadly, it’s not a crime to bore your readers to death.