The last few days have been a news editor’s wet dream: a massacre and a dead celebrity. Journalists would have been called in on their day off BECAUSE IT’S A NEWS EMERGENCY. And once the online journos have raided the photo library for galleries, and scoured the internet for every bit of salacious gossip that can be dressed up as news (hey, if you put inverted commas around it, then you don’t need to verify it, right?), the boss will be buying pizza for everyone to celebrate (I know this from experience). The excitement in the newsroom is actually quite disgusting.
If you look at where the stories come from, almost all will be British tabloid re-writes. As though a British tabloid is a reliable source of information. (There’s another issue here, in that everyone assumes that someone else has checked the story and verified all the claims. But that’s another post.)
And so we have this at news.com.au:
That she bought coke and ketamine earlier that night is just an unverified claim from an unnamed source The Sun found in a pub, so it should be ‘Coke, ketamine’. And treated with a bucket of salt. But why let punctuation get in the way of a drug headline. (Also, a coke and ketamine night isn’t exactly sordid. Or unusual for many people in the UK and Australia. It shits me to tears when journalists act all pious over drug-taking. I’ve been to News Christmas parties and they are not examples of clean living. And like many workplaces, Tuesdays are grumpy days in newsrooms.)
The story itself is yet another re-write from The Daily Mail: Claims Amy Winehouse bought ‘cocktail of drugs’ on night she died:
DETAILS of how Amy Winehouse spent her final hours have emerged, with claims she bought a cocktail of drugs before her tragic death.
That doesn’t even make sense. Either the “details have emerged” (what a cliche) or they’re just unverified claims. It can’t be both.
And what gives any journalist – particularly one on the other side of the world – the right to report that someone died from a drug overdose before the cause of death has been established? Unless that journalist was with the person when they died, then it’s just speculation designed to get people to read a story, which is good for advertising. We’re talking about a celebrity whose music is loved by millions – people will still read the story if you don’t put drugs in the headline. And when the results of the autopsy are released, then you can report that. You know, like journalists are supposed to do.
The story has been updated since I first read it, and is now shouting about how Winehouse MAY HAVE BEEN DEAD FOR A FEW HOURS BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND, OH MY GOD! What a ridiculous piece of hysterical reporting.
I’m not having a go at individual journalists. We’re all guilty of doing things without thinking too deeply about the words we’re using. But Australian journalism has a serious credibility problem, and this is not a problem you want to have when you’re facing paywalls on websites. Here’s a radical suggestion: why not make the product worth paying for?