I often look at the bottom of Buzzâ€¦ Sorry, I mean News.com.au page at their list of top 10 most read stories at the moment. Itâ€™s a salutary reminder about what most average, normal people out there are interested in and care about. And itâ€™s, by and large, not politics, public policy, international events, economy, art or science. This eveningâ€™s (Australian time) list is particularly clear:
There are three stories about murders (two about the JoBenet Ramsey saga and one about a tragic Australian case of Tiahleigh Palmer), five about celebrity divorces (five about Brangelina and one about Karl Stefanovicâ€™s break-up) and one tear-jerker about a dying coupleâ€™s final goodbye over FaceTime.
It has always been thus, except for one period which peaked about the middle of the 20th century, when newspapers enjoyed mass readership and the population seemed to be somewhat better informed about â€œimportant stuffâ€. Though we shouldnâ€™t pretend that everyone read â€œThe New York Timesâ€ and other high-brow broadsheets then either. For all the claimed promise and disappointment of the internet (â€œyou have all the knowledge of the human race at your fingertip yet you spend the whole day watching cat videosâ€), it didnâ€™t really dumb things down. It merely provided in a greater variety and a more convenient form the things that always interested the silent majority, as opposed to the minority chattering classes, of which Iâ€™m undoubtedly a member, in the nicest possible way, as are you, my dear reader.
There is a small caveat to â€œdumbing downâ€, and News.com.au is the perfect example. Itâ€™s hard to believe that only a few years ago it used to be a proper news site. Nowadays there is more gossip and human interest than actual hard news, and even that more often than not is presented as clickbait (â€œTrump just made this one big mistake which will cost him presidencyâ€ or some such). When youâ€™re chasing declining online advertising revenue against more and more innovative and agile competitors, sadly you have to stay â€œrelevantâ€ or in tune with â€œthe peepsâ€. Even the news outlet as venerable as â€œTimeâ€ is not immune:
Here, at The Daily Chrenk, we give you this commitment: we will never discuss Angelina Jolie unless in the context of her work for the United Nations, and we wonâ€™t cover murders unless they are terrorist acts or assassinations. Clickbait, on the other hand, we canâ€™t rule out. Speaking of which, have you seen recent European history summarised in one picture?