After a weekend doing the fun, glam bits of being a writer – a book launch party in London on Friday night, and a writing workshop day at Birmingham’s very posh new library on Saturday – today is all about getting my nose back to the metaphorical grindstone, and making a start on my Christmas novella for 2014. In the spirit of moving on, from a lovely couple of days talking about writing, to actually doing some writing I’d promised myself that today would be an old skool blog post in which I would rant about some snippet of news that had got my back up.
The problem is that, at the moment, pretty much all the news gets my back up. I could go on at some length about why the Daily Mail considers ‘Woman carries baby while wearing skirt and hat’ to be news. I have even more questions about why the same paper considers ‘Comic actor gets in a car’ to be headline-worthy, and that’s before I’ve even started on the issue of why it’s appropriate to picture female murder suspects in their bikinis. Although I suppose that’s a slight, and rather niche, form of equality, as it’s long been considered fine and dandy to picture female murder victims scantily clad. All any of those thoughts illuminate though is that I maybe shouldn’t go to the Daily Mail website, even when I only do it in the hope of finding something that’ll wind me up enough to write a blog about. That is, after all, what they want me to do. An irritated click is worth just the same as an interested click in advertising sales.
The business of print newspapers has long been to reflect the prejudices of their readers back to them. Doing so encourages brand loyalty by confirming what people want to believe. Online papers work slightly differently. Unless you’re working a Times-style paywall model, there’s much less commitment on the part of the reader. Most people would be reluctant to fork out actual money everyday simply to be irritated and offended, but clicking a link that you know is going to make you roll your eyes is different. It’s incredibly easy to do; it costs nothing, and all you lose is time and a tiny piece of your soul.
That means that online papers can have it both ways. They cultivate one section of their readership by reflecting back their existing preconceptions, and another section of readership are lured in in order to feel aggrieved, offended or outraged. And that’s not only a preserve of the right-wing press. Sites like theguardian.com work in just the same way. On any woolly headed left-leaning article there will be a portion of the comments that bemoan the ‘typical guardianista’ attitude. Those people were happier in the day when the Telegraph was delivered direct to their door and nobody else’s prejudices bothered them, just as I’d probably be happier sticking to the Guardian and the Independent while cultivating a disengaged feeling of slight superiority.
Now the sensible thing at this point would be to conclude that I should stop reading news websites that wind me up. I would then be a calmer and more serene individual. In many ways that is the mature choice, but I think that if I’m going to do that I have to give up the papers that confirm my existing opinions and support my preconceptions as well. It is, ultimately, only fair that we identify biases and prejudices that we agree with and fall into ourselves, just as critically as we identify those which offend us. And that’s hard, because, obviously, my own preconceptions are right. In my gut that’s what I believe. That’s what we all believe, and it’s only by consciously exposing ourselves to contradictory views that we give ourselves opportunities to examine our own ideas. Logically that should mean that I start reading the Daily Mail regularly. I’m not sure I can actually convince myself that it would be a good idea to go that far. Maybe I’ll start with an occasional Times or the Telegraph as a gateway media drug and work my way up…
If you like these periodic ramblings, and want to read more by me, this is the place.