I’d like to think that somewhere up there, a wise old sub editor is looking down on today’s newspaper industry, waving a giant metal spike and shouting “Do you call this fu****g news? Get out of my office!”. And he’d be raging about some of the stories which end up making the “news” today.
This image was used it illustrate “how windy it is” during what the Herald have variously described as “arctic” and “blizzard” conditions in Plymouth this week. The most we’ve actually seen is a flurry of white sleet for ten minutes yesterday – but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
From where I sit, there seems to be a divide within the industry of those journalists who scoff at such trivia making its way into print (or online) and those – often younger recruits – who’ve never known anything else, having grown up with and having been trained that this is how things are in the modern world.
Up until recently, I’ve been firmly in the former camp, wondering who on earth thinks that this nonsense is worthy of publication. I’ve argued that “this sort of thing” is part of the reason behind slumping sales of print editions. But the reality is very different.
One well seasoned hack contributed to a Facebook conversation on the topic, explaining that this kind of trivial – almost comical content – is actually what’s driving traffic to websites these days. A throwaway picture of an errant bin will generally get hundreds more clicks than a court case about a paedophile being locked up. “It’s what the audience wants,” says the hack.
That leaves two questions. Firstly, will silly online stories persuade any more people to buy the print edition? Maybe not on their own – but if, when you click, there’s a well written promo for your weekend supplement, it might do. Secondly, is there really any future for print editions at all? Traditionalists will tell you there’s nothing quite like the feel of a newspaper. But is nostalgia enough to save the local rag, which in many areas has gone down to a weekly edition?